Going to graduate school

The Winner Takes All

imagesK2RQ71JLGoing to graduate school is generally a bad idea for at least 100 reasons – this I learned much too late in my career. As I learn to adapt to the current job market I find myself reflecting on the path that brought me to Unemployed Professors. My personal route started in some very humble beginnings and took me through a variety of academic situations around the globe. These experiences have left me with little faith in the U.S. higher education system. You may think that this view is jaded, but I am perfectly happy with my successive approximations of reality.

I believe that there are more than 100 reasons not to go to graduate school, all of which can be translated into reasons why undergraduate education is a bad deal for many. The one reason that tends to float to the top of the frothy head inside my mind is that the winner takes all in the world of academics. This is similar to pedigree, but applies to those who have managed to bypass those invisible barriers. Education is very much unlike the business world (although this is rapidly changing) in that one doesn’t need to be a high-level executive to make more than a living wage.

Think about high school. In practice, the faculty teaches two types of students, college bound and not college bound. This means that the educational resources go to the college bound, who are likely from relatively privileged parents. For those not going to college, the difference is negligible between the passing and top grade in a class.

This same grading structure applies in the universities. Sure, there is the priceless satisfaction of a job well done and some intellectual enlightenment, if you are lucky; however, for most students their only reasonable expectation is higher earning potential. And from what I have seen along the way here, this is the desire of most college students.

The odds are stacked against you. To think otherwise is to be foolish. If you are not a white male, then things are even worse.

For many universities, your return on investment is diminishingly small. It’s worse if you go to a community college for anything other than a trade. I usually tell most struggling students to go become a skilled tradesman – there’s more work, money, and job satisfaction.

My peers who have received the most benefits out of their higher education were born into a world of academics and/or privilege of some sort. Their parents are mainly educators, professors, doctors, and lawyers. College is easy for them because they have already learned everything they needed to know before you even thought college might be an option.

Those who already have the most benefits will continue to receive the most benefits.

I have yet to see any students become substantially recognized and rewarded for climbing out of failure and into top-level grades and marks. This is a crying shame because it is these people who have truly shown exceptional intellect and motivation. Only the awarded get awarded. If you were not the head of your class as a young teenager, do not expect much in the way of scholarships, fellowships, awards, citations, etc.

Do not expect your boss to care that you earned the highest grade in your epistemology course. Hell, most public school districts in the U.S. could care less about their teacher’s own grades. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but I am not talking about the tail end of the distribution.

Higher education has no place for students who are not already in first place. It is nearly analogous to why the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. But there is one crucial difference: Those at the top of the academic pile literally get everything and everybody else gets almost nothing – there is nothing in between. You can have good ideas; but, if they are not the best ideas, then you can expect no reward.

And guess what? The best ideas are not the best ideas. We all know this, but it doesn’t matter much. What matters in academics is if you have the privilege and prestige to back your ideas. These people get the very best resources, i.e. Ivy League and top government schools, while the rest of us can only ever hope to have one or two professors who care. I used to wonder why the professors at the top schools were the worst instructors. I now know that this is a stupid question; these students already have the necessary knowledge and background needed to succeed.

The best professors are at many community colleges. Period. These are the academics who entered the game for the right reasons: 1) They care about intellectual enlightenment. 2) They believe in equitable distribution of higher education. 3) They enjoy helping people achieve and overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Coincidentally, these are the same reasons that ensure faculty failure at the best universities. Unfortunately, the community college students are not literate enough to understand this and the community college system is constructed in such a way that faculty are intellectually and academically castrated. At one community college, I was told that they do not normally hire PhD’s because they tend to overthink the job. I had to dumb down the way that I spoke to the hiring administration for fear of not getting the job. It is a depressing situation.

Universities have become quasi-trade schools for careers with no futures. In fact, a lot them started out as trade schools, uh, I mean, colleges for teachers. You are not walking into an environment that fosters enlightened discourse. You are entering a group that is a distribution between the extremes of people who like to party and those who simply want a well-paying job. Yes, there are a few students who have deluded themselves into believing that they are intellectuals. I say do not believe everything you think.

How do we accommodate all of these lovely students without failing everybody and collapsing the university system? We do this with grade inflation, student loans, and government grants. This means that most students need to get past some dickhead professor to get a degree that is effectively worthless.

The devalued bachelor’s degree has simply become another obstacle in life. Chances are that your new employer after college will not care about your sense of equality, imagination, creative writing skills, and so on. Your degree in anthropology only qualifies you to dig holes in the real world. Got a master’s degree in anthropology? Bigger holes. And guess what again? You will most likely end up with a boss that has the intellectual appetite of a goat and the human resource skills of Darth Vader.

At this point in my career, questioning the ethics of buying a model paper/essay is mooted by reality. To succeed in a situation where the winner takes all, one must not play by the rules. Disclaimer: However, you should keep it legal.

If you need help with an essay or term paper post your project on unemployed professors today!


June 19, 2014