On the other hand, Karen Kelsky's CHE article -- Graduate School is a Means to a Job -- has some very practical advice for aspiring students.
Granted, they are US centric; but some of what they have to say is valid for the others as well.
Both emphasize the importance of going to prestigious schools, an advice that acquires a very sharp edge in a bad job market (in the US). When the going gets tough, you'll need all the privilege an elite university can give you!
Here's 100 Reasons:
Where you go to graduate school matters. It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of this point. As everyone knows, there is a hierarchy of universities, but no one takes this hierarchy more seriously than academics (see Reason 3). There are so few jobs in academe that the competition for virtually every open position is a national (and often international) competition. Those with the best chance of securing employment are the products of the nationally (and internationally) prestigious institutions. There are very few genuinely prestigious universities, and almost all of them are private. They are the Ivies and the quasi-Ivies like Stanford and MIT. The number of genuinely prestigious public universities in the United States can be counted on one hand, probably on three fingers, and quite possibly on one.
The large, perfectly respectable public university in your area is almost certainly not one of them, even if it offers an enormous array of graduate programs with extremely competitive admission standards. The problem is that there are hundreds of universities just like it all over the country, together producing tens of thousands of graduate degrees every year. If you happen to earn your PhD at such a place, you will be at a severe disadvantage on the job market, where you will be pitted against people with degrees from the genuinely prestigious universities.
And here's Karen Kelsky:
Go to the highest-ranked graduate department you can get into—so long as it funds you fully. That is not actually because of the "snob factor" of the name itself, but rather because of the ethos of the best departments. They typically are the best financed, which means they have more scholars with national reputations to serve as your mentors and letter writers, and they maintain lively brown-bag and seminar series that bring in major visiting scholars with whom you can network. The placement history of a top program tends to produce its own momentum, so that departments around the country with faculty members from that program will then look kindly on new applications from its latest Ph.D.'s. That, my friends, is how privilege reproduces itself. It may be distasteful, but you deny or ignore it at your peril.