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English v Law


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As I write this, I realize how  ridiculous this question is. And it is. But it's mine and the fifteenth is next week and I feel really confused about it. 


I took a gap year to apply for PhD programs in English. 


My boyfriend goes to Top Ranked State School A for a PhD in English. This year, I also managed to get in to their PhD program in English AND also to their law school with a pretty awesome (roughly half) scholarship. (Yes, It was neither fun nor smart to apply for both). But seriously, this is like a miracle to me, you guys. I got on a couple other wait lists and some masters offers--but this is my only hard offer. 


So now that I have this oft-yearned for PhD grail, I'm having serious second thoughts about English v Law. 


A. Obvious- Job market bleakness. The English program, though it has an excellent record in the past, placed like two people last year. That's SO terrifying. Law is also extremely competitive, but jobs at least do exist for the top candidates. 


B. Professors are always telling me you can't get a PhD in English if you want a job afterwards--well I love English! I do! Really. And I would even be down for the poverty for roughly a decade thing. But after that? I sort of want a job. And I admit, I would really, really, really like for that job to be in academia. So is this in some backwards way a reason not to do the degree? According to some people, it is. 


C. My boyfriend is worried we would be competitive against each other for advisors/resources/etc and our relationship would implode (we are in the same area- 20th c. Am). He also has worries that it would be basically a countdown on our relationship since getting hired somewhere together is a virtual impossibility these days, which I really can't argue with. But the other thing seems like total lamesauce--Yes, grad school is sort of a cesspool of insecurities, woe, and competition--but it seems like two mature-ish people could work out their insecurity-academia issues. 


The weight of my decision doesn't have anything to do with him (at least, I hope), but this really bothers me that he thinks this.  


D. Law offers an area of study that is intellectually stimulating, possibly lucrative, and would allow me to stay with aforementioned currently-infuriating boyfriend as he embarks on his quest for the non-existent tenure track job. 


E. Yet, Part of me is just really scared because I know the stars will probably never line up in the same way for me to be in a PhD program in English if I take the law route and it's hard to let something that big go. 


F. I really, really love theory and literature. In the sort of silly pre-grad school way, it is my "passion," and it's also hard to give that up even if grad school is miles away from undergrad in structure and content. A day reading about the connections between Hegel, censorship, and 19th century marginalia is totally my idea of a good time. 


Do you guys have any advice about, like, I don't know--what mechanism to use to decide such things? I mean, maybe since I could envision doing something else besides grad studenting for six years, I am not fit for the field. However, I tend to think it's almost impossible not to consider alternative paths before and or after the humanities PhD given the job market.  


I don't even have a specific question but-- Any insights? 


Apologies for length and grammar. I am distraught. 


Thanks for perusing this and good luck all in your own journeys. Honestly, it just felt good to write this out. 


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I don't have anything very helpful to say about the decision process, but I would suggest the possibility that your interests in English can remain a passionate hobby, even if it is not your profession. Since the job prospects are really, really bleak, I would consider that. But, if you absolutely want to do the PhD, it could be a great experience, even if it does not advance your career. Of course, it is a huge time commitment, so you have to decide if that is worth it.

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I'd also consider how you'll feel when your boyfriend mentions his research while you're trudging through a legal textbook (the kind of conversation that you'll presumably have most days). If that doesn't seem likely to bother you, I think you could enjoy doing law. If you reckon you'll feel wounded every time he mentions what he's working on, studying different courses is unlikely to be the relationship medicine he hopes it'll be.

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Love yourself, don't study law. Having half of your tuition covered is also incredibly awesome (seriously, congrats on that!!). But the risk is still a bit excessive if you're on the fence.


I went through my undergrad career preparing for it, worked an internship concerning international law (environmental and immigration), and worked in law for a little over a year after undergrad. No one likes it. It's soul-sucking work. Your morals and personal beliefs are put on the back-burner so that you can pursue billable hours. The job market isn't even that great for JDs. At my last firm, we would onboard associates for about 50k. And please don't get me started on the horror stories I've read (Ivy League grads competing for paralegal positions, stacks of unread resumes for a foreclosure attorney position, etc.). You don't study law for the sake of learning, you study it to make a living. It's a professional degree that you have to be firm on wanting, otherwise you'll get left behind in the job market.


Obviously, your mileage may vary. But at least you can BS your way into a decently paying job with an English PhD if need be. It's harder to find work as a JD because everyone thinks you'll want exorbitant amounts of money to stay. Your boyfriend will - and pardon me for being frank - have to get over himself. 

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Do you enjoy law? I know multiple people who went to law school because it seemed like the reasonable thing to do (rather than pursuing less concrete fields like psych), hated law school but trudged through it, and are now saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt even after considerable scholarships, AND have realized they hate law and want to do something else. Once you're in that situation, it's pretty hard to switch fields since minimum loan payments on that much debt are considerable, and it's hard to find other jobs that pay as well as law ones. Obviously this doesn't happen to everyone and you might love law and excel at it, but something to consider for sure.


My two cents are that if you go into law you either need to be passionate about it OR be the type who is attracted to stability and sees law as a steady career path, but doesn't necessarily seek fulfillment from their career. If you are not passionate about law but do seek an emotionally rewarding career, go for the PhD instead; otherwise if you are anything like my friends you may be throwing around the term "soul-crushing" a lot. It's definitely a hard choice and not something anyone on here can tell you... and I am biased because I'm pursuing a humanities PhD despite the bleak job prospects. But I really am a believer in the idea that you'll do best at what you love, I never expect to make a lot of money, and even in the worst case scenario I'm still getting paid to learn for the next 5-7 years, which I'm pretty excited about. 

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