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Calculating the College Graduate’s Course of Action

M’hijito is contemplating his future and thinking it’s time to go to graduate school, a bachelor’s degree from a  highly ranked liberal arts school fitting one for little more than working in a call center. He points out that some of his colleagues are high-school graduates, and that he’s not going any further in his present job than they are, which is exactly  nowhere. One of his colleagues, we might add, has a J.D. and is as dead-ended as the rest of them. Like Franz Kafka, M’hijito trudges off each morning to a Broterberuf in the insurance industry—a job that puts bread on the table—all the while searching for a better way to spend his life.

Really, one might say that a good degree in the liberal arts (his is in international political economics, a branch of political science) suits you for too many things. The graduate is left first with a need to continue his or her education in order to get a decent job, and second with such a broad range of possibilities that it’s difficult to imagine which is the best to choose. Or whether any one of them is a good choice. Consider, for example, all these branches in the road that confront the young man:

B.A. in poli sci + M.A. or Ph.D. in political science
Career potential
→ Federal, state, county, municipal admin jobs
→ Academic: community college or university
→ Politics: Legislative assistant, campaign assistant, campaign advisor, campaign consultant
→ Community organizer
→ Office holder
Time required:
M.A., 18 months to 2 years; Ph.D., about 3 to 4 years, start to finish
Job prospects: fair to good
Costs: Unclear. Apparently about $3,650 to $4,244 a semester, full time, at ASU

B.A. in poli sci + J.D., or J.D. + ancillary graduate program
Career Potential:
→ Private practice
→ Corporate practice
→ Public prosecutor/defender
→ Business executive→ Medical law (depending on specialization)
→ Academic: community college or law school
→ Government executive positions
→Insurance law
→ Environmental law (depending on specialization)
Time required: M.A.: 3 years
Job prospects: fair to good
Cost: $19,225/year at ASU; $20,895/year at UofA

B.A. in poli sci + MBA, marketing + past job experience, marketing
Career Potential:
→ Development officer, universities, schools, nonprofits, municipalities
→ Marketing executive, private industry
→ Marketing specialist, government
→ Circulation & fulfillment, publishing industry
→ Marketing executive, publishing
→ Publisher
→ Academic: community college
Time required: 18 months
Job prospects: fair to excellent
Cost: $34,900/year at ASU

B.A. in poli sci + MBA, management + present job experience, insurance
Career Potential:
→ Management & exec positions, insurance industry
→ Management & exec positions, healthcare industry, depending on specialization
→ Management & exec positions, private industry
→ Management & exec positions, government
→ Academic: community college
Time required: 18 months
Job prospects: fair to excellent
Cost: $34,900/year at ASU

B.A. in poli sci + B.S., accountancy + CPA
Career Potential:
→ CPA with national, regional, or local firm
→ Sole proprietor, CPA (self-employed)
→ Corporate employment in private industry
→ Government employment: IRS, other federal, state, and local branches
Time required: about 2 to 3 years
Job prospects: good
Cost: $34,900/year at ASU

B.A. in poli sci + undergraduate science & math + master’s of medical science
Career Potential:

→ practice as physician’s assistant
→ Academic: community college?
Time required: 4 to 5 years
Job prospects: excellent
Cost: $70,000 + cost of undergraduate make-up work in science &  math

B.A. in poli sci + undergraduate science & math + RN
Career Potential:
→ Nursing jobs
Time required: 3 or 4 years
Job prospects: good
Cost: ASU’s fully online program: $325/credit hour.  Unclear; this may be an associate’s degree or a three-year program at some schools.

B.A. in poli sci + undergraduate B.S. in nursing + RN + M.S. in nursing
Career Potential:
→ Nursing jobs
→ Nurse practitioner practice
→ Academic: community college, possibly university
Time required: 4 or 8 years; M.S. program requires need a B.S. in nursing
Job prospects: good to excellent
Cost: God only knows. Bizarrely, ASU offers the B.S. in nursing online!

B.A. in poli sci + M.S. in Public Administration
Career Potential:
→ Middle management positions, federal, state, county, municipal
→ Academic: community college
Time required: Probably about 18 months to 2 years
Job prospects: good; some jobs may be accessible with just the B.A.
Costs: Unclear. Apparently about $3,650 to $4,244 a semester, full time

B.A. in poli sci + M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology
Career Potential:
→ Private practice, therapy
→ Government, school, hospital jobs
→ Academic: community college, university
Time required: M.A., 2 years; Ph.D., 4 to 6 years, start to finish
Job prospects: fair to good
Costs: Unclear. Apparently about $3,650 to $4,244 a semester, full time
Note: Some of these programs are offered through the College of Education, which is not promising

Except for the master’s of medical sciences to prepare one to become a physician’s assistant, which in Arizona is offered only through an expensive proprietary school, cost estimates reflect what Arizona State University claims it charges. Some of those figures are fuzzy; ASU’s administration now thinks of the institution as a business enterprise, and so like any outfit trying to sell you something, it downplays costs and, for some programs, makes it difficult to figure out what the degree actually will cost a typical student.

Other possibilities come to mind. With a Ph.D. in business management, for example one can start a university teaching career in the high five figures; the doctorate in accountancy will give you a start in the low six figures.

Obviously, a doctoral degree will take a lot longer and leave him a lot deeper in debt. ASU’s business college is very expensive—the two-year course of studies for an MBA, which may leave him no more employable than he is now, costs as much as Midwestern charges to train a physician’s assistant, a job that is highly in demand. So, heaven only knows what an MBA plus a doctorate would cost. A lot. And a starting salary ranging from $80,000 to $120,000 would be low, given that kind of debt.

Even for a young man who has no burning desire to become a great international novelist, the array of potential choices is dizzying. Given that you’re going to have to put yourself in hock to qualify for a decently paying job that you don’t hate and that has some potential for advancement, which way would you jump?

13 thoughts on “Calculating the College Graduate’s Course of Action”

  1. Hmm. . .that is truly mind boggling. One thing I found helpful in narrowing down options was doing internships (paid, unpaid, part-time, full time etc). It helped me get an idea of what I did and didn’t want to do and gave me work experience that allowed me to land much more interesting jobs (ones that didn’t make me want to kill myself). It’s also rather low risk because it doesn’t require a huge investment in a new degree (that you may or may not decide to use).

  2. So many things to consider. First of all, majors matter little after a while. When did he graduate?

    Second, what does he want to do? How does he want to spend his time?

    I don’t know what his insurance job is, but surely there are ways to move within that industry. He could find a mentor.

  3. No clue which way to jump but I can suggest one option to steer clear of and that’s the JD. My son graduates next year with a BS, double major in politcal science and economics. His plan since the beginning was to go on to law school. Our research over the past six months suggests that job prospects for attorneys, whether private or public, are better described as bleak than “fair to good”.

    Unfortunately, there are underlying (and ongoing) reasons, beyond the Bush economy, that make the pursuit of a JD an enormous gamble.

    – A present oversupply of JDs coupled with an ever-increasing number of seats in an ever-increasing number of law schools. There were something like 50 law schools in the ’70s and more than 200 today. Why such an increase? “Law schools are a profitable proposition for the schools. … You admit 25 more law school students a year and you can cover a $1 million deficit in your budget overnight.”–[Allan] Tanenbaum, chairman of the ABA’s Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs

    – Outsourcing of contract-review-type work to firms in India. While a JD and license is required in the U.S. to perform that work, overseas workers need neither. So it’s a double whammy, competing with workers in a lower wage economy who do not have to invest $100,000-plus to train for the work.

    – Other efficiency gains in law firms that reduce the number of attorneys needed.

    – Shrinking customer base. Twenty years ago we had our will drawn up by a practicing attorney. Anticipating that we, like the majority of Americans, will have a fairly straightforward estate, I expect we’ll work up the next one online.

    From what I understand, a specialty in intellectual property law improves ones prospects but the opportunity to pursue that path is limited. It would seem that health care law might also bear consideration.

    If M’hijito is seriously contemplating a law degree and hasn’t already done so, you might suggest he check out this site: Whatever course of study he pursues, I wish him all the best. I feel so badly for his generation.

  4. @ Robin: His dad, who’s a corporate lawyer and pretty successful, has also been urging him not to go to law school. From what we can tell, job prospects for people with MBAs aren’t a heck of a lot better, for many of the same reasons. That’s why he’s been considering the physician’s assistant route: the U.S. has a shortage of physicians, especially in rural areas, and it’s not going to be easy to outsource the entire Baby Boom generation as we move into old age.

    @ Frugal Scholar: He hates, loathes, and despises the insurance job. It was a stopgap job that he grabbed after he moved back here from the Bay Area, following the dot-com bust. Claims adjuster jobs are a dead end. The only way to move upward in the company is to be at the company headquarters; his company’s is in New England, and since claims adjusters are not considered management material, the likelihood that he will be transferred there is nil.

    Also, he feels a bit trapped, with the house we copurchased so deeply underwater: we may be as much as $100,000 upside down on that place now. My own paid-off house is apparently no longer worth enough for me to sell it, move into the mortgaged house, and pay off that mortgage with the proceeds. Rentals in the area are so depressed that even if we could get top dollar, it would not cover the mortgage payments. So, unless we can persuade the credit union to reduce the principal, the only option we will have, if he needs to move on, will be to walk. Because he’ll need student loans to pull off whatever form of post-BA study he chooses, we can’t default (destroying his credit for the next seven years) until after he has obtained those loans — and probably not until after he finishes his program. Thus unless we can come up with some as-yet undreamed-of idea, he’s pretty much stuck with programs available in Arizona.

    What does he want to do with his time? Hang out with his friends. Like many of his generation, he hasn’t conceived any burning vocation for any line of work.

    Outsourced jobs. Even professional work disappeared overseas. Worthless real estate. College degrees that qualify you to stock the bookshelves at Borders. No offense, my conservative friends…but IMHO the Republicans and their corporate sponsors have made one hell of a mess of this country, along the way doing an effective job of killing the middle class. It’s scary to imagine what life will be like for the generation just arriving at adulthood. And one doesn’t even want to contemplate what their children face.

  5. If he’s interested in medical – P.A. is a great choice, as is R.N. I agree about growth in need for medical providers. If he is interested or willing, specialties in gerontology are an expanding field too. My son in law is in a 2-year program aimed at getting certification in geriatrics management – after volunteering awhile in a hospice for the elderly & loving that work. His BA is in computer science, so this is a new direction for him.

  6. My parents said college would be a waste of time for me but that was just them.

    Unless you have solid job prospects spending that amount of money on extreme higher education could be a waste.

    I’m not against higher education but the food chain here is a pyramid and the closer you get to the top, the less high paying jobs there are.

    Unless you are working for the Federal Government.

  7. I think I’m about M’hijito’s age. It is too depressing to contemplate, so I don’t.

    During my aborted graduate degree I did take a good hard look at whether or not I wanted to continue immediately in a different program (with a professional focus rather than a teaching focus). Everyone out in the work force who I talked to seemed to have gotten their degrees after they found a field to work in rather than the other way around. So, as much as I have a plan, that’s mine. No more educational debt until a new degree is part of professional advancement (an actual opportunity, not an imagined one).

    The biggest hurdle is actually older friends/relatives with unrealistic expectations about how a 28 year old should be doing (this is not a backhanded way of saying you’re doing this to your son, honest). No one can make you feel lousy about yourself faster than a family member. Fun times.

    Also, I don’t think bankruptcy impacts your ability to take out federal student loans. It will make a difference to private student loans but those are super duper evil and he wouldn’t want them anyway.

  8. If I were in his position, I would look for a job in the Federal government. Forget a grad degree, it is no more a guarantee of a job than is an undergrad degree. It sounds like he wants to get a “real” job, a job with a future and lots of potential to move up in an organization and there is no better opportunity than a job with Uncle Sam.

    I know, I retired after a 30 year career and they send me a pension check every month now and will for the rest of my life. And my pension includes health insurance for life for my wife and I.

    I parlayed my career into lifetime financial independence. And the feds are one of the few organizations that still offers a defined-benefit retirement plan.

    While working in the government, I worked in Europe and some of the most exciting cities in the US. I moved around and changed careers just about as often as I got the urge. Where else can you follow your whims like that and continue buildings financial security?

    And the Feds actually pay better than similar jobs in the private sector. It is not as hard to find a Fed job as you might think simply because there are so mony of them.

    If he is able, I suggest he move to the DC metro area. Right now there are over 300,000 job openings there. I know; in my last Fed job I was the HR Director at the agency where I worked. I cannot recommend it more highly!

  9. Well, if he lacks serious ambition and likes to hang out with friends, why not go into teaching? Namely MATH or SCIENCE, grades 8-12. In some states, there is a shortage of m and s teachers. In my state, people pursuing that degree get a stipend or scholarship–can’t remember the exact thing. This is a quick degree; it is attainable at a state school with low tuition; it gives you plenty of time to pursue other interests in the summer.

  10. I went back to school several years ago to pursue a BSN. I will caution you that any nursing degree advertised as online only has fine print. Usually that would apply only to a student that was already licensed as RN. If you have an associate degree, or less commonly a hospital training program degree that allowed you to test for an RN, there are a lot of schools that will let you take the rest of your coursework towards BSN or MSN online. ASU requires 4 semesters or 16 months of year round clinical experience to earn that RN portion of the nursing degree. Maricopa county community colleges have several flexible options for getting the clinical work done but they usually have a long waiting list to get into their programs.
    Not to discourage him from any of the possibilities, just to be sure that you have all the info you need to make accurate comparisons. I wish I had done more research before starting. Good Luck!

  11. With an economics degree, I would consider finding a job in government as tmgbooks said. He may find that further education is not necessary. If it is, he will hopefully have a better idea of what to pursue.

    I would definitely not invest in a higher degree if I did not have a real clear idea of what I wanted to do. Nursing/medical is great, but you have to be a certain type of person that is suited to that work. Same with teaching.

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