To Know Your Path, Or To Find Your Path?

Recently, the New York Times’ blog Room for Debate published opinions on this question: “What is a Master’s Degree Worth?” Four experts weighed in on this topic, each with his or her own spin on the return on investment of a graduate degree. A few days later, the editors posted a summary of even more opinions on this question written by readers who shared their stories and ideas in the comments of the original post.

(Ah Glorious Technology!)

In this economy, it makes a lot of sense to ask this question; to seek a sense of the costs and the benefits; to consider job markets, labor trends, and projected industry needs; to consider what you, with a degree, as a commodity, will be worth to a current or potential employer; and to weigh the benefits and challenges of furthering your education. It probably makes sense to do so in any economy.  I vociferously preach this kind of analysis to students who take my Preparing for Graduate School course. I believe in the exercise.

Feel Smarter?

Yet the thought of doing this analysis also makes my stomach knot up and what is left of my non-gray hair turn gray. I’ve been giving a lot of thought about why my skin crawls every time I suggest doing this analysis to a student, and here’s my hesitation with it, based solely on my own experience:

Had I tried to do this calculation when I finished my Bachelor’s degree, I surely would not have ended up doing what I do now, which I really love.  LOVE! L.O.V.E.!!!

For me, it was only by doing my Master’s (and associated activities that came along with it, such as being a graduate teaching and research assistant, working with neat people who became mentors, and discovering what mattered to me) that I came to have clarification of what I wanted to do with my Master’s. At no time did I question earning potential or job market needs; I simply wanted to continue my learning, and from that passion came clarification, and from that clarification came employment possibilities.

For me, it was that simple. And, alas, it was that complex.

What will it be for you?


2 thoughts on “To Know Your Path, Or To Find Your Path?

  1. Of course, the counter force at work — and the reason that students (and perhaps yourself) seek to quantify these decisions — is fear. From the front end, with the future unwritten, and no experience to back up a guesstimate, there is a tremendous unknown factor at play. Is *this* area of study better than *that* one? Will I emerge out the other side able to pay my bills and live? Or will I be in debt up to my eyeballs and have a masters in something with no practical application?

    Pragmatically based worries are the heart of grad school uncertainty, the fear that you will make an indelible, expensive misstep.

    Following love rather than pragmatics is one of the most difficult things to do. For one, you may discover that what you love was not what you thought it was — you risk crushing your dreams. For another, it means being willing to take on suffering and heartache and all manner of challenges — following love is climbing an uphill path, rather than following a well-trod downhill one. Gravity works against you. So every day is a struggle. It may be a rewarding struggle, but when you’re standing at the bottom of Mount Everest, you aren’t thinking about that. You’re just thinking about the scraped knuckles, the falling rocks, and wondering if you’ll slip off into a void.

  2. Yes, Alex! Yes, that’s it exactly. All day long I have been trying to articulate those thoughts because … well, because it’s my birthday and within the last month I’ve had one child go off to war, started a new part time job, chipped two teeth that now need caps, won some scholarship money, turned in my final paper for the last class of the school year and kept up my 4.0, had one kid return home for the summer, had one kid leave his apartment because of bedbugs …. and dang it, all I WANT to do is go to school and write. That’s all I want. And it’s expensive. And I don’t know if I can ever pay all that money back. And I know if I don’t pay it back I still won’t be sorry ——-


    Everest, huh? The name of this thing is Everest? Are you carrying oxygen? I could use some.

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