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

I don’t know much, but I know a fuck of a lot about graduate school. Getting a PhD in psychology has been 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 paid admissions offers from 5. I am now 25 and just 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. 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.

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…

  1. Do I want to work in academia? For many disciplines, there are virtually no job opportunities for MA’s and PhD’s, unless you want to a) be a professor, or b) work as an adjunct.
  2. Do I have a way of paying? If not, you can expect to pay thousands per semester, more if the school is private. Plus living expenses.
  3. Do I want a PhD? A Master’s degree does not necessarily open job doors. Sometimes it’s better to just have two or three years of work experience instead (and no debt).
  4. Do I have funding? Do not go to graduate school if you do not have funding. Do not. Do not. A professor once told me, “If you’re doing it right, you should not have to pay for graduate school.” PhD programs have funding packages. Apply for PhD programs. You can always drop out after you get your Master’s.
  5. Am I low maintenance? PhD students typically get research assistantships that cover tuition, health insurance, and provide a small stipend to live on. They range from $12,000-$20,000 a year. If you aren’t comfortable living in a studio, eating peanut butter, and wearing the same sweaters five years in a row, this is not the racket for you.
  6. Can I handle criticism? I see it every year. Perfect A-Plus students who always do everything right come to graduate school…and have their confidence shattered. Graduate school is both a job and a mentorship program. You will be heavily critcized, questioned, and demoralized. If you cannot handle (and accept!) negative feedback, you will fail.
  7. Am I a perfectionist? If so, graduate school will derail you. Effective graduate students know how to manage their time. You have to learn to skim, to write quickly, and to produce a ton of work without wringing your precious hands. Sometimes your papers will suck. So? You’re gonna be getting tons of negative feedback regardless.
  8. Am I capable of self-motivating? The people who fuck up and take 10 years to graduate are the people who need constant feedback and supervision. In undergrad, you receive firm deadlines. In the workplace, there are managers and clients who ride your ass to make sure you make progress. In graduate school, no one cares if you are writing your thesis or not. You have to set your own schedule, commit to work, and show up every day just like it’s a job. No one else will force you.
  9. Am I an independent worker? Graduate school requires a lot of reading, researching, and writing in absolute solitude. If you don’t work well alone, you will get super depressed and lonely.
  10. Do I want this? In psychology, at least, graduate schools have an acceptance rate of 10% or lower. So, the admissions process is hard. Coursework is hard and tedious. Exams are fucking hard. Your adviser shitting on you all the time is hard. A dissertation is a fucking two-year long marathon (often more). Intelligence does not predict success in graduate school. Tenacity does. You have to want it. Don’t do this shit to yourself if you don’t want it.

Originally published at

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