Like many of the just-above-average of my generation, I thought that obtaining a master’s degree was something of a given. I’d cruise through college, get a job somewhere, and in my mid-to-late twenties, go back to the ivory tower for an even more exclusive ticket to the club of success. 

It wasn’t gold stars we sought, but shiny pieces of paper confirming a perceived sense of specialness upon which all dreams and ambitions precariously balance.

And like many people, life happened, and because I’m still paying off student debt from undergrad, the price of that shiny document wasn’t one I could afford. 

The exorbitant price tag didn’t stop others in my generation from taking on gobs of debt in the pursuit of a dream. A dream that, in the unfortunate reality of late-stage capitalism, they’d quickly find out provided little return on investment. 

In some cases, the dreamers are victims of the dream itself. In others, as the brilliant writer Anne Helen Peterson described in exhaustive detail in her recent series “The Master’s Trap,” they were victims of predatory degree programs demanding top dollar for a degree in industries with salaries barely capable of paying off the debt incurred by the degree. 

In “Master’s Trap,” some, like a graduate referred to as Chris, were rejected applicants to doctoral programs who were offered the consolation prize of a master’s that would end up costing an average of $65,000 in loans for a median salary of less than $38,000 after graduation, as Peterson explains.

These predatory programs can often look extremely attractive and academically rigorous, and oftentimes provide fulfilling experiences for those who attend. But that’s not the point. For the schools, these programs are literal cash cows. 

It’s not just outright predatory programs that are preying on academic dreamers. There’s an argument to be made that post-undergraduate programs, in general, are becoming a questionable option for those without the means to avoid debt. 

I can’t help but wonder if I, and many of my peers, were sold a shitty dream. 

Is the meritocracy dead to all but those who can afford it? 

Give it a read and decide for yourself.


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Follow Senior Staff Writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to ltauss@indyweek.com