Thursday, July 18, 2024

A Liberal Arts Graduate Degree Wasn\’t Worth the Money for Me-and Might Not Be for Your Kid

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An image of a person wearing a college graduation cap.

I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology-and I hated every minute of my four years there. I was studying fashion business management-which, to my surprise, involved lots of excel, data analytics, and numbers (not my strong suit!)-while pursuing my dream to be a writer by interning at various fashion publications.

I loved my internships, but didn't feel like I was learning anything worthwhile in school. I was also burnt out from high school, where I had overworked myself to graduate with an A average. Once a studious and perfectionist student, I completely let myself go in college; I was only interested in traveling, dating, my mental health, and my writing career. Even though I graduated college years ago, I still have nightmares that I'm stuck there, without an end in sight. 

After I walked down the graduation aisle, I vowed to never pursue additional schooling. Instead, I enrolled in a bunch of writing courses over the years that reminded me why I was passionate about learning in the first place. Still, I was having a hard time obtaining a job as a writer. Upon graduation, I took on a part-time job as a marketing coordinator for a non-profit and then became an editorial intern all over again. None of my internships materialized into a job; I felt like I was regressing. Would I forever be trying to claw my way out of being an intern? Would I ever stop feeling like a college student? 

I began freelance writing while falling from one dead-end job to another. When I finally did land a full-time job at a magazine in 2019 (18 months after graduating college), I left just a few months in because I the job ended up entailing 95% managerial work and 5% writing. Then,I landed a writing job-a dream job at a big fashion magazine-only to be laid off a few months in because the company was bought out. I continued to do temp work for a big publication and dabbled in freelance, but nothing panned out into a full-time job. Everything was stop and go.

I was tired of applying for one writing job after another, submitting one edit test after another, receiving one rejection after another. I had my degree, an impressive résumé, and I had paid my dues tenfold in editorial internships. What more could I do? That's when I started pondering my last-ditch attempt at breaking into the editorial world: going back to school. 

I thought that if I got that fancy graduate writing degree from a prestigious school, I'd have a better chance of landing an editorial job. I spoke to many editors who've gotten degrees from graduate schools for journalism, and every single one of them told me that my experience in the field mattered much more than a graduate degree. All of them said they went back to school to make connections and land internships. Since I'd already done all of that, they explained, grad school wouldn't further my chances of securing an editorial job. But I didn't listen. I was sucked into a culture that was obsessed with costly advanced degrees and elite, name-brand schools.

I spent months applying for every graduate school for journalism in New York City-including NYU, CUNY, Columbia, and The New School. I paid a few visits to college campuses, and was disheartened to hear about some of their price tags. The affordable programs were so time-consuming and rigorous that it'd be next to impossible to work a job while being in school. Many graduate students whom I spoke to said they took out student loans for graduate school, only to land a low-paying job upon graduating. It would take them years and years to pay back their loans. After all, people don't pursue a degree in journalism-or any liberal arts degree, for that matter-because they want to make loads of money. 

In the midst of getting acceptance letters, I finally landed a job at a media company. I wouldn't be writing about the topics I loved most, but it was a start. Ultimately, it was not worth it for me, financially, to pursue a graduate degree-and I didn't want to burden my parents to pay for my schooling when I wouldn't even be guaranteed a job upon graduation. Plus, I would be getting married the following year, and didn't want to enter a marriage bringing along extraneous debt.

I wasn't about to quit my paying job to go into debt for a degree that had zero guarantees. Besides, it wasn't mandatory for me to get a graduate degree to become a writer; it's not like becoming a doctor. When COVID hit, it reaffirmed my decision to forgo graduate school, since the whole point of my applying had been to learn in a classroom setting and meet like-minded people with a common goal. By now, I'd have graduated and spent all my time on Zoom. 

If your kid is also thinking of going to graduate school-whether or not they're planning to fund it themselves-ask yourself: Can they instead get experience by landing internships, networking through mutual connections, and enrolling in workshops? Does your child want the degree for the experience, or because they think it'd look impressive on their resume? And lastly, is the degree worth the price tag-for you, them, or the Future Them who will have to pay off those loans? 

This is not to say your child can't benefit from a graduate degree. In many fields (ie that aforementioned doctor), it's required. But in many, it's a fancy resume-padding bonus that you don't really need. Sure, if I had gone to graduate school I might have learned a lot; I could have become a better writer. Maybe I'd have made more connections than I have now and would have enjoyed learning with like-minded people. But the cons outweigh the pros for me. 

Even though I'll probably never attend graduate school, I'll continue to learn and improve my skills in other ways. I'll also continue to try not to compare my career journey to others, or to use others' accomplishments as motivation. And even though I'll probably never have a Columbia Graduate School of Journalism degree hanging on my wall, I can still proudly hang up my acceptance letter. 

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