Square Peg, Square Hole: Fitting into Graduate School

Posted on October 11, 2011 by


As an undergraduate, I’ve often considered what I’m going to do after I get my bachelor’s degree in English. There are a lot of options, and one of the most attractive has always been pursuing a graduate degree. A lot of people I speak to have the same aspirations, but also have the same big question:  “Is it worth it?”  There are a lot of ways to measure worth, but recently a study showed the power of a graduate degree from a monetary perspective. The report also breaks its information down into specific majors, so you can see how beneficial your specific graduate degree will be. NPR’s coverage explains why this research is so useful:

Unlike many other sources, it’s not based on starting salaries for graduates; it uses census data to capture information on people throughout their careers. Also, there’s a ton of detail — the report has information on 171 different majors.

The actual study can be found here, and I can promise you it’s as in depth as you would want it to be. However, the downside is that it doesn’t cover other factors that might make graduate school a worthwhile experience. One of the more humorous and sardonic looks at getting a PhD in the humanities, specifically English, can be found on this video:

It’s definitely a hyperbolic satire of the actual state of affairs, but the statements are based on reality. Only about half of those who graduate with a PhD in English end up with a tenure-track professorship. It usually is expected that you will teach where you can find a job, and there is only one hiring season each year.

I personally don’t know a lot about the job market for other majors, but it’s important to focus on what qualities are being expressed by the girl in the video. She may not be the most ideal student, but her tenacity and persistence are keys to her success.

If you’re looking to go to graduate school, make sure you’re aware of the realities. Be ready to face them. You will need to have a strong will to succeed, and have a real passion for your major. If you don’t think you can work through the extra years of highly focused schoolwork–don’t.  Be brutally honest with yourself. How much work do you want to do? How rewarding is learning in and of itself to you? Are you ready to write a thesis? As much as graphs and charts can show the economic benefits, it’s important to take into consideration the kind of person you are.

So check out the study, watch the video for a few laughs, but really look at things holistically. Ask professors in your major how their experience was, and what advice they can give you. Trust me, they want to help you. Do your research, and come to the conclusion that’s best suited for you. This is a subjective decision, and no one study or person can tell you everything.

Posted in: After IUSB