Monday, May 16, 2011

59. You pay for nothing.

Graduate school is expensive. For the privilege of being a grad student, you pay tuition—unless your tuition has been waived as part of an assistantship or fellowship. Some grad students choose to pay their tuition with money from student loans, but given the state of the job market (see Reason 55), that is not the wisest approach (see Reason 1). With support from fellowships and assistantships, some students can make it all the way through grad school without paying tuition. Others run out of funding before completing their degrees. When you start graduate school, it is best to assume that you will be paying tuition at some point, even if you have been lured into a program with what looks like a generous funding package (see Reason 17).

What does your tuition buy? Early in your program, you pay for courses in the same way that an undergraduate would. Typically, a certain number of course credits are required to graduate, as are a certain number of “thesis credits.” What is a thesis credit? Nobody knows. You are ostensibly paying for the privilege of writing a thesis or dissertation, for using the university library, and for the (often distant) supervision of your adviser. You are, in other words, paying for nothing. Of course, if you’re not paying tuition because you’re working as a teaching assistant, you're probaby getting behind on your writing, which means that you will be taking more thesis credits next year. As time goes by, you can accumulate dozens and dozens of thesis credits. By the university’s reckoning, they are worth tens of thousands of dollars. What are they worth to you?

 
 

18 comments:

  1. Now you are cutting to the heart of the matter; grad school is indentured servitude where YOU PAY your "future" employer, not the other way around (and don't bullshit me with the piddle they give you for living expenses.)

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  2. This is a good reason, but to point out the obvious, students in the humanities and certain social sciences are more likely to end up paying tuition than students in the STEM fields. It is said that as a Ph.D. student in a reputable STEM program, you shouldn't have to pay a dime towards your own tuition, because you are doing the university, your dept., and your advisor a service by contributing to their scholarly output. Also, there is a lot more grant money floating around to support Ph.D. students in the STEM fields than there is in the humanities and social sciences.

    However, one major expense of many grad students, regardless of field, besides tuition is living expenses. Many university towns have a high cost of living, and many grad students end up taking out loans to support a "comfortable" lifestyle. Here in CA, rent is astronomical in all of the towns with UCs, with the sole exception of Merced, so it's very difficult to live cheaply, even if you try, given that rent is the major expense of most grad students.

    My personal solution to the dilemma outlined above, which I have thought about a lot and could hardly have put better myself, will be to go on Leave of Absence if the need arises. The UCs, like many universities (I would imagine), allow grad students to go on leave, which means that they don't have to pay tuition or fees during that time. They keep LoA a well-kept secret, and try to discourage students from doing it by removing their access to campus resources, including their building, lab, library, and email. However, advisors can often circumnavigate these consequences of LoA, since it is in their best interest for you to continue churning out research for them. That's what I'm counting on if I end up having to go on LoA.

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  3. @ Laura Morett

    The UC has clamped down on LOAs. You need proof of some kind of medical/family problem or they will not approve the leave. If you do have the kinds of problems that will get approved, you likely will be genuinely distracted enough that you won't be able to effectively use the LOA quarter to "catch up." Don't wish calamity on yourself.

    The best thing that I can say about my own LOA is that staying away from that toxic cesspool--ahem! I mean "campus"--has helped me put all of this in perspective. My life and happiness matter. Jerks and their petty quarrels over miniscule fiefdoms do not.

    As for paying for nothing--another zinger! Thank you, Beautiful Blogger! In some ways I think the clinical folks have it worst in this regard (social workers, MFT trainees, some psych folks). They have to provide free labor for 16-20+ hours/week at some underfunded local internship hellhole and then PAY their university for the privilege of registering for clinical units.

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  4. This is one of the main reasons I chose not to go to grad school. Paying them to have the "honor" of working for them -- as if internships / free labor aren't already bad enough! It makes more sense to work for money and not to give money for work.

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  5. @Anon 12:41:

    I don't doubt for a moment that you are right about the UC clamping down on LoAs, given the dire financial straits it is in. However, I've tried to cover my butt by having plans C, D, & E in addition to A & B. By the time that it becomes necessary for me to go on LoA, I should be in a position to take my filing quarter and then officially fly the coop.

    Your 2nd paragraph describes to a tee the reason why I've decided to take an extended hiatus from my campus. Add in personal considerations (e.g., friends, family, cost of living) and you're golden.

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  6. These credits are totally meaningless. First of all, the number of credits you take has no relation to how much work you're doing. You can be doing the same amount of work for 1 credit that you would do for 10. If you go on leave to write your dissertation (a good move if you can swing it), then you're getting no "credit" for it, but who cares when the credit is meaningless?

    There is no point in having one thesis credit more than what you need to graduate. Unfortunately, to be enrolled "full time" requires you to take a certain number per term, and there are things like affordable housing that sometimes require you to be enrolled full time.

    They have ways of making you take these pointless credits, and it makes me wonder if this is just a way to make faculty members look like they're doing more on paper, because these count toward their teaching loads, don't they?

    @Lauren, I've heard about "filing fees" in the UC system, but I think at most places you have to enroll for the full term and pay full price even when all you're doing is showing up to campus for one afternoon to defend your dissertation.

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  7. At my UC, are your fees are waived for your filing quarter (i.e. the quarter you defend your diss). But the LOA policy is explicit--you may not use an LOA to avoid paying fees--you're only entitled to LOAs for medical/family emergencies, and even then you have some burden of proof, not to mention limits on the number of quarters you can take (3). If you want to take a leave for other reasons, you will need to lie and falsify documents (get your physician sister-in-law to sign a doctor's note, etc.) to get approved. If you simply say, "I'd like to work on my diss now with no distractions and without paying for the privilege of doing so," admin will laugh--this is how they make their money! And keep in mind that Yudof is saying that we may see another 32% fee hike next year--up to >$14,000 for in state fees (aka tuition), so leave policies are likely to get more stringent, not more generous.

    The MA/diss prep units in which we enroll don't relate to faculty teaching loads--it keeps us "in a fee relationship with the university" until such time as we graduate or come to our senses and drop out.

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  8. I have been fortunate enough to have my tuition waived by research and teaching assistantships in the past. Recently, I have been on leave to do research away from campus, and I am getting close to completing my dissertation. As a graduate student, money is always tight. It pains me to think that I will have to pay $1,000-2,000 to enroll for the minimum number of credits, in order to go there for one afternoon to defend my dissertation. I will probably have to enroll for the credits before I even know if my committee members will approve my dissertation for a defense. I might truly end up paying for nothing.

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  9. Or your dissertation committee may say, I think you should start over. We'd like to see a little more of YOU, and a little less information."

    You REALLY don't want my comments on this one.

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  10. "Or your dissertation committee may say, I think you should start over. We'd like to see a little more of YOU, and a little less information."

    Yikes! My condolences! What discipline are you in?

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  11. You are, in other words, paying for nothing.Or somebody is paying for nothing. Some thirty years ago, I spent a Kafkaesque day trying to get out of registering for dissertation credits. At the end of the day, I signed to have many thousands of dollars removed from the account providing my graduate fellowship just so I could keep a library card.

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  12. This is the truest point on the list so far. My dissertation advisor/committee did little to help or support my work, and in fact slowed me down considerably. I had to pay 18 credits for a handful of meetings with an advisor who knew far less than I did about my dissertation topic. What got my goat even more, however, was having to pay a staff person to help me format my dissertation. I was told I "had" to hire her or I'd never get my dissertation approved - hundreds of dollars and many frustrating hours later, I wound up feeling more duped than helped. Overall, my doctorate has helped me get a job and stay employed reasonably well, but grad school needs some serious revising.

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  13. haha no shit my undergraduate professors all they did me was harm... id rather be dead than deal or even see these animals as a grad student

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  14. you dont pay for nothing... you pay them to cause you harm

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  15. You guys went to the wrong programs. I make almost $20K a year TAing (Which in Ohio is practically the median wage) and all my tuition's been waived. As the poster above noted though, I'm biosciences - "STEM" as it were.

    ...if you're in some scraggly English or humanities program, that means you need to be even MORE degreed-up, in my opinion.

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  16. If you don't receive a full tuition waiver and full funding (mine averaged 17-23k per year) for every year of grad school, then you don't belong in grad school. And I say this as a recent PhD in *Sociology*, from one of those lowly state universities (where I got an excellent education, actually). That said, I think there is much truth in this blog and I, for one, have happily left the academic world behind.

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  17. This might be the most damning reason on the whole list, grad school really is a cluster fuck.

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