Deciding to go to graduate school was probably the toughest decision I’ve made in my life. At the time, I had a wonderful career, a steady relationship, friends and family and I was fairly settled in LA. Through an opportunity with my job, I got to check out the grad school in question first hand. Getting my master’s degree was something I was always interested in, but it didn’t dawn on me to apply until this opportunity arose.
I applied to two schools—one in LA, which was my backup school, the other in NYC, which was my “dream” school. I applied, started saving more money and kept working at my job without thinking about it that much. The first letter came and it was from my backup school. I was rejected. It hurt a little, especially because I thought that was my backup choice, but I figured that it was meant to be and that I should keep working. I thought that, because I didn’t get in to my backup school, there was no way I’d get into my dream school.
A month later, I got the letter. I was accepted to my dream school! 3,000 miles away and the program started in three months. I started crying and hyperventilating. My whole new life flashed before my eyes….I had options. There were big decisions ahead.
The biggest decision was not about the moving, not about leaving my loved ones, but getting into more debt. At the time, I had just enough in savings to pay off my undergrad debt. I could have been debt free. But I decided to use it as savings and pursue my dream of graduate school.
In a very short time span, I signed over my life to accrue substantially more debt, moved across country and started graduate school. It was so hard to leave my job and everything that I worked so hard for. But because this was something I wanted, and I didn’t think it was possible, I felt like it was the right thing to do.
The first week of school was tough. I was so excited to meet my colleagues; after speaking with most of them, I found out many of them had just graduated from undergrad. I had always imagined graduate school as a place for professionals, people to help you grow and further your career. The majority of my cohort was 22 years old, and fresh out of college with no work experience. They were going to graduate school because they couldn’t find a job, or they didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t think of a worse reason to go to graduate school and I started feeling nervous about my networking opportunities. When I had my first session with my graduate advisor, I explained how excited I was about studying with the best in the field, being in NYC and going to such a great school. I let him know about my previous job and all I had done to get there.
He said, “You left a career for this? Can you go back to that job when you are finished?”
This statement foreshadowed the next two years of my life. No, I could not go back to that job and this was a horrible thing to say to me after being in NYC for only 4 days. I had my doubts about the program, but I was determined to make it work. I didn’t move for nothing.
I had some great experiences in graduate school; I got to go to an amazing school, study with the best in the field and meet a ton of really great people. I also got to cross off two major life goals off my list. You know those big, life long goals we all hold dear to our hearts? Well two of mine were living in NYC and getting a graduate degree. Check and check. Crossing off those two items on my bucket list felt great. I learned so much from just living and working in NYC. It was a time of growth, pain, success and failure.
I graduated with 68k debt to my name and didn’t have a job. If you have been following my blog, you know for two whole years afterward I had inconsistent work. I finally have a job that aligns with my experience, interests and passions. I can’t really say if having a graduate degree helped me get the job. I can tell you for certain it hasn’t made me more money, but I am hoping it will in the long run.
For people considering graduate school, really think of the things you are giving up. Really consider how much your loans will cost. Throwing $1,000 + at student loans each month sucks. Maintaining that pace is so difficult and even then, I still have years to go. Go to graduate school for the right reasons, NOT because you can’t find a job or because you don’t know what to do with your life. I promise you my work experience has played a stronger part than any of my education has in finding a job. If you can’t find a job, volunteer of become an intern. You’ll get in less debt than going to graduate school and get better experience. If you really want to go to graduate school, find a way to pay for it.
I don’t regret my graduate school experience per se, but it has been frustrating and depressing that it took me two years to get on my feet again. Everyone told me getting a graduate degree during a recession was a great idea. Not when you already have a job you like!
In short, going to graduate school is a very personal decision. Don’t listen to everyone else and follow your instincts; consider everything. I did all my research before, and I knew what I was getting into. Even then, it’s easier to think what it will be like paying 1k/mo on debt, than actually realizing how hard it is to do, after barely being able to find a job.
Are you thinking of going to graduate school? Do you have your master’s? If so, did it help you or hurt you?