Usually around this time of year, media outlets are spouting off their pessimistic rants about university life: the cost of tuition and textbooks, the rising amount of student debt, the lack of actual learning, and the prevalence of young adult depression and suicide. All the buzz-kill stories make many people, and especially students like me, wonder–then why go to college at all???
Journalists, however, agree that pursuing a bachelor’s is worthwhile. I mean, they needed one to get their jobs. But those same journalists are often the ones dissing those who are working toward advanced degrees. You’ll have no trouble finding voices on the net telling you that you’re a “really smart sucker” if you go to grad school, including Slate, Geek O System, even a blog titled “100 Reasons Not to Go to Grad School.”
I have ten days left until I begin my last year of my Master’s program at Fresno State in the Mass Communication and Journalism department. And I’d just like to say that grad school is not the plague, and as long as you do your research and have realistic expectations, it’s not nearly as bad as everyone says it is.
Thus, I wanted to relay some of the most popular arguments against grad school and offer my defense:
- Grad school takes a long time. Well, it depends whether you just want a Master’s or want to continue to get a PhD. Not every grad student plans on becoming a professor; some are using advanced degrees to reach a higher salary in their current field, others just need extra education in their industry. Yes, the average age of PhD recipients is 35, but I received my BA from UCSC in 3 years and will have my MA after 2 more years. I’ll be 22 when I’m done–beating out most undergrads! So I’m not wasting valuable time away from the workforce; in fact, I’m one degree ahead of my peers of the same age.
- Grad school is hard work. This argument is just stupid. Anything of value requires hard work. But if you start early and pick the right program, it’s manageable. I’m young enough to not have to worry about a house, husband, and kids. I have a part-time job as a tutor, but I don’t overwork myself. I can still go out and have fun. With my 30 unit program, I take 6-9 units a semester, which could include independent studies and undergrad electives–a lot less work than I had getting my bachelor’s.
- Grad school is slave labor. I’m not a work-horse to the education system, and although many programs make grad students work as teaching assistants, mine doesn’t. I don’t need teaching experience to graduate, which works out nicely since I’m not getting a PhD afterwards. In fact, only one of my colleagues wants to become a professor; the rest of us want to work as journalists or PR specialists. Even the graduation requirements in my department have become easier. The only two options before were a thesis or project (generally 50 pages of research over the course of two semesters), but now we can opt to take a comprehensive exam instead. It’ll probably be the hardest test I’ve ever taken (besides the GRE to get into grad school!), but it’ll be over in a few hours rather than in several months.
- Grad school is expensive. This, of course, depends on which university you attend and whether you apply for financial aid. My family was paying over $18,000 a year after financial aid at UCSC, but Fresno State only costs about $7,500 annually for full-time grad students. I spend a little extra for books and parking permits, but even with the CSU system raising tuition higher and higher every year, it’s still a walk in the park compared to what I was used to. Not to mention, I’m one of those “boomerang students,” who returned home after graduation, so instead of paying almost a grand every month to live with two other roommates, I live rent-free with my parents where I get my old room back. Oh! I forgot the best part! IT’S CALLED THE FAFSA. DO IT. Grad students don’t have to supply their parents’ income on the FAFSA like undergrads do, and since my earnings from my part-time job put me way below the poverty line, my tuition is FREE. Yes, there are grad students who are paying six figures at some Ivy League and who will graduate up to their eyeballs in debt. But I’m proof that it doesn’t have to be that way.