THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Seven reasons: Why graduate school is outdated

It used to be that the smart kids went to graduate school. But today, the workplace is different, and it might be that only the desperate kids go. Here are seven reasons why:

1. Graduate school is an extreme investment for a fluid workplace. You will change careers about five times over the course of your life. So going to graduate school for four years— investing maybe $80,000— is probably over-investing in one of those careers. If you stayed in one career for your whole life, the idea is more reasonable. But we don't do that anymore.

2. Graduate school is no longer a ticket to play. It used to be that you couldn't go into business without an MBA. But recently, the only reason you need an MBA is to climb a corporate ladder. And, as Paul Graham says, "corporate ladders are obsolete." That's because if you try to climb one, you are likely to lose your footing due to downsizing, layoffs, de-equitization, or lack of respect for your personal life. So imagine where you want to go, and notice all the people who got there already without having an MBA.

3. Graduate school requires a crystal ball. We are notoriously bad at knowing what will make us happy. The positive psychology movement has shown us that our brains are actually fine-tuned to trick us into thinking we know about our own happiness. And then we make mistakes. So the best route to happiness is trial and error. Otherwise, you could over-commit to a terrible path like the lawyers who now hate being lawyers. Yup, more than 55 percent American Bar Association members say they would not recommend getting a law degree today.

4. Graduate degrees shut doors rather than open them. That's because you're going to need to earn a lot of money to pay for that degree. Law school leads to high-pay work to pay off to repay your loans. But your loan payments on an MBA mean that you cannot create a scrappy start-up without starving. Medical school means big money, but the careers offer such an awful work-life balance that the most popular specialty right now is ophthalmology because it has good hours.

5. If you don't actually use your graduate degree, you look unemployable. Let's say you spend years in graduate school (and maybe boatloads of money), but then you don't work in that field. Instead, you start applying for jobs that are, at best, only tangentially related. What it looks like is that you wanted another job but you couldn't get it. No employer likes to hire from the reject pile.

6. Graduate school is an extension of childhood. Thomas Benton, columnist at the Chronicle of Higher Education, says that some students are addicted to the immediate feedback and constant praise teachers give, but the work world doesn't provide that. Also, kids know how to do what teachers assign, but they have little idea of how to create their own assignments— which is what adult life is, really. Benton says students often go back to school just for comfort.

7. Early adult life is best if you are lost. It used to be that you graduated from college and got on a path. Today, there are no more safe paths, there is only emerging adulthood, where you have to figure out who you are and where you fit, and the quarter-life crisis, which is a premature midlife crisis that comes when people try to skip over the being lost part of early adult life. Being lost is a great path for today's graduates. And for most people, graduate school undermines that process.

Dan Ariely, economist at MIT, found that when people have a complicated choice to make and a default choice is offered, they pick the default nearly every time. So if your parents or friends went to graduate school, you are likely to do the same, not because it's good for you, but because choosing the alternatives seems more difficult. But making difficult choices is what your early adult life is all about.