I regret getting a master's degree

As I write this, I am two weeks away from finishing my master's degree. I think getting it has not been and will not be worth the costs.


Some background on my situation: I am getting my degree from Stanford in Computer Science. I have worked at Google the whole time. I've taken 15 classes (10 weeks each) over 5 years. No research or thesis, just classes.

Reasons to get a degree

These are the main reasons I can think of to get a degree and why they're not good enough reasons for me.

To gain useful skills

Many people think one learns skills in school which can be used to do useful stuff outside of school. My objections:

Degrees are like a cable package

To get my degree, I had to take 15 classes and I had limited freedom in choosing those 15. Of course each class is itself a bundle of topics, and I have no freedom to choose what topics get covered in each class. Sticking with the cable TV analogy, this is like having to watch an entire week's worth of a TV channel. I estimate at least 1/3 of the material I learned was totally useless for me. And as for the remaining 2/3, see the next point.

I forget things that I don't use

This is a lesson that I should have learned very early in this whole process. Stanford requires master's students who don't have a bachelor's from Stanford to take certain "foundation" undergraduate level CS classes to complete the master's degree.

One's adviser has the power to waive these requirements. I looked over the list of foundation requirements and thought "I took all those classes already in undergrad, no need to take them again". So I went into my adviser's office and asked him to waive the requirements. He responded by verbally quizzing me on the spot about several of the topics. I miserably failed to recall basic details of these classes that I had gotten A's in a few years before.

At that point, it had been 2 years since I finished my bachelor's in CS, and I had been working full-time as a software engineer since then, yet I hadn't used any of the stuff, so I forgot most of it pretty thoroughly.

Since then I've become ever more skeptical that it's useful to take classes now in the hopes of using the knowledge several years down the road. Maybe it will be useful some day, but if it's not any time soon, I may as well not have taken the class at all. My brain just doesn't work that way.

To signal personal qualities to employers

There's a lot of evidence that employers value people with degrees not because of the useful skills one gains in school, but because the completion of the degree shows one has certain personal qualities: intelligence, perseverance, cooperativeness, conformity, etc. For more on this evidence, check out this awesome episode of EconTalk.

I agree that employers think this way and thus degrees have some value. However in my particular case, I already had a job at one of the most sought-after companies in my field. Even if I were to switch companies but stay in software engineering, I'm skeptical many employers would care about my degree now that I have 7 years of job experience from well-regarded companies. However I grant that this is an empirical question and I could very well be proven wrong.

For the love of learning

I often enjoy learning new things, but doing it on someone else's schedule can be very stressful. Over the course of my degree, I had more than one occassion where I had to stay up all night to finish a shcool assignment and then I had a regular work day ahead of me. Even when I got to bed at a reasonable hour, doing all the school work on nights and weekends after working a full work day / week really killed a lot of the fun for me. Also, learning with other people is more fun than learning alone, but because I did the degree part-time and mostly off-campus, I didn't get much contact with other students. Which brings me to the next point...

To meet people

I didn't get to meet many other students or hang out with the ones I did meet because I did my degree part-time, remotely and while working full time. This is in stark contrast to my undergrad experience, where I formed wonderful long-lasting relationships with people who I took classes with or who were just around campus or in the same dorm at the same time that I was.

Reasons to not get a degree


My degree cost about $54,000 in tuition. My employer paid for most of it, but I still paid for some of it and honestly I'd rather my employer used the money on project loon.


Because I was studying, I had less time for sleep, exercise, work, friends and family. These things are all extremely valuable to me. Given all my above objections, it should be clear I think most of the time I spent getting this degree would have been better spent on one of those other things. Now that I'm almost done, I'm not at all excited about how much knowledge or prestige I will have. I'm excited that I'll have more time to spend on more important things.