Gambling on Education … Again?


[Photo via Start, Grow, Prosper]

Last night, I represented my alma mater at a regional college fair.  I felt sorry for the kids and parents I spoke with, for a couple of reasons: 

First, my alma mater — we’ll call it Princeton, although I did not attend Princeton — has enough name recognition that they don’t feel compelled to send real admissions representatives to college fairs.  As a result, when enthusiastic high school students and their even more enthusiastic parents approach the Princeton table, they find alumni — like me, last night — who fumble around to come up with answers to … well, who am I kidding?  The questions really aren’t that hard.  “Does Princeton use weighted GPAs in its admissions decisions?”  Uuum … sorry, what is a weighted GPA?  Oh, I see … yeah, now that I know what it means, I’m not even sure why I asked.  All I can tell you is that the cover page to my essay was a picture of a kitten in a vice.   Here’s the number of our admissions office. 

My pity for those people became more acute, however, when I read the line on our financial aid brochure that tallied up the costs of attending the school for one year.  That number is roughly $55k.  I know that this INSANITY is not groundbreaking — for years the media has been debating the value of a college education.  I just am not sure how far $220k would have taken me had I not gone to law school.  When I graduated with my shiny new B.A. in political science, I walked into my first job (a job that I only secured through my parents’ connections) seriously lacking in common sense.  The short story:  I did not succeed.   I often think of a close friend who graduated from Penn State University and did not go to grad school.  She is now working two waitressing jobs, struggling to make ends meet.  Then I think of my stepfather, who didn’t even go to college, but instead started his own businesses and earned enough to own a couple of penthouses and employ a private chauffer to drive us around in his Bentley.

Kelly Cutrone went on the radio extolling the benefits of not going to college — especially not right away and perhaps not at all.  She got flack for that, but I think that she, and those crazy Europeans with their “gap year” tradition, are onto something.  I don’t care what PayScale says about return on your college investment; success in this world comes down to skills and knowledge, much of which can not be acquired in a classroom.  I’m not saying that degrees are worthless.  I am saying that, in purely financial terms, many (most?) degrees earned at private universities are not worth their cost when held by people who, among other things, are easily intimidated, don’t have a passion, have a passion that is not lucrative (this is the one scenario where qualitative factors may level out the playing field), don’t have connections and/or don’t know how to self-market.  I was one of those people, which is why I went to law school.  But I’ll leave my poor decision making for Friday’s post.

Now that I am facing the prospect of going back to school, and forking out another $50k+ on a master’s degree in interior design, publishing, journalism, or some other such field not known for being lucrative, I wonder: is this a worthwhile investment?  Or is it just the scared/lazy/rich woman’s way of getting credentialed?  Of course, the answer to that question is the lawyers’ favorite — “it depends” — and is best fielded by someone like Judith (or at least answered only after extensive research on a target field, including more than a few informational interviews with successful professionals in said field).  In the meantime, click here for some interesting (although not entirely helpful) opinions on the value of a master’s degree.


9 Responses to “Gambling on Education … Again?”

  1. blog walking…

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  2. It sure is a good thing to think through before jumping into $50k+ worth of debt again. You would know better than me whether a higher degree in your industry is worth the additional investment.

  3. 3 toeablog

    I have been pondering this very same question everyday. I am currently a 1L and I get the feeling that a good job out of law school is going to come on a wing and a prayer. I hopefully want to work in D.C., but I’m afraid I’m going to be stuck in New Orleans where I am currently attending school. C’est la vie. (Secretly, I am kind of hoping that you will quit Biglaw and I can come work there for you).

    • 4 Samantha Alexander

      D.C. is a great place, but being a lawyer may be more fun in a smaller market. That said, maybe the quality of life for D.C. lawyers is just fine. I was there as an intern, which is a very different experience — I’d be interested to hear your thoughts when you get there (because you will get there, if that’s really where you want to be).

      Don’t count on me — start your own thing! Then I can quit Biglaw and come work for you. 🙂

  4. 5 MK

    Definitely something to ponder. Very well written and enjoyable to read. Keep it up.

  5. 6 Bro

    Yeah, that was one killer college essay. 🙂 Great pic too.

  6. “Success in this world comes down to skills and knowledge.” Does it? The Tao Te Ching says that the master is one who practices unlearning. Speaking of my own experience, success to me comes down to happiness. To quote my favorite movie, or to paraphrase the Buddha, “Life is pain princess. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.”

    Noble truth #2 and #3, there is a cause for suffering, and there is a way to transcend it. Truth #4 speaks of that path. But back to success, I say happiness beats skills and knowledge any day of the week. Not that skills can’t aid in that pursuit. I’ve heard tell of a man made happy by fashioning nails as they did in colonial times. My skills aid me in my pursuit of “success” accordingly. But the point is the ends aint the skills and knowledge, them’s merely the means. Happiness. And if I can’t achieve the only anything I believe might bring me the slightest bit of happiness before I drop, the knowledge that I use whatever skills I have to work everyday as hard as I can in the pursuit of my happiness, even if I might drop dead before I get there, is enough to make me grateful to wake up every day and keep trying some more.

  7. 8 Samantha Alexander

    Tygarjas, you make me feel so misunderstood!

    To clarify, I define my personal success in terms of happiness — that much I hope comes through in my other posts, if not this one. You are correct in that I define professional success a bit differently. To me, professional success means meeting or exceeding my boss’s, and/or my own, expectations in terms of my performance on the job. It’s not a competitiveness, nor is it a greed … it is more like a desire both for mastery and to live up to what I have contracted to do. My true happiness, I think, would occur in a world in which I am both personally and professional successful. But you’re right in suggesting that maybe I should take another look at my definition. This process for me is all about introspection and reevaluation — thanks for the inspiring comments.

    • Maybe I don’t understand you. But then, my mode of living is very different than yours. I too strive for a mastery in whatever task is occupying me, but the context for me is simply giving forth my best effort, expectations I try to avoid. I know what my boss wants, I try to provide it to the best of my ability. But since my current job isn’t where I plan on being forever, I can remove myself from taking it too personally. The part I take almost personally, which is to say very seriously so as to motivate my performance, is the fact that my performance has something to do with how well the rest of the team functions. I wish to do my best because both they and I will benefit accordingly. I suppose given the language you’ve provided me with, this revision to what you are presenting suggests that what you are really looking for is a contract to fulfill with yourself. Salaam.

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