Maybe you can’t eat prestige…

24 05 2010

…but you can eat with the salary the job it can get you provides. Rob Weir offers advice to prospective graduate students at Inside Higher Ed:

First — and I hear the scream of the Ivy Leaguers as I type this — go to a grad school that will pay you to come. It may be true (though I’m dubious of their placement statistics) that a degree from high-prestige private university offers some job placement advantages. But if a good state school waives your tuition and offers you a fellowship, and the fancy school doesn’t, take the money! In fact, if no one offers you a financial package, you’re probably not top grad school material and youneed to rethink your career plans altogether. Pannapecker notes that nearly a quarter of grad students rack up around $30,000 of debt and 14 percent more than $50,000. That’s a ridiculous amount of debt to carry as you begin your career, even if you are lucky enough — and few are — to secure a dream job. As Harvard strikers once chanted, “You can’t eat prestige.” Amen to that.

Personally, I’d rather work with someone who’s happy at my campus rather than an Ivy League grad who wants a better job from the moment they arrive. However, I fear my opinion is rare. If search committees have 100+ applicants, filtering out the grad programs you never heard of is the easiest way to get them down to a manageable number. I’m not saying I approve of that tactic, I just strongly suspect that it gets used often by committees with overworked professors who would rather do something else than read cover letters. Therefore, if you follow Weir’s advice you may get through graduate school debt free, but you have to remember the opportunity cost. You still lose seven odd years of your life from a career standpoint if you can’t get hired when it’s over.

In this job environment, I think the only way I’d recommend going for a Ph.D. in the humanities is if you can get into a top twenty program AND get money for going there. Anything else is gambling with your life and your sanity.


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