I’ve given some thought to doing an MA in TESOL. After all, I taught it in China, liked it, so why not earn 5,000 RMB a month instead of a mere 4800?

All I need is a golden ticket.

Luckily, I found one, via a Google ad on a message board. Upon seeing the heading, Master’s in TESOL, I immediately clicked through to find a big banner full of jolly students on a pristine campus that has clearly gone beyond the call of duty when it comes to going green.

Nothing says “intellectual oasis” like smiling twenty-somethings and effective sanitation.

Within an hour of registering for more information, I received a phone call. Good thing I put down my number on the form — otherwise, I’d be worried.

The admissions counselor asked me some basic questions (pulse? homeostasis?) to see if I qualify to go to grad school. Once satisfied that oxygen reaches my brain, he asked me about my goals, touting his school as one that can meet my needs.

I have to say it was pretty informative, but with those creepy undertones you get from used-car salesmen. It’s here that I began to have my doubts, and as our conversation deepened, some red flags arose:

1) They advertise.

It’s bad enough that you’re advertising on the internet, but I guess I can overlook that (at least it’s not radio or late night TV). After all, the school’s name will carry well, and although I am learning the same thing I’d pick up at a state school or — imagine this — on my own, the school’s name will take me places those other two can’t. I accept this.

Oh, what’s that? It costs $1340 per credit hour? Hmmm, well, surely you offer a generous fellowship or some kind of teaching assistantship, right?

2) They don’t offer teaching assistantships.

From the conversation with the admissions counselor:

Me: Do you offer any assistantships?

Counselor: No, but we offer plenty of low-interest student loans.

Say no more. You had me at low-interest. *click*

3) They encourage you to take out student loans.

This is covered in the above, but I think it bears repeating. I think it bears repeating because the purpose of graduate school is to train scholars for the university. If you publish your MA thesis in a reputable journal, that looks good for the university. If you go on to a PhD, and if it’s at a high-ranking school (think, Ivy League), then the department can say that students go on from their school to prestigious universities. See? You’re not just a tuition bill in their eyes.

By playing your cards right, you can be a marketing tool too.

When you get down to it, you are delaying your entry into the wonderful world of work to contribute to the university. Even if you just grab your MA then book, you’re still contributing.

They should pay you.

Hell, they owe you — especially if you go on to develop a Unified Field Theory, as holders of an MA in TESOL are renowned for their contributions to scientific theory.

Furthermore, why the hell would anyone take out student loans to go to grad school? What a wonderful idea. Let’s take on near-impossible to bankrupt debt to obtain a piece of paper. Where do I sign up?

In fact, if you can avoid it, don’t take out student loans period.

But if you do decide to pay back your “education” plus interest, please do something that may enable you to get a job.

Or just run to China. As far as I know, collections don’t send people after you. Not for me, anyways.

There are probably other signs (such as: it’s an online program), but if you ignore these signs, chances are you won’t pay attention to the others. And besides, I’m strapped for time.

My online lecture on pedagogy starts in five minutes.


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  3. Couldn’t agree more. Loans for MA’s is a complete waste of your life. I have friends nearly a 100K in student loan debt and STILL cannot find a job while I am here in China, debt free and happy. Kudos for the article.

  4. Well, after reading your blog post, i am not agree with your views which you have described here,like you said that They don’t offer teaching assistantships but in actual they offer all the assistantships of teaching which will be beneficial for students.

  5. I couldn’t disagree more. It sounds like you personally had a bad experience (or perhaps jaded, having lived and worked in China, for what sounds like a considerable amount of time). Earning an MA in TESOL opens many opportunities both domestic and abroad. Sure, you could get a job in China without one, but look at the expectation of quality they have for their teachers. For gods sake, when I was in China, I got a job and I didn’t even had a degree (this was in 2015). Just a quick scan on any job site will show that candidates holding an MA in TESOL are in high demand. Now, I will say that not everyone needs an MA to satisfy their goals, but if you are interested in getting a higher position and earning more money, then the terminal degree in the field will help do just that. Don’t let personal biases discourage people from pursuing their goals. (And yes, I agree, don’t pay for your MA! There is so much funding out there already!)

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