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Grad School

Written by Mr. WellCultured, Monday, August 16th, 2010 in Q&As

Is grad school really worth it if I have to pay for it? I want to get a M.A. in English.

Ehh. You’ve probably heard the usual warnings about grad school, but allow me to reiterate them just to address the issue.

First off, grad schools are almost universally flooded. Be it M.B.A. programs, J.D. programs, or even M.A. programs, there are just a lot of people hunting for degrees nowadays. Blame the advent of corporate colleges that pump out graduates — now everyone is getting degrees. This has a bad effect on the market — it virtually assures there will be a lot of overeducated underemployed types around fighting for jobs, making finding a job that much harder in this economy. Going to grad school nowadays is, very unfortunately, a lot about the status of the school, future job possibilities, and how cheaply you can ultimately do so.

With that being said, an old professor of mine in undergrad was very intelligent when he told me that in many cases going to grad school for non-professional types is not about where you go as much as it is about how much you spent to get there. Put in other words, it may be tempting to go to the best possible schools you can get into, but the increase in price (or the decrease in possible scholarships) may be simply too much to bear, especially considering how little your median salary would rise with a M.A. anyway. This applies in the professional world as well, in certain circumstances — it would be ridiculous to spend $250k+ on a M.B.A. from a decent school when you could spend only $50k on one from a slightly lesser school and make about the same amount of money.

Another thing to think about is if you really want to get a M.A. at all, or if you simply should go for a Ph.D. Certainly, there is worth in M.A. degrees, but from my experience with most English departments, Ph.D. programs are really where the rubber hits the road — unless you want to fill a specific position that asks explicitly for teachers with English M.A.s (like a teaching position or something), you should probably just go for a doctorate. Ph.Ds also have the benefit of sometimes having more scholarships/fellowships available — that is to say, you might be compensated more for being in a Ph.D program than in a M.A. program. I may be slightly biased as a professional school type, but I’ve always found that M.A.s feel like slightly extended B.A.s, whereas Ph.Ds are where the big kids go to actually master the discipline.

So, in any case, here’s what I’d do:

First off, determine what you want to do. Don’t just go for a M.A. unless you have a specific concept of what good it will do you. There are likely more scholarships and opportunities in the Ph.D track, if you are willing to suffer the vast leap in amount of study.

Second off, really seriously collect information on schools you have been accepted to. Fire out a bunch of applications to other schools as well. Apply for all scholarships you can, and really tally out how much it would cost you for the 1-2 years you would spend. Cross check this, if you can, with the level of reputation of the school and other intangible sorts of things. Further cross check this information with the possibility of getting into the specific job you’re gunning for.

Third off, I’d look at all the numbers and figures and seriously determine what your best path would be. By this point, you should have a good rough concept of the opportunity cost of the M.A., and ultimately what your best choice should be.

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