Vastly expensive postgrad degrees that lead to low-paying jobs

Originally published at: Vastly expensive postgrad degrees that lead to low-paying jobs | Boing Boing


At what point does it make sense to just flee the country?


Jan 20, 2017?


That’s a scam almost as old as I am. Sad to see a school like Columbia pick up on it. Art programs look “easy and fun” for the kids and the parents get to brag about the fancy school their kids went to. Hell some art programs (like my old film school) have dropped grades all together. Doesn’t matter that they have an art degree with no real value and that you learn practically little you couldn’t learn “on your own” or under guidance. Charging $200k for something like that is criminal.

Sometimes internships and apprenticeships are better than college for a particular career. Hollywood in particular is 10x more about who you know. No one has ever asked me about my schooling or gpa and honestly I sometimes wish I was more “in the know” with the movers and shakers. It would have saved me lots of grief.


This is consistent with The Wall Street Journal’s heavy right-wing bias and the revulsion the right holds against educational institutions. But graduate programs are indeed frequently a bad bargain, so I guess it’s a case where even a broken watch is right twice a day.

I strongly encourage my offspring not to start a graduate program right after getting their undergrad degree, unless it’s a Ph.D. program that comes with funding. Those tend to get you either a doctorate or the consolation prize of a master’s, and they don’t involve racking up debt. Fields like medicine or the law require expensive post-graduate schooling; a young person is well advised to spend some time in the workforce before making that commitment.


As with Health, I am often amazed at what a strange microcosm (macrocosm?) the US is in terms of education.

My graduate degree (in PolSci) cost me $8k in tuition, which was paid by a scholarship. I ended my entire college life with $5k in total student debt (and a couple K on a credit card). Debt would have been zero if I’d opted to work the summer instead of doing a full court press to finish and get a job (I was getting married).

Granted, part of that was holding down a job and working as a treeplanter in the summers, but this is not impossible to do.

It’s just impossible in the US, which somehow never seems to reference anywhere else in deciding how to proceed.


Has the advice changed, or was my undergrad advisor an anomaly?

He always said “If you don’t get paid for it, don’t go to grad school”


Yep–I think my law school colleagues who went straight through from undergrad are far more likely to feel like they made a major mistake than those who (like me) were out in the workforce for 5-10 years and made an affirmative choice to go into law. Of course, I’ve also been lucky to (1) go to a well-regarded law school, and (2) have high quality work that pays well–which not all of my colleagues in the class of 2011 have been fortunate enough to get. For most people, attending anything but the top 50 or so law schools in the country is a very bad bargain–and anything but the T14 is a bad bargain if what you want is to work for a major firm.


In the discussion around this is an element of sneer at the liberal arts, of course

Especially in a WSJ article, even one written by someone with a Master’s in journalism from Columbia (one of the worst values in grad degrees, financially speaking). But hey, a person’s gotta pay off their student loans, even if it means taking Murdoch’s pocket change to further an anti-intellectual agenda.

Let’s also be clear, it isn’t only those liberal artsy types who end up getting screwed. Anyone taking out student loans to go to a non-tier-one law school will also be in debt for many decades, putting off home purchases and the like to keep servicing the interest. Debt-financed MBAs from non-elite schools are not much better. Then there are the for-profit schools that actively encourage their students to go into ruinous debt.

All this gets especially cruel when the victims of the student loan scam system are immigrants and others who still believe the long-expired promise of the Boomer era that a degree guarantees one social and economic mobility.

The problem with the American system of higher education financing is that everything is piled on the individual students, from the blame game about what happened at the beginning (“why didn’t you read the loan terms when we were dangling thousands of dollars and promises of employment, silly 22-year-old”) to the end (“bankruptcy? Oh no, you don’t get out of paying us back that easily!”). The schools (esp. administrators) get off scot-free, as do the banks issuing the loans (because ultimately they know the government will bail them out one way or the other).



Liberal arts students: Grad school put me in debt I’ll never be able to pay off.
Me: a former grad student who got free tuition and a monthly stipend as an engineering TA


Ph.D linguistics - can confirm. Went ABD.


Totally agree. I worked before I went to law school and it gave me a focus that many of my fellow students didn’t have. I was also able to combine the skills of my previous career with my law degree, which made getting a job much easier for me.

When I talk to my friends kids about whether they should attend law school I always recommend that they work first. Preferably as a paralegal in a law firm so they know what they’re getting into.


At this point unless you are looking for manual blue collar work a degree is practically required. At the same time, if money is what you are after then why go to college right out of the gate? You can go to a technical school get some welding certifications and be making $20-30/hr under age 20 (even younger if you did as part of your high school time). I suspect there are lots of plumbers and electricians that make more than me as an engineer. Granted I do sit in an air conditioned office most of the time and my hours are fairly regular, but different strokes for different folks.

I wish someone would have put me to working right out of high school instead of straight into college. I think I would have gotten a lot more out of it a year or two down the road. (After being subjected to the meat grinder that is working.)


Your advisor was speaking in the context of your area of study and related ones. They surely didn’t intend to imply, for example, that nobody should become a dentist.

Go for a trade instead - you get paid while you learn and gain experience and will never have to look for well-paying work.


When I have campus tours at the culinary school I was attending I would always tell the kids to go out and support themselves in the industry for a few years before coming back to the school. The number of graduates who got the degree, then left the field entirely within three years was astonishing. They also often had completely unrealistic ideas about what the degree would do for them-it made you a better cook, not an automatic sous-chef. And plenty of chefs actively disliked applicants with degrees. Mind you, people getting the degree has become a lot more common in the 30 odd years since I graduated.


In fields with high competition for jobs it’s a good indicator of where you stand in the competition. If no one is offering you full rides and/or assistantships, that should tell you something, because in a few years you’ll be competing for jobs with all those people that did get offered full rides. Not that that’s insurmountable, but a lot of people are delusional about it because we’re hammered with messages about don’t give up following your dream.


There’s just something so completely despicable about any investment adventurism being dischargeable to bankruptcy, but taking a chance on gaining skills will keep people shackled forever.

(That said, I wouldn’t mind arranging things so the universities in question lose a little money when someone does use bankruptcy, not just the banks.)


if my master’s degree would be of any use to me in another country or if i faked my own death, i would consider doing one or the other or both.