Put simply, the opportunity cost is what you aren’t getting because of what you are doing. From this point of view, grad school has never looked so cheap: My wages for two years weren’t likely to be all that great anyway, even if I did find full-time employment. However, with the cost of living and tuition factored in, grad school is still an expensive option, albeit one with a potentially significant payoff.
Penelope Trunk, founder of Gen-Y social network Brazen Careerist, argues against “dodging the recession” with grad school because it is too steep an investment in learning one thing for people who are likely to have multiple careers over the course of their lifetimes. Trunk also asserts that “you can learn from any job,” and points to her own experience working on a French chicken farm, in which she learned, among other things, how to get out of killing bunnies.
Although as an economics aficionado — I favor the opportunity-cost approach — the advice from the blogosphere didn’t tell me anything I hadn’t already heard. I then turned to the wealth of knowledge that has helped confused college grads find direction for ages: the Career Services center.
The Career Services website took a checklist approach: If you’re going in order to postpone the “real world,” you shouldn’t be going. If you’re going because you want to earn more money at an as-yet-undetermined job, grad school is probably not a good idea. But if you are dying to learn more about a given subject or hoping to go into a profession that requires an advanced degree — Ding! Ding! Ding! — grad school is for you.
Since I fall into the can’t-imagine-going-through-the-rest-of-life-without-learning-more category, I decided to apply. There followed the decision of what to study: As someone who would ultimately like to work in publishing in some capacity, is journalism school the best option? For many reasons, both financial and personal, I don’t think it’s the right choice for me. (My sentiments echo those of former CIO staff writer Chris Lynch, who sees the reader elite likely to emerge as paywalls go up as the harbinger of expert-based journalism.)
After ruling j-school out, I applied to master’s of arts and professional school programs in international relations for this fall. I forgot, however, that applying can lead to acceptance letters, and acceptance letters generally require responses in the form of “statements of intent to register,” which tend to be due … well, now.
So, I find myself once again faced with the question: ‘To go or not to go?’ It’s a dilemma that I feel lucky to have; education today is, more than anything, a privilege. Worldwide, an estimated 72 million primary-school-aged children weren’t in school in 2005, and even in the United States, only about 30 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree.
In the past few weeks, I have turned to graduate students, professors and family members, hoping someone would tell me what to do. I have returned to the bookmarked career services websites of various universities on my computer to re-read their advice. I have repeatedly made the opportunity-cost argument to myself, and even considered my biological clock at length.
Unfortunately, I realized that no amount of statistics or advice could decide for me whether to attend graduate school this fall. It’s a deeply personal choice that only one person can make — me. And whether I like it or not, I’ve realized in the last few months of soul-searching that I’m the kind of person who wants more in the way of a formal education.
So call me a recession-dodger if you like, but this fall, I’m caving in to my inner overachiever and going back to school.
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Elisabeth Best graduated in June 2009 from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a BA in Global Studies and a minor in professional editing. As an undergraduate, she studied in the urban jungle of Madrid, Spain; volunteered in the tropical rain forests of Costa Rica; and got her political fix at the George Washington University in D.C., where she hosted The Backseat on WRGW. Her work has appeared in the GW Hatchet and Coastlines Magazine.
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons