So let's talk about the one-year Master's of Arts Program in Humanities and Master of Arts Program in Social Sciences at the University of Chicago!

Current tuition for one year: $62,640.

Cost of living, supplies, and additional quarterly fees: $30k, if not more
If you don't know about the University of Chicago, it's difficult to describe the reputation other than it's not an Ivy but prides itself on being more rigorous than an Ivy. It is home to a lot of very prestigious PhD programs, which is important context
The prestige means it attracts a lot of PhD applicants: people coming from other Ivies or from state schools or SLACs, people whose professors have told them the top schools in the field. But the acceptance rate is low, & there are hundreds of people who don't get into programs
So you get rejected from Chicago, and maybe you get rejected from a lot of other places. Maybe you don't get in anywhere. But wait, Chicago says: we have a very idea for you! We forwarded your application to this *other* program, and you've been accepted!
Maybe you've never heard of this program, but it seems good: they help people get into PhD programs like the ones you were rejected from. They send you a scarf, invite you to an accepted students day, let you sit in on amazing classes & host a group screening of an arthouse film
There is almost certainly no financial aid, because financial aid is "extremely competitive." (Current endowment of the University of Chicago: $8.2 billion). (The only students I've heard from who've received offers of aid = students who had PhD offers at elite programs)
[Half way through this story, should probably tweet the much more in depth story piece from which it's drawing — the first in a much longer series about master's programs]…
The tuition, again, is $62k, and unless you come from family money, you'll need to take out that much + enough to cover fees, books, cost of living. So nearly $90k. But it's easy: unlike undergrad, where there's a limit on the federal loans, there's no limit on Graduate PLUS
It's sold as a discernable route to a PhD, but it's also sold as a way to rejoin (or continue participation) in an intellectual community—and it's difficult to adequately describe the magnetism of that promise to high-achieving students about to graduate or a year into temp jobs
So you say yes! You agree to nearly 100k in loans! And then you get there, and there are parts of it that are great (pizza parties! weekly happy hours!) but also, you're supposed to register for grad seminars, many are full, and you have to beg professors to let you in?
You realize that there's a hierarchy. On top: those who actually got into the PhDs that rejected you. Then: upper-level undergrads. Finally: you.

One MAPH grad told me a professor would only allow in MAPH students if they agreed to only talk *during the second half of class*
And yet somehow you should also figure out how to approach one of these professors to serve as your thesis advisor, and you have to start courting them — while also pretending you're not courting them — immediately. I mean, the program is a year! How do you do this!
As you can imagine, faculty members *do not like this program.* Some reactions are elitist; others just think it's shitty. A faculty committee from 2011 strongly suggested shrinking admissions — but MAPH has grown by 146%, and MAPSS has grown by 165%…
At this point, I have talked to dozens of graduates and people who were accepted to this program, and it's really, really hard to parse the mix of emotions about the experience. Did it make them better writers and thinkers? Yes. Was it a low-key shameful experience? That too.
It's really difficult to revisit who you were when you made those decisions, how you blotted out considerations of debt.

As one grad put it: "admitting in any way how it’s predatory would also expose the vulnerabilities that made me want to do it in the first place.”
There's a lot more to say here, particularly in regards to how these programs are able to advertise high acceptance rates to PhDs. Subscribe here so you won't be beholden to the Twitter algorithm to read the next section:
But it's worth saying that other elite institutions have seen what Chicago has done and adopted these strategies. If you were recruited by or attended one of these programs (or MAPH or MAPSS) and want to talk more about it, my email is annehelenpetersen at g mail
I understand the ambivalence, the mixture of shame + gratitude for the friends you made during that time, the weird feeling that you should have known better but also how would you have known better. This former academic w/significant debt from 1 yr of an unfunded MA gets it
Mostly I think we need better ways of talking about all of this. One of the goals of this series: buy SEO so students can find reporting when they Google the program, but also crowdsource recs for how to talk to undergrads about grad school, generally
So if you have strategies that you've used to talk to undergrads about grad school, I'd really love to hear them. You can DM me here, or email me at annehelenpetersen at gmail.
Also more context about the pieces to come in this thread here:

And some useful context from someone who used to teach in the program:

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More from @annehelen

21 Jul
I wrote about Master's Degrees, for-profit tactics in prestige lighting, meritocracy traps, & credentialism:…
Not all Master's Degrees are scams, and I don't think that framing is particularly helpful, but I do think it's worth really looking at the tactics, values, and magnetism of a Master's, and how, say, a MAPH from UChicago works differently than a MEd from your local state school
I also think that it's often a big ask for someone to sit down with a 7000 word piece, so I'm experimenting with segmenting this piece into 3. Next part: distinguishing between “Prestige Grabs,” “Only Visible Routes,” and “Career Collateral"
Read 5 tweets
19 Jul
Right now in Missoula: pretty much every restaurant is either short-staffed and/or has signs on their doors announcing that they're closed on certain days of the week because they can't hire people. This is a wage issue, but it's especially a housing issue
In Sun Valley: "The situation has gotten so extreme that Ketchum’s mayor recently raised the idea of allowing local workers to temporarily erect tents in a park so they could have a place to live while searching for something permanent"…
"Among those struggling for a permanent place is Michael David, a city councilor, who said he can’t afford to rent or buy on his city salary and job as a salesman at a local ski shop, which earns him about $45,000."…
Read 6 tweets
12 Jul
Wrote about the great promise of the four day work week — and the difficulty of wrapping our heads around the fact that less work leads to better work:…
I first started reporting on the 4-Day Week pre-pandemic, wrote a whole feature and filed it, and then...the pandemic hit, and writing anything about work felt very besides the point. Fascinating that the (enduring) pandemic --> huge bloom of writing about work/the office
I was initially compelled by what a very staid, old fashioned New Zealand trust company was doing with the four day week — the CEO basically did it purely for productivity reasons (he saw that it was stuck; read an Economist article, convinced the company to do a pilot)
Read 16 tweets
8 Jul
I've wanted to do a similar piece to this *excellent* WSJ piece on financially & psychologically exploitative Master's programs for some time; I do wish they'd focused on even more programs…
The numbers are higher at Columbia, but the scam — and yes, I think it's a scam — is the same at so many schools, public, private, Ivy, for-profit. Master's programs are *massive* money makers
If the people running these programs don't know that they're exploitative, they're telling themselves very complex stories as to why they're not. In 99% of cases, an MA in Cinema Studies, or English, or "Liberal Arts" does nothing for your job prospects. It only gives you debt.
Read 11 tweets
17 Jun
Steve (the dog) loves every human he encounters.

Except the speed walker.
Earlier this year Steve was fetching the ball in the field where people go to throw the ball for their dogs. The speedwalker was cutting across the field, and Steve ran up to her to give her his ball.

She yelled at him and started windmilling her arms.
(Caveat that I know some people are scared of dogs who are off-leash, but this is a known dog-ball-throw field, and she was cutting across it)
Read 4 tweets
16 Jun
Slack's Remote Employee Experience Index has been surveying 10k+ employees in 6 countries over the course of the pandemic; tons of really interesting insights — like the fact that 21% are currently looking for a new job:
93% of employees want freedom to set their own schedule/a non-linear workday:…
Asian, Black, and Hispanic workers have higher senses of belonging when working remotely (and v. high percentages want flexible working futures) Image
Read 4 tweets

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