Author Topic: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?  (Read 8223 times)

kbower85

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Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« on: October 28, 2012, 09:14:48 AM »
Dear All,

I am a 26-year old female currently employed in an administrative position at a prestigious university in Baltimore, MD; my salary is roughly $36K/year with full benefits that I contribute very little towards.  I have been there since August 2010, but have been on an unpaid medical leave since October 2011 (the leave is scheduled to end in January 2013).  I do not feel challenged by the work nor feel there are any opportunities to advance or really glean new skills in this position, but it is a comfortable, secure, and low-stress work environment and position.  I hold a BA in English with a 4.0 GPA from a state university in PA.

Since graduating college in 2008, I feel I have been undecided and "floundering" career-wise and am deeply anxious and unhappy about this, so I have been considering graduate school (or a post-bacc program) for some time now.  However, I am a very risk-averse and debt-averse person, which I think is what has kept me from pursuing further education, even though I am confident I would do well.  I am also a  perfectionist and have heard things such as degrees like MBAs, JDs, etc are not very good investments unless they are from a top school.  I am not a very good standardized test taker, so I doubt I would score high enough on the requisite test (GMAT, LSAT, etc) to gain admission to a top-tier school.  However, I feel very trapped and stuck in terms of my current situation, and the only real way out I see (other than trying to make a career change using the English background, for which there do not seem to be many opportunities) is by continuing on for more education. 

In terms of my finances, I have always lived below my means and currently have only about $6K in debt ($3K car loan and $3K student loans).  I have 3 retirement accounts totaling about $24K, a good-sized rainy due money market fund, and no credit card debt.  I am happy with my modest and frugal lifestyle and do not aspire to earn a higher income in order to boost my lifestyle/spending.  I would simply feel more comfortable earning a higher income in order to be able to save and invest more.  This past tax year (2011), I would guess that I managed to save at least 20% of my income, which I consider low to begin with. 

My question is essentially as follows: Is it worth it to continue in my low-paying and "just a job" position and remain essentially debt-free, or is it time to just take the plunge and start a graduate school program and accept the reality of the debt that will come along with it? 

Thanks!

frugal_engineer

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2012, 09:28:27 AM »
First, my personal experience is that a graduate degree is an excellent choice / investment.

However, I'd strongly recommend finding a job which you'd like to do before going and getting said degree.  You mention MBA and JD as options, but do you have specific things you'd like to do that require those degrees?  If you really like english for example, a possible path may be getting an MS then PhD in english with the goal of a professorship. 

You've definitely identified the trap that some people seem to fall into.  Getting an expensive degree without a plan to use it.  Once you identify your own goals, you can identify the education required to achieve them.

jrhampt

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2012, 09:31:14 AM »
First of all, don't underestimate the value of a low-stress job with great benefits!  Also, since you work at a university, would it be possible to work while going to grad school part-time and having your employer fund your degree? I have worked for a couple of universities and was able to get lots of free training from them.  Finally, getting an advanced degree does not necessarily translate into higher pay or a better job.  Especially since your undergrad was in English, think about what kind of graduate programs you would be able to get into.  For example, if you try to get a graduate degree in a higher-paying quantitative field such as statistics, you'd have to make up a lot of pre-requisites which would lengthen the time to get your degree.  If you just get a graduate degree in English, you probably are not going to get a higher-paying job.  I would stay at your job and investigate your options, try to get your employer to pay for your degree if possible, and really think about what kind of degree will get you where you want to go.

I was in a dead-end low stress job when I was about your age and went back to grad school for a degree in TESL (teaching English as a second language).  I paid $30K for the degree (after graduate assistantships/stipends) and found that the work I got was no better paying than before.  I lucked into my current field by accident (based on some work experience I volunteered for as a grad assistant) and this time I am doing grad school the right way by choosing a quantitative field (Statistics/Data Mining) related to my current job and having my employer pay for it.  Fortunately, my undergraduate degree was math/science-related, so I didn't have to take extra classes to get into my current program.

Lagom

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2012, 04:34:35 PM »
I agree that you should be sure of what you want and NOT just jump into law school or business school because you think it will help you make more money. Think even harder about pursuing a less useful graduate degree. Similar to jrhampt, I got a master's in teaching history and that turned out to be a terrible investment that did little more than add to my debt and provide relatively few job opportunities that were higher stress for the same pay I am making now. I started the program because I felt stuck in a rut. Bad call. I almost doubled down on law school after that, but I ultimately decided that it was not worth the additional time or expense. I would also not recommend an English PhD (with the possible exception of composition & rhetoric). Terrible job market unless you go to a top school, get published a few times during grad school, develop a good professional network, and get very lucky.

Today I have learned to enjoy my dead-end non profit job. It's easy, somewhat interesting, and worthwhile to society. The pay is good enough and the flexibility it provides allows me to take some of the load off my wife, who is in a much higher paying but much more stressful work environment. I read a book once (forget the title) that extolled the virtues of a "good enough" job, for people who tend to be dissatisfied at work. I always liked that depiction.

menorman

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2012, 05:01:14 PM »
I'm with jrhampt, maybe you shouldn't look to run away from potentially free education unless they just don't have a program that interests you at all. It might even allow you to study something that really interests you but doesn't have as high job/pay prospects as something else if you can do it for free. All the while, you can continue building a 'stache to help for when you do reach that point where your friends are frantically worrying about paying off loans and having to settle for jobs they have no desire to be in. Having already been there, done that, you can then take your time and pick something that you truly wish to do.

jrhampt

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2012, 05:39:41 PM »
Yeah, and actually if you can get your employer to pay for it, a boring job is the BEST kind to have while you're in grad school!  I actually started my current graduate program because I was bored at work.  Of course, halfway into it we had a reorg and things got more exciting, just not in a good way.  Fortunately I'm finishing my last class and the thesis.

billc

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2012, 10:07:28 PM »
It depends on what kind of lifestyle you want.

Remember that in general the higher the salary the more demands on time + increased work stress.

If I were in your shoes I think I would take the extra time I have with my low stress job and do some side hustles.

For instance, you can become a real estate agent in Maryland for roughly $3,000 with $2,000/year in upkeep. The market isn't great, but it's a low barrier of entry and it's typically not hard to make $5k - $10k /year with it (if you're interested in this sort of thing). That kind of money can be made working on average less than 5 hrs / week.

You could also try writing your own blog and perhaps get a job writing for an established Baltimore neighborhood blog (they might pay you $15-25/post). This exists in DC. Probably not a lot of money, but if this is something you're interested in, who knows!? It could grow into something better. Again, limited $ investment.

For the 2-3 years and $30,000-$50,000 it would cost to go to grad school, it just seems like you could try something on your own. Maybe it becomes a career (writing) or maybe it's just enough side money doing something you like to keep everything in balance.

Try to think outside of the traditional employment mindset.

PJ

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2012, 10:13:36 PM »
Along the same lines, as what billc suggested, a couple of years ago a family member looked into courses on tax preparation.  The idea was that for a few months of the year, she could knock herself out on evenings and weekends doing people's taxes, and even take part of her vacation to work full days during the real crunch time.  She didn't end up doing the course as some other stuff came up to prevent it, but it seemed like a reasonable plan to me. 

the fixer

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2012, 10:57:27 AM »
There are plenty of positions that are more skilled than what you do but should not require an advanced degree, if you're interested in them.

My first recommendation is project management. This is mainly just a scheduling and communication role, keeping track of the progress of a team of people. If you are good at organizing, communicating, and following process, you can do this. PMI is the leading certification organization for this field. If you told your employer you were interested in getting into this area of work, do you think they would be supportive? If so get them to give you some real experience with it (a requirement for certification) and see if they'll pay for your classes. This work pays well with experience and can be stressful, but I think most of that is self-imposed (either from people who have the wrong attitude or are bad at it and make things worse).

Another possibility is something in marketing/communication. I know less about it but to me it looks like it's mostly about planning, building (i.e. writing) and tracking campaigns. With an English degree you should be 80% of the way there training-wise to do this kind of work, and with two or three undergrad level courses (paid for by your employer preferably) you'd be ready to start a new career. The stress in marketing comes from the difficulty of tracking the success of what you're doing, resulting in your performance possibly being measured using irrelevant metrics like open rates and click throughs on emails. In the worst of environments, this presents a conflict between making yourself look good and spamming/ticking off your company's customers. But this varies widely by company culture.

HR is also a possibility, but I know very little about it career-wise.

tooqk4u22

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2012, 07:57:34 AM »
Remember that in general the higher the salary the more demands on time + increased work stress.

I second this....many times people forget this truth.  Sure there are high earners that don't work that hard or have high stress but that is not the norm. Companies pay high dollar because they have high expectations.

savingtofreedom

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2012, 09:59:42 AM »
Before you make a leap into a completely different career via grad school I would think more about what skills that you posses that make you successful in your current role.  I know you mentioned perfectionism but what else are you good at - problem solving, organization, summarizing information, debating,  etc.  Those skills may be viable in another career path that you can jump into without necessarily going back to school.

I think looking into other options first before school may help you get into a better situation long term.  Maybe look into taking some coursea courses (free online) in areas where you are interested and look at volunteering opportunities that may put you in contact with people from that field. 

I think project management is a great idea, proposal writing is good if you are organized, persuasive and a good writer. 

If you are looking at a JD - I would go to the blog http://corporette.com/ and read some of the old posts comments - alot of lawyers post to this board - look at the comments - most of the posts are about shopping - but they will give some good advice about what you need to consider before going to law school - here is a good example - comment to a question about happiness in a law career:
    To me, knowing what you want to get out of it also includes having specific goals and the background to get you there. Law school is no longer the best place for bright young people with general/diffuse talents who figure they will fall into a practice area. If you “love law,” go be a paralegal or a legal assistant somewhere first for a couple of years, so if you decide you still want to go to law school, you can show up already having some familiarity with “thinking like a lawyer” and the real day-to-day practice of law. That will likely help you do better in school, and will also probably make you a more competitive job candidate later. At the very least, observe courtrooms, meet lawyers, go to networkig events and ask lots of questions.
Everyone agrees that law school is nothing like law practice, no matter what your area is. It’s a huge gamble to make that commitment if you have no plan and no real idea of what practice is. This whole rant is because in this day and age, what job you take may not be entirely up to you unless you have *top* credentials stacked up from law school, and that can take a lot away from your potential for happiness. That’s assuming you do find something, and I know people from my class (2010) who still haven’t.
Read more: http://corporette.com/2011/12/08/how-your-career-affects-your-happiness-or-are-there-any-happy-lawyers/#ixzz2AtOsfqLh


Good luck to you - I have been where you are and tried many different careers. It is a process but you have the power to change your course. 

MsSindy

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2012, 05:19:15 PM »
I have to agree with some of the other comments about finding out what you want to do first, before you spend money on higher education.  You really need to look at this from a business decision perspective - You're about to invest $XX, XXX and XX years to pursue something - what is the end result?  What is your ROI?  Will you even be happy?  or just deep in debt?  and thus more 'anxious'.  Getting a higher level degree does not guarantee you higher income or more job satisfaction.

Your salary is at a moderate enough level that making a lateral career move into something else should be fairly easy without loss of pay.  It becomes much tougher to jump to new careers as you progress up the ladder.

An area I would suggest pursuing is that of a Business Analyst.  There are several flavors of a Business Analyst, but typically this person works on projects to help define the requirements, processes, metrics, etc.  They typically work directly with the Project Manager - it is an excellent stepping stone to Project Manager, and often other roles within a company once you establish yourself as competent.

Snow White

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #12 on: October 31, 2012, 08:01:32 PM »
I second (third) what others have said...don't go to graduate school without a clear path that you are excited about.  I had a BA degree with low paying job and started a PhD program hoping to find something I loved.  Instead I quit and went back to school for a nursing degree and THAT has become my true passion. I have worked as an RN now for almost 20 years and still love it.  The smartest thing I ever did was to completely change directions.

capital

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2012, 10:05:24 PM »
Law school has lately become a very bad option for just about everyone (anyone who can't get into Harvard, Yale, or Stanford), I hear. Tuitions are way up, salaries haven't followed, and many law school graduates are unemployed.

Here's a recent post by a troubled law professor:
http://insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/2012/10/five-facts.html

If you work for a university, can you take classes for free? Take classes until something sticks, maybe.

chucklesmcgee

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #14 on: November 09, 2012, 10:36:43 PM »
Law school has lately become a very bad option for just about everyone (anyone who can't get into Harvard, Yale, or Stanford), I hear. Tuitions are way up, salaries haven't followed, and many law school graduates are unemployed.

Here's a recent post by a troubled law professor:
http://insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/2012/10/five-facts.html

If you work for a university, can you take classes for free? Take classes until something sticks, maybe.

I agree. If you can't get into a top 14 school, I'd strongly consider against it. 3 years and another $200k+ in debt isn't that great of a deal at all.

Kitty

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #15 on: November 13, 2012, 05:12:45 AM »
I would also not recommend an English PhD (with the possible exception of composition & rhetoric). Terrible job market unless you go to a top school, get published a few times during grad school, develop a good professional network, and get very lucky.


I agree 200% with Lagom. The market is very tough at present; jobs are scarce.

As a graduate student, I made a reasonably good living with the editing skills I learned in my English degree. If you are interested in the technical requirements of writing, you could use your perfectionism to edit other people's papers/theses/grant proposals/job applications. This is great sideline work that you can accept on a contract basis and maybe convert to a FT business later if you enjoy it.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2012, 05:19:24 AM by Kitty »

trammatic

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #16 on: November 13, 2012, 05:59:58 AM »
As far as prestigious universities in Baltimore go, you have Hopkins?  If that's it, they have a very generouns tuition remission program for employees.  http://hr.jhu.edu/benefits/tuition/remission.cfm

I think that's a perfect place to jump off into grad school.

$_gone_amok

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #17 on: November 13, 2012, 12:10:07 PM »
Technical writing for IT/software companies are challenging and rewarding. Maybe you could look into it if you haven't thought about it before.

TLV

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #18 on: November 13, 2012, 12:45:14 PM »
Law school has lately become a very bad option for just about everyone (anyone who can't get into Harvard, Yale, or Stanford), I hear. Tuitions are way up, salaries haven't followed, and many law school graduates are unemployed.

I have a friend who will graduate from Harvard law in April and is having tremendous difficultly lining anything up, so even the big-name schools are affected.

cdngb

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #19 on: November 26, 2012, 05:16:27 PM »
I have a few suggestions.
 
Look around the University and find a job that you may be interested in.  These could be in another department or in something like admissions or student aid.  You may be able to transfer to it from the job that you do not like.  Look for short term positions so that you can see if you would like to work there for a long period of time.  If necessary find out what further education is required if any.  I would suggest that most would not require any further education.

Before you quit and go back to school find out what jobs are available to grad school graduates in your field.  If it is worthwhile financially, go back to school.

Instead of leaving your current position to go to grad school, consider going on a part-time basis at your univesity.  Are you saying that the grad school graduates at your university are un-employable?  Does your university not have a reduced tuition for employees?  Speak to the Dean of your school to find your options.  You can continue working in your boring job but at the same time get the stimulis that you need by going to school.  Does your school offer paid sebaticals?

Remember that most people are bored and unhappy in their jobs.  This includes low and high paying ones.  You can always find satisfaction in other things than at work.  Volunteer or get involved in something that interests you.  Even consider a part-time job somewhere where you would have fun.

Good luck

Noodle

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Re: Is going back for a graduate degree worth it?
« Reply #20 on: December 02, 2012, 09:13:50 AM »
I think that grad school is the last piece of the puzzle to put in place.

Before you decide if grad school is the way to reach your goals, you need to have goals. But it sounds like you are at a step even before that. So what are your passions?

I'm not giving new-agey advice that if you follow your passions, you will inevitably find financial success. But I know plenty of people who pursue their passions as a side gig, or hobby, and the job is what pays the bills for that (I'm around a lot of artists and musicians due to my job). Doing Thing They Love is the reward, not the money. Maybe that is the life for you, in which case the low-stress job with benefits is a great match. A passion that pays for itself and makes some money on the side can help with having multiple streams of income, which is a great situation in any case.

Or maybe there is something you really like that could translate into doing it as a full-time job. Depending on what it is, getting to know people in the field, or volunteering, or getting a part-time side job will get you the insider knowledge as to whether the grad degree is necessary (and whether that job is as cool in the day-to-day as it is from outside).

Grad school is really, really hard on its best days. I did it twice, and I would never advise someone to sign up for it unless you can imagine yourself caring about Subject X to the extent where you eat, sleep and breathe it for 2-9 years. (PS, in my case I did, and I do work in my field. So some grad school stories do have happy endings!)