If you are looking to complete an advanced degree to develop your abilities in your chosen field, you need to really figure out what it is you are capable of doing with the knowledge gained. You have to question what value an advanced degree can really provide for you.
Some jobs require a Master’s degree to fulfill a minimum academic standard, like being a teacher. But if you have already completed your undergrad, then you already understand how things work in school. You finish a degree only to find out that you have so much more to learn. Perhaps you are in an occupation completely different than what you studied. Or it seems like everything you learned has no bearing on your actual work. Maybe you spent time un-learning what you picked up in school so you could perform your job better. Consider all that you learned while in school and ask yourself “Did this education really make a difference for my career?” Your answer is one of the following. “Yes” which means your education and career perfectly matched, “No” which signals a major disconnect between education and career path, or “sort of” which is rather inconclusive. The point is that unless you already have a career path lined up then another set of courses is a waste of time. In this dynamic and changing economy the skill set being offered by traditional advanced degrees does not guarantee career success.
I am not the first person to bring this point up about advanced degrees. Indeed members of the academic community have been outspoken of the state of affairs in higher education for career purposes. In his book “Managers not MBA’s” Professor Henry Mintzberg makes a valid critique of the Master’s of Business Administration, arguing that the claim of managers being produced out of classroom case studies is absurd. Even the coveted Jurist Doctor is under fire. Dozens of websites critical of the law school industry have sprouted as a result of the lack of employment opportunities being made available for recent law school graduates. Traditionally a career in law has been viewed as very lucrative. The lure of seemingly guaranteed success was so strong that students would regularly go 100K in debt or more just to pay for tuition. Graduating with a law degree in today’s economic climate could put you in a precarious situation. Most recently, there was an excellent article posted by Professor Brian Tamanaha that assesses the grim situation many new law school graduates are in.
It is generally accepted that advanced Degrees in Business or Law would lead to gainful employment and wealth creation. But the recent economic downturn has exposed a major disconnect between current costs of education in relation to the monetary compensation available for jobs based on said education. But it is not just a question of advanced degrees. The New York Times featured an article about an NYU Undergraduate that completed a degree in Theology and Women’s Studies by going about 100k in debt. She currently works as a photographer’s assistant which has little to do with what she studied in school. The option of graduate school would only further drive her into debt. Gainful employment should be her number one priority.
Where to go from here?
This article is not meant to scare you out of attending grad school, but it is meant to highlight some of the challenges you will face. The number one reason students attend school of any kind is to expand their employment opportunities. But when you talk to educators about the role of school, they explain the value of learning and education. This fundamentally different view of the role of higher education has led to a divergence between what is expected and what is provided. When the economy was robust, nearly any college degree could provide some kind of employment, and any debt used to acquire it was easily paid. This economic downturn has revealed the lag between what an economy demands from its workers and what the educational systems are prepared to provide. Going heavily into debt for a degree that has questionable economic value is no longer an option. Economics will always play a factor in whatever degree you choose to pursue. This explains why an oversupply of lawyers can stymie the efforts of recent graduates within the same field. The law of supply and demand trumps all college majors no matter how prestigious they may be.
When considering the value of your education you must also consider the cost of the loans you take to finance it. Statistics about income and employment after college don’t always add up. A Wall Street Journal article is critical of the popular statistic that college graduates earn over a million dollars more than high school graduates over the course of a life time. That statistic does not account for students that have to pay student loan backs. Occupations available may not warrant a heavy debt load for school. Remember it is not about how much you make, it is about how much you keep.
As a student you are responsible for scrutinizing the costs of school and the expected employment outcomes. If you can complete grad school by paying for it yourself or using some kind of employee benefit to pay for it then you can minimize debt. Completing your graduate degree at a public school rather than a private school is another method to cut total costs.
The best advice is to simplify and focus. Think critically and ask the tough question “Is this advanced degree worth it?” Consider if advancement within a company is based on performance at work or performance in a classroom disassociated with the job itself. If your advancement is predicated solely on academic credentials so be it, but it is a highly inefficient way to reward worker development. A convenient major could lead to a major inconvenience down the road if not used to develop real work ability.
As a high school student looking to attend college in the near future, one of the issues you will inevitable face is costs; how is tuition going to be paid for? The following information shall breakdown the basics of financial aid so you will know what to expect in the near future.
- You must file a FAFSA to determine what need based funding you are eligible for. The FAFSA is available through the federal department of education at the following site http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/
- Filing your FAFSA is a process undertaken by you and your parents. You may run across FAFSA filing services that charge a fee to file for you. It is highly recommended you complete the process yourself and avoid paying for what already is a free application from the government.
- There are four primary funding sources used to pay tuition. Need Based Grants, Merit Based Scholarships, cash payments, and Student Loans.