The seduction of grad school

For a certain cohort of high-performing students at famous colleges, graduate school feels irresistible.

If you’re good at school, the challenge and offer of law school, med school or a famous business school means you get to do more of what you’re good at. You’re offered a high-status badge, a path to a well-paid job and several years of more school instead of the scary freedom of choice of what happens next.

And so, literate and passionate young people talk about their dreams of helping people, running for office, fighting injustice or exploring their passions as entrepreneurs. And grad school is supposed to be the path.

The problem is that these graduate schools aren’t optimized for any of those things.

Leaving medical school with a pile of debt and your twenties mostly gone pushes you to sign up for the doctor track, which is increasingly about systems and forms, not actually engaging with patients. Law students who came in with dreams of social justice often postpone these dreams for decades as they work for big money at big firms for long hours… You get the idea.

If you want to sit with someone and help them, a career as an occupational or physical therapist is certainly more hands on and direct. If you want to make a difference by writing or arguing, three years of law school and a bar exam aren’t the most leveraged ways to do that. And entrepreneurs need to know a lot, but not what they teach in a typical MBA program.

The stratified work of big name investment banks, consultants, law firms and fancy doctoring is increasingly veering away from the actual contributions of people who have an impact that they can measure and be proud of.

If that sort of work is for you, go for it. But do it with intent.

If not, then perhaps it makes sense to start on the work right this minute. Not with a full certification or permit, but simply creating the sort of change you seek to make, in small steps, right now.

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