And now for the counterpart to my last post, Five Bad Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in English.
It’s not all bad. Some people have perfectly good reasons for pursuing a master’s degree in English. As long as you know why you’re doing it, graduate school can be an incredibly rewarding and lucrative experience. Here are five good reasons to go for a master’s degree in English:
1. You Already Have a Career And You Are Gaining A New Credential
Examples of these types might be high school teachers, government employees, or business professionals. People who fit into this category are already employed and will gain responsibility or will be given a raise by returning to graduate school. Often, the company or organization will pay for the individual’s continued studies. This is an example of a graduate degree having an immediate and obvious return on investment.
2. You Will Use the Master’s Degree in English as a Stepping Stone For Even Further Studies
This means you are planning to go to law school or you are absolutely certain that a PhD is in your future. The MA in English might even work as a companion master’s to a degree like an MPA (public administration) or another field that requires both an advanced degree and also excellent writing and communication skills.
I need to qualify this reason by reminding you that neither a JD or a PhD are particularly attractive titles in the job market right now. Both are degrees which could still easily leave you unemployed.
3. Your Program Offers a Focused Internship or Apprenticeship
Editors, journalists, copywriters, marketers—these are the kinds of people who benefit from this category. If this applies to you, make sure you choose a graduate program that encourages you to make connections outside of the academy. Not many English master’s programs offer internships, but I hope to see that change soon. I’ll even go a step further and say it has to change or the degree will become obsolete. A quick Google search turns up a few departments who have already embraced this perspective. The first three hits I got were Boise State, California State, and Westfield State in Massachusetts. Obviously, there are many more; do your research and find one that’s right for you.
This is especially useful for those of us who had no clear focus as an undergrad and now need to make up for lost time by getting some targeted and hands on experience.
4. You Are a Creative Writer And You Need a Workshopping Environment
First, let me just say that this is certainly not a plan that will get you a job, but getting a job is not the only reason we go to graduate school. After all, trying to reduce the humanities to a logical and rational statistic kind of defeats the whole purpose. Sometimes, we pursue further education for reasons other than facts and figures can explain.
Creative writing is one of those reasons. I doubt many creative writers would tell you they are in graduate school to get a job. Most are there for the craft. An English MA or MFA program provides a writing environment that really cannot be recreated outside of the university. Intense workshopping and feedback are valuable to aspiring writers and graduate school is one of the few places this exists. Beyond that, sometimes people need to be forced to write regularly in order to do it, and grad school will do this.
5. You Absolutely Do Not Care Whatsoever About Gaining Any Kind of Career or Financial Advancement From Your Degree
Please please please do not use this as a justification for graduate study if you really do expect to get something out of it. You would only be lying to yourself and setting yourself up for disappointment. This reason is reserved only for people who are either rich or have another source of income (full-time job, spouse, etc.), or who truly do not care at all whether they live in poverty. If you are not one of these types, you can’t use this as a reason for earning a master’s degree in English. And another thing: people in this category have to be absolutely in love with learning, intense scholarly dialogue, and communing with other academics. If you meet all of these requirements, you can use this reason. Like I said in #4, we can’t always reduce the humanities to logic.
So, there you have it. Five good reasons to earn a master’s degree in English. Before entering a graduate program, read both of these companion posts and decide whether your primary reason is a good one or a bad one. Use the comments to add to the discussion or to ask questions. I’ve been there and I’m glad to help however I can.