Should you go to graduate school? A list of relevant questions.

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Photo of my action-packed dissertation defense, circa 2014

I don’t know much, but I do know a lot about graduate school. Getting a PhD in psychology was my dream since I was about 17. I took college classes on “careers in psych” when I was in high school; I read the APA’s Getting In: A Step-by-Step for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology when I was 18. When I was 20, I applied to over 20 graduate programs in psychology and political science, and got admissions offers with funding from 5. At 25 I finished my PhD without paying a cent (I have debt from undergrad, but not grad).

But my shit is anomalous. I got really really lucky. And all my hard work didn’t land me an academic, tenure-track job. As the Bachelor’s degree becomes devalued and people flock to Master’s and PhD programs, graduate school is largely becoming an expensive farce. Graduate students lead the charge in debt accumulation in the US.

At the same time, as the number of graduate school slots are expanding, the number of academic, tenure-track jobs with benefits shrinks every year. Most schools now use between 50–70% adjunct labor to fill their classes. Adjuncts are only offered a part-time course load, receive no benefits, earn very little, and typically have to work multiple jobs at several institutions in order to get by. If you get a PhD and don’t have a job offer, that will be you.

The vast majority of graduate students leave with upwards of $50,000 in debt (especially Master’s students). And the job market for academics is total shit. I have a colleague who applied to 98 jobs — 98!!!! — and got two interviews. And that shit? Is common. And that’s to say nothing of the people who drop out of graduate school without a degree, decide the program isn’t for them, suffer from paralyzing stress, etc.

So. Should you go to graduate school? Probably not. Ask yourself…

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