What to do Instead of Going to Graduate School?

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Earlier today, like always, I was on Facebook checking out what all of my friends were up.  But unlike most days today I decided to comment. Why today?  A friend of mines wrote a question asking “should I go to graduate school”? This got me going. As anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows I think graduate school is a huge waste of time and money. This feeling could extend to the entire college process but, this post is not another rant about why not to go to graduate school. Rather, this is about alternatives ways to create marketable skills and valuable products.

The alternatives can vary widely based on your desired goal, but I will focus this on the 3 major reasons people go to graduate school:

1.    to expand or increase your personal network

2.    to learn key skills for career advancement

3.    to acquire the necessary certification for their career opportunity

I will approach these reasons for attending graduate school in reverse order, starting with acquiring necessary certifications. I believe this is a barrier of the past and companies still following this will stop soon enough. Technology is the first factor to eliminating this mindset as most of the best software coders don’t have advanced degrees if they even have any degree at all and they are in very high demand. Why?  These highly skilled people have learned through experience. I believe other industries will follow this trend and find that experiential learning and ad hoc schooling will become the way of the future. Staying with this way of thinking, if you are looking to hire a marketing director for your company, it would make more sense to hire someone that already did it, rather than someone that just graduated graduate school.

How can you get this experience without graduate school?  Create a product through a platform like Kickstarter and market it. You marketing it yourself will teach you more than any graduate school could because you will understand the chaos and reality that is the real world. To take it a step further, if you documented your experience through a blog, it would enable you to take your value to a potential employer because, not only would you come in with experience but, a following. This is just one example but, an approach growing in value to perspective employers. Companies will catch on to this more and more over time and the value of a graduate degree will slowly decrease. My advice is not to invest in a depreciating asset.

If you’re looking to graduate school to help build your network, considering blogging.   A blog is a great place to begin building a following. Lewis Howes is a perfect example of this (Check out episode 5 of The James Altucher show). Although today, Louis runs his own million dollar a year company.  He could have easily worked at any Fortune 500 company because of the network he created by using the internet and it was pretty simple. All he did, was go on LinkedIn and ask high level executives to speak with him about how they got to where they are today. He didn’t ask them for anything, rather he offered to introduce them to other executives who he met through the same process. This enabled him to have one of the best networks available to anyone starting with no money, no job and no opportunities. I recommend anyone looking to go to graduate school to try this first. I bet you will realize gaining a network is easier than you think.

In all of these examples above, I hit on the skills you can acquire through methods outside of graduate school but I guess not explicitly. Well let’s think about it. What do you want to do? You want to become a coder? Go to Codeacademy. You want to do anything related to business? Start something on Kickstarter. You want to learn about nearly anything go to Coursera,StanfordHarvard, DukeMITyour options are endless. The problem is not that people need graduate school, the problem is people are listening to people that don’t know any better. Let me tell you something right now, your parents just don’t understand (queue Will Smith). But it’s the truth!  When your parents were going through school, a graduate school degree promised immediate success, but times have changed. Want me to prove it? How many people with graduate school degrees do you know with no job? How many do you know with entry level positions? The value of the degree is decreasing. I am not saying it is not valuable today but, I am saying that it is not worth the amount of money and TIME you are going to spend trying to acquire it.

I know this is a touchy subject and one I usually don’t talk about too much with friends but it is important to think about. Next time you speak to someone who is looking to go to graduate school, ask them why, I am sure what they are seeking can be found on the internet.

What do you think?

I’m sure some people reading this have graduate degrees or are currently pursing one. Why did you go? What do you think of my opinion? Do you hate me now (JK)? But in all seriousness, this is just my opinion and the reason I will never go, but I am curious what you think.

  • lequez spearman

    You should write a self-help book.

    • talktohenryj

      Thanks brother. One day it would be cool to write a book. For now, I hope this blog can help a few people.

  • Zane

    Do you have the same opinion for grad degrees that directly lead to a specific profession? Such as Law, Medicine or an MBA to start one at a higher level than an entry position in investment banking?

    • talktohenryj

      Zane, I think there are certain fields that make more sense than others without a doubt. Law and Medicine are two that I think fit that mold because there is so much red tape around who can practice (a topic for another day). MBA’s on the other hand I do not think make sense. Teaching business in a classroom is like teaching basketball in a classroom. The chaos of reality is too much to predict.

      I believe if you are looking to get into something like investment banking you need to really think why you want to do it. I find people get into investment banking either because they want to make a lot of money or because they really enjoy trading stock. If the reason is because you want to make a lot of money going into debt to then fight to come out of debt doesnt make much sense to me (especially when there are many routes you can take without incurring much debt). On the other hand if you simply enjoy being around and trading stock you dont need an MBA to do that. XYZ company may require you have an MBA to trade at their company or to move up in their company but if all you want to do is trade stock and make money why are you looking to do it for someone else. The way I will always look at employment is this. You always bring more value to the employer than you are paid. In laymens terms you make the company more money than they pay you. For this reason I dont understand why you would choose that route, why not absorb all of the money you produce. I believe people creating their own companies/ working for themselves is going to become more and more common. Timothy Sykes as an example of someone who did just that in the investment banking field. But it sounds like you are either currently back enrolled in school or planning on doing it. Just curious, whats your reasoning?

      • Zane

        I am not in school. I currently have more assets than debt on my balance sheet so I hear you. I am not trying to accumulate more debt lol. MBAs are never required but they can help in some aspects of finance; excluding the one that I currently work in. I am paid according to the clients that I bring into the firm and the size of the client portfolios or via the commissions I generate from the trades. Investment banking was just an example–it doesn’t involve stock at all though. It’s a very boring job where one would be behind a computer all day, crunching Excel models for mergers and acquisitions and such. I do wish to require my MBA at some point but I believe that is a luxury and not 100% necessary but certainly a better value than a liberal arts Masters in Social Work or something.

  • Peter Young

    I’m currently in a graduate school program, and I don’t hate what you’re saying. There is more than one way to move through life and there is no wrong way.

    If a student is paying for graduate school, especially for a PhD degree, they are getting a bad deal. A PhD is a full time job with research and teaching responsibilities. If you’re paying to get a PhD, you’re doing it wrong. I refuse to pay an exorbitant amount of money for education and start my working-life in debt. This is an unfortunate reality for the current higher education system; it wasn’t always like this. But I agree, if you’re going to fork over 100k just to get get an entry level position, it’s not worth it, especially if you didn’t like what you studied. Just be aware: there are many graduate programs out there that pay you to study. I would suggest this type of program to anyone interested in grad school.

    A graduate program is designed with several goals. It should help you learn how to interact with people in the world, something the internet cannot always accomplish. And in a way, an academic department provides a network of experts (your professors) concentrated in the same, physical area. I’m not saying you cannot create a network outside of a university, but the university certainly makes some aspects of that a little easier. Additionally, one of the goals of a graduate department is to help you reach the next level. If they fail to do that, then it’s not a good program and you shouldn’t go there. Most programs will give some idea of student success after graduation, but if they hide that sort of information, then you should be cautious. Going off of that, schools that have a consistent reputation can expect to put forth a certain type of candidate. So people in the world have seen what a student with such and such a degree from University X is capable of doing. Unfortunately, it’s harder if you steer your own course because you don’t always have someone to vouch for you nor do you have the backing of an institution. I am not saying it cannot be done without a degree. I’m just saying it’s a different way. Different strokes for different folks.

    Also, you mentioned, in addition to money, that university degrees take a lot of time. It’s true! This is why you should enjoy what you study. I look forward to every class I go to, so even if I can’t get a job after graduation, I haven’t wasted any time. I have found an end in everything I’ve studied; I’ve enjoyed every step of the way. If you do not absolutely love what you study, I would caution you from going further. If you don’t like a subject as a student, why do you think you would like it as a professional?

    Finally, I will say one last thing. A lot of universities will try to tell you that you need a degree to be successful in a certain field. This is because they are trying to sell you a product. But honestly, it depends on the field. There are some degrees that I think are absolute scams. Not to offend any students reading this, but something like a hospitality degree or household management degree is not necessary to be competent in those fields. What I will say is you cannot learn every lesson through the internet. If your thing is science, mathematics, philosophy, etc. you’re going to have a real hard time trying to educate yourself through websites.

    There is no wrong way to live your life. And I don’t judge people who don’t go further with their education. I’m doing this because I enjoy it, I can afford it, and because it will help me with whatever I do next.

    • talktohenryj

      Peter, It has been a while my friend. I hope all is well. I dont disagree with everything you are saying either but I also am beginning to realize I need to write a follow up to this post. My position is less that graduate school is not valuable at all, rather that it is a waste of time and money because it is a depreciating asset. This along with that fact that graduate school is being recommended to everyone as THE way to success seems completely wrong to me. I think its great that you enjoy your graduate school experience and can afford to go but do you think most of the information you are learning is available outside of formal education? This is a big part of my point. I believe we as a country are putting too much value on the certificate that is a graduate a degree and not enough on the ability to accomplish the job. I believe the internet can teach you what you need to learn to about how to accomplish the job and through doing I believe you help solidify the lessons once again.

      In terms of networking I believe the internet does a good job and that will only increase. Websites like Meetup.com make it fairly easy to meet people with similar interests but there are also more and more profession specific forum-esque sites like spiceworks that I believe will continue to change the networking landscape as time goes on.

  • C

    Great points, Henry – many of which I agree with.

    I think your post is interesting, particularly at a time when people insist that a grad degree is the new bachelor’s. I have to say that I, coming from a liberal arts background, connect with this idea, because I find that I learned very few practical skills in undergrad. I found myself incredibly frustrated when I first started working by my lack of actual business knowledge or understanding of company politics. I agree, much of this can be gained with experience, but I find that it would take me much longer to gain the knowledge through experience than it would through formalized education offered, for example, by an MBA program. There are, indeed, a ton of books or internet articles that offer this knowledge for free, as well, and I certainly do not discount their value. There are two things, however, that I find lacking in this method of learning and networking that you are providing:

    1 – Discipline. Doing it on your own, as you suggest everyone should do, requires a certain level of discipline that not everyone has. Even if someone might share your passion, if they do not share your same sense of discipline and pride in self-accomplishment, they will not become successful. I’ve got to admit I’m guilty of WANTING to read books that will help with my writing, my career, my future, but, without the pressure of a paper due, I find it hard to motivate myself. The faraway promise of (potentially) better career prospects is not enough. Sometimes I need a more immediate goal – like getting that A. As a result, I feel that I need a bit of help and a bit of..

    2- Structure. Our entire lives are built around a particular structure of learning and method of understanding the world around us. We are raised in formal schooling and, unless we experience some kind of alternative education that focuses on experiential learning, it can be hard for some to break away from this method of doing things. Some people, myself included, function and learn better in a structured environment not offered by these free online resources.

    If someone has self-discipline and sufficient intrinsic motivation, I agree: they do not need the structure of formal schooling. If this is not the case, however (and more often than not it isn’t), I find that grad school or other formal schooling is the only way for these people to be successful.

    🙂