Paying YOU for Grad School

Okay: admit it. The Harry Potter staircase at Christ’s Church College, Oxford University, seems a pretty good place to stand and spin fantastical daydreams. The author’s daughter, pictured in the photo, contemplates attending graduate school at Oxford, some day in the misty far-off future.

Unless she miraculously lands a rare-as-a-unicorn Rhodes Scholarship, however,  she’s more likely to ride a hippogriff, learn Parseltongue, or recover a dragon’s egg than attend graduate school somewhere where she’ll have to pay actual money. That’s because her parents are not, shall we say, independently wealthy. Like the vast majority of us, she’ll have to make her own way.

The same advice I give to my own daughter, I will give to you. Unless you’re preparing for a very specific profession with a very specific sort of professional schooling involved (for example, law school), it’s a good idea to avoid accumulating graduate school debt as much as possible.

Many lovers of literature, for example, dream that one day, they’ll complete the M.A. and the Ph.D. and become professors. Keep in mind, however, that fewer than half of English graduate students earning the Ph.D. end up with tenure-track positions as professors. That’s how it’s always been, but the good news is that almost all of those Ph.D’s go on to other kinds of work. (Read this article to find out more.) The bad news is that it’s very, very hard, though, to start your career at the age of 30+, with a mountain of debt looming over you.

The down-and-dirty takeaway for YOU is: think very hard before investing a lot of your money and time in graduate school without a good plan. Most top graduate programs offer teaching assistantships (TA) or research assistantships (RA) to their master’s and doctoral students in return for teaching. This means that these students not only do not pay for graduate school; they also earn a pittance to live on. In addition, they’re building a valuable record of teaching college courses.

Think about it this way: if you’re not competitive for a TA or RA, you’re probably not competitive enough to be among the 35% selected for  tenure-track professorial jobs. And you’d earn your doctorate, accumulating debt while seriously lacking teaching experience.

So if you’re thinking about graduate school in English or Gender Studies, be sure to discuss your future plans with your advisor, your favorite professor, and the department chair. You’ll get a lot of good advice and perspective to help you make your decisions.

And be sure to look for programs that will pay your way! For example, we’ve just been contacted by Lehigh University, which is looking for  students interested in pursuing a master’s degree in literature and social justice:

Our English Department is trying to spread the word about its FULLY FUNDED Master’s program in literature and social justice. We’re especially interested in working with first-generation college students and students from under-represented communities. If you have any students who are interested in grad study in literature despite the terrible odds … please consider sending them our way.

Some of our students have gone on to Ph.D. programs at other places (including Stanford, Duke and UT Austin); some stay and complete a Ph.D. here at Lehigh; and others have gone on to careers in areas ranging from secondary education to publishing to working on virtual reality projects at Google. Please send your students our way if any or all of these apply:

  • They’re interested in bringing together their passion for literature and their commitment to social justice;
  • They’re considering graduate school and want to try it out before committing to a Ph.D. (without going into debt!);
  • They have a project they want to pursue at the intersection of literary studies, public humanities, digital humanities and/or community engagement;
  • They want to work with enthusiastic faculty and students in a tight-knit program where we’re committed to helping our students find fulfilling, humanities-related career paths both within and outside of the academy.

If you’re interested in applying to this graduate program, please click on the CONTACT tab at the top of the page and send me an email. Cheers!