Author Topic: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?  (Read 4688 times)

akzidenz

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I've been following these forums for years and post very infrequently. Still, I appreciate this community and would love some perspective on a dilemma I'm facing.

The setup: I graduated college with no debt, a high-paying career in (STEM field), and have been working for a few years. I've generally saved aggressively, despite some unfortunately expensive hobbies—50% to 65% of my income every year. My job is overall pleasant and I sincerely enjoy it, even though there are stressful periods and I tend to work 45–50 hours/week.

The (possibly wildly irresponsible and expensive) idea: I have certain arts and humanities passions that I pursue as much as possible in my free time. Although I could continue having them as side hobbies, I would love the ability to concentrate on them for 2 years. I've found a program in my current city which seems unusually perfect for my intellectual interests and am daydreaming about applying. It would be full-time for a year with the option for part-time study the next year (so I could potentially take on freelance/part-time work to help pay for living expenses).

The cost: Tuition + living cost would be ~$70k for two years. Funding is unlikely for various reasons, but I have enough saved right now to cover the entire cost with zero debt and still have a comfortable emergency fund. (I also have slightly more than $100k in retirement savings that I wouldn't touch.) If I'm admitted to the program, I'd continue to work until the program starts in September 2020, and (unless I'm laid off, the company drastically cuts salaries, or something similar) I'd likely be able to save at least $30k, which would make me feel much safer.

Possible outcomes after the MA:
  • I return to 'ordinary life' and my high-paying, overall pleasant STEM job. I'm assuming that I'll be able to jump back into my career after 2 years away. The MA I want to pursue is unlikely to significantly help my career/earning potential, but it certainly won't harm it and is mildly related. I think I'd still be happy with this route; the MA experience will allow me to engage with certain side hobbies in a more meaningful way, and I don't think I'll see it as a waste if I don't go further with it.
  • I am inspired by my new field and pursue further study/research at the PhD level. I would only do this if I had a stipend. Part of why I'm interested in the MA is that it seems like a good way to test my commitment to doctoral study.
  • My MA gives me the skills/connections to move to different jobs that I'm not currently qualified for. I'd be paid a fraction of what I earn in my current career, but I wouldn't be burdened down by debt and maybe I'd find even more intellectual and creative fulfillment this way?
I'd appreciate some Mustachian perspectives on this, since I have few people in my life with a FIRE mindset. I generally feel that this program would allow me to fulfill my childhood dreams! explore my passions! (potentially) convince me to change career paths! and that I have a backup plan (prior industry experience in a high-earning field) for what happens after. But I've been saving so long in a very disciplined way, and it's scary to think about spending a huge amount of my savings on something that doesn't increase my earning potential and feels a bit indulgent.

I was originally saving so aggressively to retire early, but in the past few years that's become less important to me (I value the social environment of work) and I'm wondering if spending my savings on a different kind of lifestyle choice is appropriate now.

Relevant facts: I don't plan on having kids and don't mind not owning a home (maybe I'll change this viewpoint in the future). My parents are very Mustachian and financially stable, so while anything can happen in the future, I'm currently assuming that I won't need to support them financially in the future.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2019, 08:31:09 AM by akzidenz »

rws

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2019, 08:55:16 AM »
How long until you can FIRE if you keep doing what you're doing?

akzidenz

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2019, 10:39:05 AM »
It's hard to calculate as I'm not sure where I'd be living long-term/what my housing costs would be. But if I kept my current lifestyle and expenses (renting, no kids, living in a HCOL city) I would be able to FIRE in fifteen years, ~2035. Note that I don't feel deprived at my current level of spending.

It's quite possible I may want to make other lifestyle changes though (kids, buying a house). Hard to say.

Dr Kidstache

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2019, 10:58:32 AM »
Do you have any opportunity for employer-paid tuition or to take graduate courses part-time? If you're in a STEM field, many employers offer tuition reimbursement as a benefit. If you're really this interested, could you find a job at an employer that offers education benefits? I think taking grad courses can be a fantastic way to expand your skills and interests. That said, you can study and learn a lot without getting a formal degree. Part-time courses are usually a better entry point than a full-time program unless it's directly related to your employment and you can get a definite return on the expense (and masters programs rarely increase salary as much as they cost).

Fish Sweet

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2019, 11:01:51 AM »
I might be biased because I'm facing a similar choice right now, but I think you should do it.  You're working and saving to be able to live your best life, and pursuing your creative and personal passions is part of that goal.  A single-minded pursuit of savings and FIRE is excellent for building up a big ol' stockpile of $$$ and winning future freedom, but if you do that at the expense your current happiness and neglect your personal development, the person who emerges into FIRE might very well be a withered husk of a human being that you barely recognize as yourself.  If your passions are artistic in nature-- and really, probably even if they aren't-- it takes time, practice, and dedication to get to a high level.  Better to start making time and sinking energy into those activities now, integrating them into your life, than starting fresh as a novice years down the line and being frustrated by your own limitations.

You have a plan to get in, and options for when  you get out, and your hard-earned savings are there for you to be able to live your best life-- and that doesn't have to happen after FIRE.  In fact, it probably shouldn't.  The only thing I would recommend is to maybe set a challenge for yourself-- see just how much you can save in that 11 month gap between now and September of 2020.  Blow that "at least 30k" out of the water.

Boofinator

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2019, 11:09:27 AM »
I might be biased because I'm facing a similar choice right now, but I think you should do it.  You're working and saving to be able to live your best life, and pursuing your creative and personal passions is part of that goal.

Ditto. There'll be time to make more money later.

Kronsey

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #6 on: October 08, 2019, 11:44:45 AM »
@akzidenz if you don't mind sharing, how old are you?

frugaldrummer

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #7 on: October 08, 2019, 12:00:14 PM »
You don't say exactly what field this MA would be in but I'm hard pressed to imagine how an advanced degree in the arts is going to be worth that much money to you. In fine arts, well, wouldn't just taking classes to advance your technique achieve the same thing? In music I don't see how it's helpful unless your goal is to be in a symphony orchestra?  It just seems like in most artistic pursuits, your technique is the key thing and those skills can usually be acquired through other avenues than a costly MA degree, unless your goal is to teach afterwards?  Also, beware of the fact that many fun hobbies are ruined by being turned into work (not always, but sometimes).
I'm an amateur musician who has played with professionals. It's very hard for even semi-famous musicians to make any money these days with the terrible royalties paid by spotify and pandora etc. I have a very good day job so I get to enjoy playing music without any financial burden of being dependent upon music for my livelihood. I look forward to retirement and being freer to go on the road more often - since I don't need to be paid I could offer my services to musician friends and go on some fun adventures, I'm sure.

historienne

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #8 on: October 08, 2019, 01:05:11 PM »
The specifics of the degree probably matter.  In general, though, is there a reason you are not applying directly for Ph.D. programs?  Typically, those would be funded, and you would get an MA during the first two years.  At that point, you could drop out with the MA if you didn't want to go further, or keep going for the Ph.D.

It's possible that you aren't currently competitive for Ph.D. admission.  But it seems worth putting in applications and finding out.

Cranky

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #9 on: October 08, 2019, 01:11:40 PM »
I'm not sure what the value of a degree in this field is?

I feel like there are more options - you could take one or two classes at a time, and get an MA that way. You could take 6 months off from work and pursue this interest full-time in a nonacademic way, and not pay tuition.

I think that you need to clarify your goal.

akzidenz

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #10 on: October 08, 2019, 02:11:52 PM »
Thanks everyone for weighing in. I really appreciate this community and the advice you've shared with me. I'm hesitant to provide too much detail, but I'll try to come up with a useful comparison…

Basically, it's not an MA that teaches one specific arts discipline (e.g. ceramics). I devote a decent bit of time to doing art-y stuff in my spare time, and agree that it's not valuable to go to grad school when I can just practice these skills on my own or take one-off courses at my local pottery studio. The MA I'm considering is more akin to…let's say 'studying the history of ceramics and their role in society/culture'. The specific things I want to get out of a program are: research skills, access to academics, a community of potential collaborators who are also interested in this fairly narrow field, learning how to write rigorous academic papers about this topic, publishing said papers…

I realize this sounds quite niche and akin to 'sociocultural theory of underwater basket weaving'! It's not that niche of a field and this metaphor undersells how applicable it would be to my potential future career options/PhD options. But the fundamental point is that it's more of a passion project than anything that will deliver financial return on investment.

The specifics of the degree probably matter.  In general, though, is there a reason you are not applying directly for Ph.D. programs?  Typically, those would be funded, and you would get an MA during the first two years.  At that point, you could drop out with the MA if you didn't want to go further, or keep going for the Ph.D.

It's possible that you aren't currently competitive for Ph.D. admission.  But it seems worth putting in applications and finding out.

You're exactly right—I'm not competitive for PhD admissions right now, especially at stronger programs (and would be concerned that a lower-ranked program would limit my post-PhD options).

Do you have any opportunity for employer-paid tuition or to take graduate courses part-time? If you're in a STEM field, many employers offer tuition reimbursement as a benefit. If you're really this interested, could you find a job at an employer that offers education benefits? I think taking grad courses can be a fantastic way to expand your skills and interests. That said, you can study and learn a lot without getting a formal degree. Part-time courses are usually a better entry point than a full-time program unless it's directly related to your employment and you can get a definite return on the expense (and masters programs rarely increase salary as much as they cost).

My current employer doesn't offer tuition reimbursement, but I believe I'd be a competitive job applicant at some companies that do—just googled some places. Thanks for the tip. I guess the thing to decide is whether I should apply this year or later. Applying this year is great timing for me personally, but may be better financial timing if I delay until I can switch employers/qualify for tuition reimbursement

I might be biased because I'm facing a similar choice right now, but I think you should do it.  You're working and saving to be able to live your best life, and pursuing your creative and personal passions is part of that goal.  A single-minded pursuit of savings and FIRE is excellent for building up a big ol' stockpile of $$$ and winning future freedom, but if you do that at the expense your current happiness and neglect your personal development, the person who emerges into FIRE might very well be a withered husk of a human being that you barely recognize as yourself.  If your passions are artistic in nature-- and really, probably even if they aren't-- it takes time, practice, and dedication to get to a high level.  Better to start making time and sinking energy into those activities now, integrating them into your life, than starting fresh as a novice years down the line and being frustrated by your own limitations.

You have a plan to get in, and options for when  you get out, and your hard-earned savings are there for you to be able to live your best life-- and that doesn't have to happen after FIRE.  In fact, it probably shouldn't.  The only thing I would recommend is to maybe set a challenge for yourself-- see just how much you can save in that 11 month gap between now and September of 2020.  Blow that "at least 30k" out of the water.

Thanks (and thanks @Boofinator too). I'd be quite interested to hear about the choice you're facing right now, too!

Your mindst is what I'm leaning towards, but still wanted a gut check from this forum and to have some of my ideas politely but firmly challenged. (Where else on the internet will people tell you to not indulge yourself, not buy something you love and can afford, in the service of larger goals and financial ambitions?)

For context (@Kronsey) I'm 25 right now. I have a great life right now and I'm grateful to have a highly-paid and interesting job. But I've largely taken the most responsible routes in life and am now wondering if I've constrained myself too much. I really see myself as an arts/literature/humanities type of person, but elected to take more rigorous STEM courses and study STEM because of the career prospects. Right out of college, I chose a job near home and lived with my family for about a year to save money. And so on. I still think these were great decisions! But I'm worried that I won't take risks that could lead to interesting, unexpected life directions and provide me with new adventures, even if I'm sacrificing some stability.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2019, 02:13:37 PM by akzidenz »

Fish Sweet

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #11 on: October 08, 2019, 04:55:40 PM »
I might be biased because I'm facing a similar choice right now, but I think you should do it.  You're working and saving to be able to live your best life, and pursuing your creative and personal passions is part of that goal.  A single-minded pursuit of savings and FIRE is excellent for building up a big ol' stockpile of $$$ and winning future freedom, but if you do that at the expense your current happiness and neglect your personal development, the person who emerges into FIRE might very well be a withered husk of a human being that you barely recognize as yourself.  If your passions are artistic in nature-- and really, probably even if they aren't-- it takes time, practice, and dedication to get to a high level.  Better to start making time and sinking energy into those activities now, integrating them into your life, than starting fresh as a novice years down the line and being frustrated by your own limitations.

You have a plan to get in, and options for when  you get out, and your hard-earned savings are there for you to be able to live your best life-- and that doesn't have to happen after FIRE.  In fact, it probably shouldn't.  The only thing I would recommend is to maybe set a challenge for yourself-- see just how much you can save in that 11 month gap between now and September of 2020.  Blow that "at least 30k" out of the water.

Thanks (and thanks @Boofinator too). I'd be quite interested to hear about the choice you're facing right now, too!

Your mindst is what I'm leaning towards, but still wanted a gut check from this forum and to have some of my ideas politely but firmly challenged. (Where else on the internet will people tell you to not indulge yourself, not buy something you love and can afford, in the service of larger goals and financial ambitions?)

I love the MMM forums for its good strong dose of realism and emphasis on discipline.  This IS a risk you're proposing, and it's worthwhile to prod at it from all angles and examine the what and especially the WHY for what you want to take it on!

In my case, I'm planning on leaving a stable, moderately well paying admin job for a semi-FIRE sabbatical long before I'm at FIRE levels of assets.  During my sabbatical, I'm planning on doing some relatively expensive travel and focusing on self-growth, artistic development, and working on my craft-related shop, which I doubt will ever provide enough revenue for me to live on.  I'm also considering making a career change into a STEM-related field, which will cost $$$ in terms of education but pay off in higher earnings, but I need to do more research and learning before I make a decision. All in all, it's a risky AND potentially very expensive choice that might also not yield much in the long run. 

Similar to you, I have enough in the savings to be able to float whatever path I take... but it'll also take a big chunk out of the money I've worked hard to accumulate.  In contrast, I don't have the security of knowing that my skills/experience will allow me to transition back into the working world with a minimum of hassle-- maybe, maybe not. 

I made my decision knowing that if I chug along and stay the course for another 7+ years doing what I'm doing, I'll be at coast!FIRE by the time I hit 35... but I also feel like I'm turning into the withered husk of the human I just described to you, cemented into place by the same routines, numb complacency, and aversion to risk while my job burns me out of any energy I have for my other passions in life.  So for that aspect of things... I'm speaking from personal experience lol.

Frankies Girl

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #12 on: October 08, 2019, 05:04:09 PM »
I am a formerly employed in actual creative field, well-paid artsy person. I can't even imagine the use of getting any advanced degree for anyone that hasn't been doing this successfully for decades and is already well-established in the arts field they're thinking about.

Of course you could always be the exception, but if you're planning FIRE anyway... why not figure out how to do this thing in your spare time,  carve out MORE time to spare for this in the process while still employed, and still get out of the rat race ASAP so you can then concentrate on enjoying this field/study to your heart's content without it being disruptive to your bottom line?

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. I personally do not think you should quit your job & deplete your savings to do this. But you could reduce or change your schedule, start taking some of these classes or dedicate x amount of hours to working on your art while still working nearly or a shuffled schedule full time.

« Last Edit: October 08, 2019, 07:19:26 PM by Frankies Girl »

Phillip

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #13 on: October 08, 2019, 05:08:51 PM »
I'd 110% do it.

But I'm 24 with only $7k saved up and I'm freelance writing while living overseas. I'm a little bit more risk-oriented than a lot of other Mustachians. Take my advice with a grain of salt.

You still have $100k in retirement at 25. At worst, you'd have $110k in retirement at 27. That's so far ahead of people your age it's actually kind of mind-numbing. I'm extremely jealous. You have $200k right now? I could retire off of that right now.

Awesome, insane. And I think it offers you a little bit of mini semi-FIRE.

Book recommendation: David Epstein's Range. The secret to career success isn't as straightforward as people think. If you take this little (rigorous, academic) sabbatical, it might just make you even BETTER at your STEM job if you elect to go back, and that means an increase in earning potential.

And maybe I'm wrong, but the way you worded this post -- it sounds like you already made your decision.

Good luck.

jjcamembert

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2019, 05:55:29 PM »
It sounds like you've really thought this through and actually want to go through the grind of a master's or PhD for this field, and you're willing to blow your savings and potential FIRE. You're not talking about a "grass is greener" ideal job like many who talk about following their passion. You're young, and believe me pursuing FIRE for FIRE's sake gets old even when you have the money and a house. But if you can work toward something that rewards you on a different level, you're set, and you might even make a bigger contribution to society than if you continue to work at the high-paying STEM job. If you wait, you risk it becoming a "someday" dream: an insidious consequence.

Others have suggested good optimizations to pursue, and you should look into those, but do it now. You said the timing is good now? Awesome, don't wait for another job, it might not happen in the way you foresee.

To add to those optimizations: see if you can work part-time. You'd have benefits covered and if you're saving 50% now then you'll be at no income loss (minus tuition).

teltic

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #15 on: October 08, 2019, 06:51:45 PM »
Is there any potential of your STEM job becoming part time?  If you asked, what would they do?  Work remotely at night for less than 20 hours while going to school for your passion?

FIRE is interesting. It's all about living your best life, right?  Maximum happiness?  Is it worth sacrificing 10 years to hit FIRE, to then live your best life?  Priorities change in life too.  Maybe you do want kids later?  Maybe you do want an expensive house? There's too many variables in the future to forecast your happiness date (FIRE).

What if you'd be happier making $40k a year in job A rather than $100k at job B?  Sure job A takes 16.6 years to get FI, when job B takes 5.6 years.... But you'd be overall happier in job A, wouldn't you?




wotstheguts

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #16 on: October 08, 2019, 09:22:08 PM »
What's the rush? Why not wait, and follow your academic dream when you're older?

I did a computer science degree when I left school, then worked in IT for about 15 years (while saving and investing in property). Had a lot of fun in IT, went contracting in London and New York and travelled loads, but eventually got sick of the work. Fortunately by the time I was 35 I was able to quit work and live off my investment income. So I bought a house near the beach, got into surfing, running, snowboarding, etc, travelled some more, generally had a blast. Then I went back to university when I was 40 to follow my own dream - did a master's degree in psychology (part-time), and paid all my tuition costs from my investment income. After that I found that I didn't want to continue with a PhD as planned (too much hard work) and be an academic - but who knows, maybe I'll go back again when I'm 60, lol.

You've made a fantastic start with your savings (though perhaps you could find cheaper hobbies!), so why would you not want to leverage that to get yourself financially independent first? Earning potential shrinks as you get older, and taking a break to do grad study might impact your ability to get back into a role at the same pay level (though two years isn't long I guess). Why not make the most of your energy and earning power now, save and invest aggressively, and get yourself free sooner rather than later? (And BTW I don't know if this applies where you live, but in my experience buying a well-located home is great for growing your nest egg, and was my first priority at 25.)

If you retire early you can enjoy your newfound freedom to the max while you're still young, fit, and healthy. Degrees can be such a time sink, why waste your youth on them when you could be out there seeing the world and doing whatever you want?

Just my opinion obviously, it all depends on your values. Best of luck with your decision, and well done on the saving - I had virtually nothing when I was 25, so you are already way ahead I reckon!

marble_faun

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #17 on: October 08, 2019, 09:36:41 PM »
You should do it!  It's just two years off, you have a good amount of savings, you won't be going into debt, and you have your old career to fall back on. 

To me there's something to be said for doing this when you are at a flexible stage of life, when the future is still all a garden of forking paths.

Do explore other programs, though, aside from the local one.  You might find some that offer tuition waivers and fellowships.

Fuzz

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #18 on: October 08, 2019, 10:07:13 PM »
Check out Eugene Wei's career path: https://www.eugenewei.com/info

He took a similar route and it worked out.

There aren't any bad choices. You do the master's and you're fine by any objective measure. You don't do the master's but continue to make great, steady money, and enjoy fancy pants hobbies. Also fine. It's your life.

Personally, I am not a fan of master's degrees in the humanities. You don't need anyone's permission to make art or live well, which seems to be what you study. (I discount entirely the value of networking or connections--if you have a STEM degree, you can figure out networking without a master's).

I'd look at a master's degree about the same as taking a year off to travel in an Airstream. Fun, edifying, kinda spendy, but not an investment in your career. Doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. But only do it if it sounds better to you than other consumption opportunities.

Spondulix

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #19 on: October 09, 2019, 12:39:07 AM »
I am a formerly employed in actual creative field, well-paid artsy person. I can't even imagine the use of getting any advanced degree for anyone that hasn't been doing this successfully for decades and is already well-established in the arts field they're thinking about.

Of course you could always be the exception, but if you're planning FIRE anyway... why not figure out how to do this thing in your spare time,  carve out MORE time to spare for this in the process while still employed, and still get out of the rat race ASAP so you can then concentrate on enjoying this field/study to your heart's content without it being disruptive to your bottom line?

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. I personally do not think you should quit your job & deplete your savings to do this. But you could reduce or change your schedule, start taking some of these classes or dedicate x amount of hours to working on your art while still working nearly or a shuffled schedule full time.
^^ I completely agree with this. I have two degrees in the arts and was freelance for about a decade. These were the things that eventually lead me back to a full-time job -

- When you're not employed full-time, you are responsible for the work in addition to being the accountant, HR, marketing, sales, etc. Running my business (even though I was mainly working as a contractor for businesses) was a huge time suck. It was fine when I was 26 but at 39 with other obligations (a spouse, child, house, etc) I have no desire to go back to that lifestyle. Insurance/medical costs can be stupid expensive, too, especially if you get injured (Learned that the hard way.)

- Even if something is a passion, it will eventually will become a job and there's consequences to that. After 15 years in the field (plus 6 years of education) the art behind it just doesn't light my fire anymore. There's something about learning it that intensely and then practicing it every day for so many years just makes me feel really blah about it. There's a reason researchers aren't spending their free time doing more research or artists aren't donating work to galleries in addition to their paid projects.

- Life will happen. When I made the decision to pursue a Masters in my 20s I was thinking about my personal fulfillment and not about the life that was happening around me. 5 years later, my mom had a major health crisis. My husband had an injury where he really needed me to take care of him. I went through depression. I would have rather poked out my eyeball than work when those things were going on. It made me kinda hate the whole field for a few years.

Flip side is I can see why now is a good time to drop everything to go to school. As your life obligations grow it becomes harder to take a step back to do those kinds of things. But I completely agree it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can start laying the groundwork  - taking classes, continuing your own education, do your own research, connect with people in the field and building relationships, save money. If there's one thing I've learned about the arts is no one is going to hand you opportunities - it's not as easy as applying for a degree program or a job. You really have to network and form a team of people around you who will help support making it happen. And that can happen even if you're not in the field yet.

Spondulix

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #20 on: October 09, 2019, 12:46:49 AM »
I am a formerly employed in actual creative field, well-paid artsy person. I can't even imagine the use of getting any advanced degree for anyone that hasn't been doing this successfully for decades and is already well-established in the arts field they're thinking about.

Of course you could always be the exception, but if you're planning FIRE anyway... why not figure out how to do this thing in your spare time,  carve out MORE time to spare for this in the process while still employed, and still get out of the rat race ASAP so you can then concentrate on enjoying this field/study to your heart's content without it being disruptive to your bottom line?

It doesn't have to be all or nothing. I personally do not think you should quit your job & deplete your savings to do this. But you could reduce or change your schedule, start taking some of these classes or dedicate x amount of hours to working on your art while still working nearly or a shuffled schedule full time.
^^ I completely agree with this. I have two degrees in the arts and was freelance for about a decade. These were the things that eventually lead me back to a full-time job -

- When you're not employed full-time, you are responsible for the work in addition to being the accountant, HR, marketing, sales, etc. Running my business (even though I was mainly working as a contractor for businesses) was a huge time suck. It was fine when I was 26 but at 39 with other obligations (a spouse, child, house, etc) I have no desire to go back to that lifestyle. Insurance/medical costs can be stupid expensive, too, especially if you get injured (Learned that the hard way.)

- Even if something is a passion, it will eventually will become a job and there's consequences to that. After 15 years in the field (plus 6 years of education) the art behind it just doesn't light my fire anymore. There's something about learning it that intensely and then practicing it every day for so many years just makes me feel really blah about it. There's a reason researchers aren't spending their free time doing more research or artists aren't donating work to galleries in addition to their paid projects.

- Life will happen. When I made the decision to pursue a Masters in my 20s I was thinking about my personal fulfillment and not about the life that was happening around me. 5 years later, my mom had a major health crisis. My husband had an injury where he really needed me to take care of him. I went through depression. I would have rather poked out my eyeball than work when those things were going on. It made me kinda hate the whole field for a few years.

Flip side is I can see why now is a good time to drop everything to go to school. As your life obligations grow it becomes harder to take a step back to do those kinds of things. But I completely agree it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can start laying the groundwork  - taking classes, continuing your own education, do your own research, connect with people in the field and building relationships, save money. If there's one thing I've learned about the arts is no one is going to hand you opportunities - it's not as easy as applying for a degree program or a job. You really have to network and form a team of people around you who will help support making it happen. And that can happen even if you're not in the field yet.

Editing to add: Most of the years I was freelance I didn't put hardly any money in retirement so I completely lost out on those best years of compounding. Money put in when you're 25 is way more valuable than money you put in at 45. I know that's not an enticing reason to avoid following your dream... but I'm just trying to show that there can be financial consequences to following your dream. It's not like 8-10 years of education to earn a surgeon's salary, either... you're talking the arts and academia...

Linea_Norway

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #21 on: October 09, 2019, 01:15:24 AM »
Paging @CrabbitDutchie who went back to study, but in a relevant field.

I think that if it is some skill/knowledge you want to obtain, it can be worth doing that. Working in a STEM job, while you are an artsy person might not be that fulfilling in the long run. Then maybe having a combination of the fields can open new doors to career changes later.

habanero

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #22 on: October 09, 2019, 02:18:14 AM »
I would wait a bit. You are young, have few expenses and a high-paying job you seem to enjoy at the moment. If you stick on to that for a few more years you will have made the rest of your life drastically simpler. In financial terms, the cost of making this move now is potentially massive.

- you have no income for 2 years
- you loose out on 2 years of savings which will compound for the next 20-30 years until you need them
- you burn through 70k of saving which also will compound if you don't use them
- you might lower your income dramatically for the rest of your working life if you switch careers

Not all can be counted in money and not all decisions should be financial. But at least you should think long, deep and hard about if to do this, and if so, when to do it.

Another route could be to have this option in your back pocket and use it if/when a downturn hits your area/industry/whatever and you loose your job or earn significantly less money or whatever.

Malcat

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #23 on: October 09, 2019, 05:23:09 AM »
Put bluntly, financially it's a terrible idea.
This degree is not an investment and it will cause you to miss out on the most valuable savings years you have: the early ones. The earlier you save a dollar, the more it's worth.

You're also not just looking at 2 years, you're actually looking at probably closer to a decade, since you already know you're interested in a PhD, and the momentum of academia is very very hard to break away from, so it's HIGHLY likely that you will continue on. A PhD is also not an investment, especially a PhD in the history of ceramics.

So to reiterate, this is a TERRIBLE financial plan
...but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.

What you should do is be realistic, really look at the opportunity cost of this move. Look at the real value to your life compared to every other option you have. This move closes more doors for you than it opens, so it's only worthwhile if you truly feel that it is your best path to living your best life.

Examine closely the upsides and downsides of waiting to do this program until you are more financially established. What hurts more? The financial opportunity cost or the years waiting to pursue this degree?

Look forward to your early 30s, which possible regret stings more:
1: looking back and reflecting that your STEM job really was enjoyable and that you could have totally done it longer and had so much more money?
2: looking back and thinking about all the money and freedom you have from staying in your STEM job and thinking "it wasn't worth it, I should have started this MA years ago..."

You're young, you're smart, you have passion, you have all sorts of options available to you right now. Definitely don't limit yourself to only considering the pragmatic ones. However, also know that every decision closes doors, so look carefully at which doors you are willing to close as you move forward.

As someone who spent their entire 20s in university for the sake of a dream, I wish I had been more mindful of the doors I was closing. It's taken a herculean effort and a lot of compromise to pry them back open.

With the privilege of options comes the stress of choice.

Kronsey

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #24 on: October 09, 2019, 08:40:24 AM »

For context (@Kronsey) I'm 25 right now. I have a great life right now and I'm grateful to have a highly-paid and interesting job. But I've largely taken the most responsible routes in life and am now wondering if I've constrained myself too much. I really see myself as an arts/literature/humanities type of person, but elected to take more rigorous STEM courses and study STEM because of the career prospects. Right out of college, I chose a job near home and lived with my family for about a year to save money. And so on. I still think these were great decisions! But I'm worried that I won't take risks that could lead to interesting, unexpected life directions and provide me with new adventures, even if I'm sacrificing some stability.

You've received a lot of other good advice. I don't have a lot to add outside of what I would do in your shoes. I would curtail my spending slightly (increase savings rate), take very good care of my health (physical exercise with mostly clean eating), and I would continue towards FIRE knowing that I could spend my time doing whatever I wanted in a few short years. Based on everything you've expressed, I see no reason you couldn't get there in a much shorter time frame than 15 years. Early 30's should be no problem at all. Here are my reasons:

1. Going down this path is no more of a guarantee of happiness than the one you're on. You could set your FI plans back by decades, and you have no concrete evidence that pursuing this path will make you any happier than you are right now (you seem to enjoy your life at this point while many absolutely hate their jobs).

2. Sometimes hobbies are best left as hobbies.

3. I'm not a good multitasker, so I tend to view other situations with the same lens. The thought of switching things up, then going back to STEM if you needed the boost to income, or maybe not, etc just seems like a lot of moving parts and stress all for what?

For me the overriding factors are that you currently enjoy your work for the most part, and you have no guarantee of increasing your quality of life as you haven't traveled down this path before. It sounds more like a dream, which is great, I just personally wouldn't delay FI on this big of an unknown.

Good luck!

WalkaboutStache

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #25 on: October 09, 2019, 08:58:33 AM »
If you need to pay for graduate school, you shouldn't go.  Universities discovered a great cash cow on non-doctoral track students and are now fully exploiting that population. Most of what you will get you would be able garner by reading stuff on your own.  If you need a reading list, I am sure you could find sillabi on-line with assigned readings.  Sure, there is some added value in class discussions that you would not get reading on your own, but I doubt that would be 70K worth.

When I went to graduate school everyone - from professors to doctoral students - looked at MA students as intellectual lightweights who were just wasting their money. The focus was on the doctoral students and to a lesser extent the smart undergraduates taking graduate classes. You'll do the reading, people will nod to you in class and the professors will give you your A or B+ but in the end that will be a very expensive pat on the back.

Sorry for being so blunt.  If you are really into the field you are interested in, you might as well go for the doctoral track.  That one should be fully funded (and if it is not you are potentially looking at a shitty program).  If you are not ready for a PhD, you will do better with a library card. You don't have to be ready for a PhD, you just need to get accepted into a program.  The combined drop out and under-employment rates are high enough that you should not feel bad if you ditch the doctoral program halfway through.

A qualification that I would have is that this does not apply to professional schools.  Unfortunately, one does have to pay for that (but outside the top 15-20, caveat emptor applies as they do not often put you on track to the high salaries of professional degrees).

Having said that, I probably spent half of that 70K on a side interest of mine over the past decade or so.  If you are sure it will bring you joy, go for it.  Just bear in mind 70K of joy over 2 years ain't Mustachian, if that matters to you.

« Last Edit: October 09, 2019, 09:04:35 AM by WalkaboutStache »

Laura33

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #26 on: October 09, 2019, 09:51:54 AM »
For context (@Kronsey) I'm 25 right now. I have a great life right now and I'm grateful to have a highly-paid and interesting job. But I've largely taken the most responsible routes in life and am now wondering if I've constrained myself too much.

From my own experience, if you have a highly-paid and interesting job, that's the Holy Grail right there.  You don't yet have the life experience to judge how this job compares to the other options out there in your current field or the options that you may have available in another field with a degree.  There may be other equivalent or better opportunities, but there also may not be.  So judge your future opportunities with a grain of salt, and the recognition that there are things you don't know enough to judge fairly.

I would also do some serious math about the financial consequences.  You are probably at the highest-impact-savings period in your life.  The money you save now has the longest to compound and so is far more valuable than the money you save in 5 years.  You have a high-paying job, low expenses, and zero dependents, so you can save probably the highest percentage of your income you will be able to for most of your life.  And "just" that $70K you are looking at for tuition is 40% of your net worth!  If you invest that whole $170K instead of only $100K -- even if you don't invest another penny -- you will have $340K in at 35 vs. $200K, and $680K at 45 instead of $400K (and truly ridiculous amounts by the time you hit traditional retirement age).  If you continue to add more savings to those numbers at your current rate, you are very seriously on the fast track to FIRE, and you need to consider the costs of giving that up.  (Yes, that sounds obvious, but it's not just financial "costs" -- the difference between having to scramble to keep a job that pays $40K/yr because you need it to pay your bills vs. doing the job as a passion project while knowing you can walk whenever you want to is night and day)

All that said, I agree with Malkynn:  life is not always about finances.  There is a danger in not taking risks as well, of settling for something just because it's lucrative, even though it leaves you somewhat empty inside. 

So you are right to think seriously about this.  I would just suggest you think seriously about how you can achieve that goal in a more Mustachian way.  Because, honestly, $70K/1/3 your NW + 2 years off high-paying job with unknown ability to return, all for a "fun" degree, is not Mustachian.  So how can you work the system?  Can you do the degree part-time while continuing to work?  Can you take some classes now to see how compelling that life is once you're into it, and to make yourself a better Ph.D candidate?  Because WalkaboutStache is exactly right about these high-cost post-grad programs: it is a serious mill that churns students to bring in the big bucks for the university, and the folks they care the most about are the ones that are most committeed to their field (which means Ph.D, not M.A.).  Can you volunteer at some nonprofits that work in the area you're interested in to see how you like doing that on a day-to-day basis?  Can you go part-time at work to free up more time to explore this all, while still at least covering your costs?  What would the math look like if you decided to stay put until say 30 -- or until you were actually bored with the job -- and then make the jump (using your free time to make yourself a more appealing Ph.D candidate, of course)?  Can you further investigate the actual impact of a degree from a less-prestigious institution that costs a lot less, instead of just assuming that the expensive one will give you better prospects? 

Etc.  The options are limited only by your own creativity.

Padonak

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #27 on: October 09, 2019, 10:17:31 AM »
It's not the best choice in terms of maximizing income, savings and net worth, but I think you already know that. The question is how much you are willing to sacrifice. Only you can answer it.

habanero

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #28 on: October 09, 2019, 10:20:55 AM »
It's not the best choice in terms of maximizing income, savings and net worth, but I think you already know that. The question is how much you are willing to sacrifice. Only you can answer it.

And that requires to really understand the scope of the financial sacrifice here. Which is - potentially massive. As if taking on debt to do this was the main issue. It isn't.

I would rather view it as a consumption "now" vs "later" problem. The opportunity to study this thing probably won't go away. The middle - and quite obvious road in my opinion - is to wait it out a bit and then reconsider.

CrabbitDutchie

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #29 on: October 09, 2019, 11:36:58 AM »
@Linea_Norway - thanks for thinking of me.

I have just gone back to study for an MSc, but I feel that my situation is not directly relatable, except as a case study in a different way of getting the degree I want without affecting my savings.

The degree I have just started is one I wanted to do badly enough that I was considering funding it myself and taking a year out from my job. I'm currently working in STEM and have a savings rate of about 66% and am 'cruising to FIRE'. That's where the similarities end.

My MSc is STEM related and the specific degree is a pre-requisite for certain roles in my company/industry closely related to what I'm doing now. I'm doing it part time over 2.5 years, my employer is funding the tuition fees and travel to/from the university. I'm using some holiday time to cover teaching days, but my company have also generously offered additional paid leave for the course. As a result I get the degree I want, without any loss of earnings (I'm keeping my full time salary) whilst studying and an increase in future earning potential.

The 'opportunity' cost is probably equivalent to a missed promotion next year. But, if I'm honest, I'm in no hurry to be promoted as the next step is essentially a promotion out of all the things I love about my job and into all the things I don't. If I do leave the company within 2 years of finishin the course I will have to pay some of the tuition fees back - but we're talking the equivalent of a few months saving potential and no premature 'drawdown' of the stache so to speak.

If the course I was looking at cost $70K I would be a lot more hesitant or I would be looking at other options to achieve the same thing and still 'scratch that itch'. I'm all for taking some risks, living your best life now, rather than postponing and career changes. But ultimately only you can decide.

diapasoun

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #30 on: October 09, 2019, 12:56:42 PM »
Hey akzideniz. I'm a PhD who jumped ship from academia to industry after graduation. From what it sounds like, you're looking at anthropology focusing on ceramics, maybe cultural anth? If that's accurate, I know a lab ceramicist PhD who would probably be willing to talk to you.

And now, the meat of the post.

First, this is probably going to be a buzzkill.

Second, I will say (quite adamantly) that you should NOT get a PhD unless you are planning to go into that field. Nope. Don't. The opportunity cost is too great. I can go on about this forever and can if you want -- but otherwise will leave it there. (A lot of the below will give context for why I think it's a terrible idea to get a PhD just for fun.)

If you want an MA for fun, or you think you'd like to go into the PhD field:

Completely outside the money -- because I agree this is not a great financial decision -- I wanted to ask you about what this degree feeds in you. I ask because an MA or PhD in an academic field will consume a great deal of your self and your sanity, and it is exceedingly difficult to get academic jobs, in a way that very, very jobs are hard to get. If it doesn't feed you at an incredibly deep level, it's not worth it.

General academic culture borders on abusive, and I know very, very few people who actually thrive in it. I got some really good things out of grad school (the ability to withstand -- and to seek out -- criticism; the ability to direct research; teaching experience; etc), and I met some of the best friends I'll ever make in grad school. I don't regret going one bit. However, I also have actual trauma reactions to some things from grad school now, especially for things related to the job market. I had a panic attack with flashback to my old grad office the last time I tried to work on my resume; it screwed me up mentally for over a month. I wanted to go into academia when I started, and like I said -- I don't regret going -- but it has had long-term impacts on my mental health. I'm not a weird one-off case, either.

I knew people from top-flight programs in my field -- people whose ability and intelligence and skill I was absolutely astounded by -- who could not get long-term academic jobs. The market is intensely oversaturated and only getting worse. So much of it is a crapshoot, because (a) research in the humanities and social sciences is sooo subjective, and (b) almost everyone applying is a good candidate; so much depends on whether your advisor will go to bat for you, or a random meeting at a conference, or the like. Hard work and brilliance do not guarantee you a job one whit. (Oh, and academic jobs? Pay worse than industry jobs. I made more starting out the gate than a lot of TT assistant profs do, and am now making much more than my equivalent in academia.)

If you do decide to go, either get an MA purely for the joy of it (i.e. the functional equivalent of taking a year or two off to travel the world in luxury hotels), or get a PhD with the strong intent to go into academia. If you want to go into academia, only go to a place that funds you; if a department can't fund their grad students, they're just not good enough.

If you decide not go: Please keep pursuing your passion. Go find conferences and attend them. Contact local academic departments and see if you can sit on conferences and colloquia (we totally had people do this!). Get a library card and read a lot. Ask questions. Talk to people. You can absolutely love and pursue academic subjects outside of academia.

GoCubsGo

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #31 on: October 09, 2019, 12:57:57 PM »
Congrats on your path thus far. It's given you options already.  The thing that struck me is "I've taken the responsible route".  That's certainly true, but your only 25 and I'm not sure if you've put in enough time to take a risk like this yet.  You have the opportunity to put your head down and crush your current job for 5 years which will leave you with much more solid financial footing and only be 30 years old with 50+ years of life ahead.  It's 5 more years of 401K match, raises, paid for benefits, etc, not just salary.   Or set a financial goal, hit it and then take on the degree.  After that, you'd basically be doing a Barista FIRE type thing since you will eventually make some money while doing a passion job.

If kids, house, etc, could be on the table I would absolutely put this dream off for a bit (I'm not sure I'd do it even if the degree was free if it meant you had to quit your current job).  Life tends to look  different with kids in the picture even at mustachian levels.

The only way I would do it is if you could be almost 100% positive you will be able to get a job in the field you love that can sustain you for the rest of your working life and you are willing to gamble future comfort.  Best of luck

JLee

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #32 on: October 09, 2019, 01:48:26 PM »
It's hard to calculate as I'm not sure where I'd be living long-term/what my housing costs would be. But if I kept my current lifestyle and expenses (renting, no kids, living in a HCOL city) I would be able to FIRE in fifteen years, ~2035. Note that I don't feel deprived at my current level of spending.

It's quite possible I may want to make other lifestyle changes though (kids, buying a house). Hard to say.

Are you sure that's correct? A 55% savings rate should give you retirement in 14.5 years starting from zero:

https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-simple-math-behind-early-retirement/

Noodle

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #33 on: October 09, 2019, 05:00:02 PM »
What an interesting question!

The good news here is that whatever you decide, you'll be fine--whether you spend the money, and end up with a degree that enriches your life, or you don't spend the money, and your financial situation gives you a much wider range of choices later in life. I recommend the book "Decisive" by Chip and Dan Heath which is about making good decisions. It won't tell you what to do, but if you follow the advice in the book you can feel much more secure in whatever decision you finally land on.

I definitely agree with all of the advice you're getting to be creative about how you go about this. Do you have the opportunity to take any of the classes in the program as a non-degree-seeking student, to get an idea of what it's like? You mention that the degree program is in your city--have you looked elsewhere to see if there might be a high-quality program at lower cost? Most good jobs are only good for awhile (until you get a new manager, or the project changes, or whatever). Would it be worth it to keep the job until it's less satisfying, saving like a fiend, and then make the jump?

A couple of other thoughts for you to keep in mind...Grad school is much easier to do when you're young and have limited commitments. It is hard, hard work and will eat up every minute you have available. I also want to push back a bit against the idea that you can self-educate to the level of a master's degree (at least in the humanities). A determined person could probably get a lot of the value of an undergraduate degree in many fields with a well-chosen bibliography and a critical eye, because a lot of undergraduate education in many programs is lecture-based, and there are a lot of commonalities between reading a book and listening to a lecture (although of course a good professor will be doing a lot of the work of vetting and synthesizing research for you). But grad school is all about the community of learners. I have two master's (both funded, both entirely worth it) in the humanities. One program you could have attended part-time or casually, and gotten a lot of the value out of it. The other, and better, is a full-time program that is not at all open to outsiders, and impossible to duplicate in other ways. So it really depends on the specifics what options you have.

LonerMatt

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #34 on: October 09, 2019, 06:10:19 PM »
Hey! Post from a dude who has flirted with dropping out and studying fine art several times.

Some thoughts/qualifications of others' posts:

1. Grad school can be worth it because you're buying yourself a reputation. Grads from MFA programs at Yale, for example, are usually snapped up by gallerists in their 1st or 2nd year. Is their work noticeably better than a bloke at California College of the Arts or Rochester? Unlikely. But they have a reputation that comes with institutional backing and storied individuals in the process backing them. Maybe they are brilliant, maybe they are just great. The point is the degree DOES open up opportunities. Someone said 'isn't art all technique?' - and the answer is of course it's not. It's also reputation, selling, funding, etc, etc, etc.

So, in a way, if I was going to spend $70k on a program I'd want to make sure that I was going to the best program in the world. Because at that point I'm getting my 2 years of 'freedom' but also a foothold in a field, eyes on my work, backing by the canon, etc.

2. If you're interested in the field, and want to spend the time in it above all else, consider studying in Europe. A lot of these Universities are cheaper, WAY cheaper, than US Universities and have English programs. MFA programs in Norway, for example, are like 1/4 of the cost of MFA programs in the USA. Now if you're not going to the best or the top institution might as well choose one that's a bit more affordable, assuming it meets your interests.

3. A question I like to ask myself sometimes is 'if I have $x to spend on advancing my art what would I spend it on?'. That helps me clarify choices about programs, courses, purchases, etc. If you had $70k to spend on getting really fucking good at this thing would this be the best way to spend it?

mozar

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #35 on: October 10, 2019, 10:09:57 AM »
Another book recommendation is quitter by jon scuff. I agree with the posters who say you should wait until you are a strong phd candidate. You can learn how to write an academic paper and get published on your own. You can also find people to collaborate with on your own. If you already have those skills before you go back to school you'll be able to focus on what is really the most useful part of being there which is networking and establishing a reputation. Then you'll have a much stronger idea of what you want to do next.

habanero

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #36 on: October 10, 2019, 10:37:03 AM »

The good news here is that whatever you decide, you'll be fine--whether you spend the money, and end up with a degree that enriches your life, or you don't spend the money, and your financial situation gives you a much wider range of choices later in life.

I disagree. The first part is an assumption, the second as close to a certainty as it gets. I guess everyone at some point in their professional career has played with "what if i did X instead of the Y I'm doing now" whenever for some reason work isn't fun or for some other reason. You kind of know what you have, but don't know what something else looks like.

tyrannostache

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #37 on: October 10, 2019, 12:51:47 PM »
Hey akzideniz. I'm a PhD who jumped ship from academia to industry after graduation. From what it sounds like, you're looking at anthropology focusing on ceramics, maybe cultural anth? If that's accurate, I know a lab ceramicist PhD who would probably be willing to talk to you.

And now, the meat of the post.

First, this is probably going to be a buzzkill.

Second, I will say (quite adamantly) that you should NOT get a PhD unless you are planning to go into that field. Nope. Don't. The opportunity cost is too great. I can go on about this forever and can if you want -- but otherwise will leave it there. (A lot of the below will give context for why I think it's a terrible idea to get a PhD just for fun.)

If you want an MA for fun, or you think you'd like to go into the PhD field:

Completely outside the money -- because I agree this is not a great financial decision -- I wanted to ask you about what this degree feeds in you. I ask because an MA or PhD in an academic field will consume a great deal of your self and your sanity, and it is exceedingly difficult to get academic jobs, in a way that very, very jobs are hard to get. If it doesn't feed you at an incredibly deep level, it's not worth it.


I'm going to go further than @diapasoun.


DON'T DO IT.

I think you're in an enviable position. You have an interesting job and time to pursue creative interests on the side. Why give that up just to pursue a 2-year program that will get you nowhere career-wise? There's very little advantage to having an MA in an arts-related field. It's not likely to get you much cred. in the academic world (there are PhDs clamoring to teach even in non-tenure-track positions, if that's an avenue you were considering). An MFA is a different story--I'm just thinking about the MA here, which it sounds like you are considering.

The PhD:
REALLY, SERIOUSLY, DON'T DO IT.
Even if you get a PhD from a prestigious institution, the odds of you landing an academic job are vanishingly small. The job market for arts and humanities is bad. Really really bad. My home department (at a top-20 institution--not Yale, but not bad) has been placing maybe 1-2 out of its 8-12 PhDs each year in full-time, tenure track jobs. I've seen far too many of my colleagues scrambling to piece together poorly paid work as adjuncts. If you pursue a PhD, you will work your ass off for 5-8 years, and it's entirely possible that the only things you'll have to show for it will be a handful of unpaid publications and a dissertation that no employer cares about.


My Experience:
I was a lot like you at age 25. I had a bunch of interesting career prospects along with an academic itch. I chose to scratch it.

I pursued an MA (fully funded), then got into a PhD program (also fully funded). I liked the work, I was good at it, and I thought it would be a more practical way to be a writer (hahahaha) than doing creative projects on the side while I worked a day job. I told myself I'd have time to get back to creative writing when I was done with grad school, when I had tenure, etc. So, I toiled away in grad school during years when I could have been earning and saving in a different field and working on my own creative writing projects on the side. Grad school ate up pretty much my entire life during those years. I made 0 progress on creative projects, because I was too busy doing academic research, teaching, hustling for fellowships, etc. Academic work is all-consuming. It can be incredibly difficult to carve out time for life, family, or non-academic interests.

By the time I realized there was no tenure track job out there waiting for me, my priorities and available time had changed significantly. I had one kid and wanted another. I needed a full-time job with good health care, benefits, and income. I needed to make up for the saving I was not able to do during grad school.

After a halfhearted run at the academic job market, I finished the PhD and jumped ship into the nonprofit world. While I really enjoy my work right now, I'm frustrated that I'm not further in my career at this point. I'm 10 years behind where I'd like to be in savings. In between my MA and PhD, I had a job offer at a local nonprofit. I turned it down in favor of pursuing the PhD. Guess what I jumped into right after the PhD? Almost the exact same job that I had turned down several years earlier. It's hard not to chew on what my career would look like if I had made a different decision at that time.
« Last Edit: October 10, 2019, 12:55:57 PM by tyrannostache »

mistymoney

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #38 on: October 11, 2019, 08:02:49 AM »
what I'm finding most remarkable about the comments here is the difference between the attitude towards indulging in a degree and what I've seen for those taking 1-2 year off to travel well before hitting FIRE numbers.

Suddenly - because this is education and not travel (??) - the loss of compound interest from early investments, needs for medical insurance, eventual boredom from path chosen is something that needs to be overly dissected with OPs desires and dreams completely poopooed. OP should proceed 10-15 years in the rut to get to FIRE before pursuing this......why is that not then the standard advice for 2 years of traveling?

I would think a year or two of travel much more self-indulgent/no returns than getting a master's degree.

OP already made that sacrifice - pursuing what they thought to be a more lucrative STEM-heavy undergrad degree, got the job with good $$, saved some money, and made a base for FIRE - 100k in retirements (which should - if left untouched - be worth more than 2 mil by standard retirement age - so almost at a coastFIRE number here!)

In addition - the funds to pursue this endeavor plus room and board - are saved and put aside!

OP -

If this is what you truly want, do it! Make sure! that it is......then:

Save as much more into retirement accounts as you can by the matriculation date, have some extra for EF fund if you can. Poke your employer to see about part time or contract work with them - explore other contract work too. If you could get 15-20 hours a week, that should be doable within a FT program of study. But - if you want to experience the freedom of not working while doing this program, you have saved the money and earned that right. Just determine what is best for you.

historienne

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #39 on: October 11, 2019, 08:30:50 AM »

You're exactly right—I'm not competitive for PhD admissions right now, especially at stronger programs (and would be concerned that a lower-ranked program would limit my post-PhD options).


To the extent that your goals is to become competitive for PhD admissions, I think there are probably much cheaper ways to achieve this goal.  Even if it just means a funded masters, which are rare but do exist, even for the humanities.

zygote

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #40 on: October 11, 2019, 09:12:21 AM »
Suddenly - because this is education and not travel (??) - the loss of compound interest from early investments, needs for medical insurance, eventual boredom from path chosen is something that needs to be overly dissected with OPs desires and dreams completely poopooed. OP should proceed 10-15 years in the rut to get to FIRE before pursuing this......why is that not then the standard advice for 2 years of traveling?

I would think a year or two of travel much more self-indulgent/no returns than getting a master's degree.

Speaking as someone who completed a (fully-funded) PhD, I do not agree that the situations are equivalent. 1-2 years of travel costs much less than 1-2 years of tuition + living expenses, and is honestly way more likely to return personal fulfillment than a master's degree.

I don't regret my PhD because it directly set me up for the academic-adjacent job I have now, but it was a personally awful experience. It seriously burned me out and magnified an anxiety problem that put me in therapy and on medication. It took me years to decompress afterwards and feel "normal" and "stable" again. This is not an uncommon experience. I love my field, but academia itself comes with a lot more than that, most of it negative.

Higher education is not for personal fulfillment. Higher education is for setting up a career, and it doesn't sound like it will really do that for the OP. In that case, it is absolutely not worth the lost wages or high tuition costs.

I'm with the others that say do not go. At the very most, take courses or do some reading on your own and consider going when you're at or close to FI.

Cranky

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #41 on: October 11, 2019, 04:47:38 PM »
It’s not super clear to me whether OP wants to pursue a career in arts (and then I think she would be better off just doing art) or in academia, in which case I think she should run away as fast as she can.  But those two things are really not the same.

familyandfarming

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #42 on: October 11, 2019, 10:28:40 PM »
Could you pursue this subject as a MFA? Many times the MFA is supported as a funded degree.

To add, I just read that college enrollments will plummet in upcoming years due to declining populations of teenagers. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bloomberg.com/amp/opinion/articles/2019-05-30/college-enrollment-bust-is-headed-this-way-by-2026


mistymoney

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #43 on: October 12, 2019, 08:21:37 AM »
Suddenly - because this is education and not travel (??) - the loss of compound interest from early investments, needs for medical insurance, eventual boredom from path chosen is something that needs to be overly dissected with OPs desires and dreams completely poopooed. OP should proceed 10-15 years in the rut to get to FIRE before pursuing this......why is that not then the standard advice for 2 years of traveling?

I would think a year or two of travel much more self-indulgent/no returns than getting a master's degree.

Speaking as someone who completed a (fully-funded) PhD, I do not agree that the situations are equivalent. 1-2 years of travel costs much less than 1-2 years of tuition + living expenses, and is honestly way more likely to return personal fulfillment than a master's degree.


Both your suppositions depend entirely on the person. Traveling can cost as much as you want it to, and 35k/year doesn't seem too outlandish for a year of living/traveling vs 70k for 2 years of school/living. As far as personal fulfillment - it is, well, kinda personal don't you think?

My caveat is that OP make sure this is what they want - and if the answer to that is yes, then they should do it.


maizefolk

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #44 on: October 12, 2019, 11:08:35 AM »
what I'm finding most remarkable about the comments here is the difference between the attitude towards indulging in a degree and what I've seen for those taking 1-2 year off to travel well before hitting FIRE numbers.

Suddenly - because this is education and not travel (??) - the loss of compound interest from early investments, needs for medical insurance, eventual boredom from path chosen is something that needs to be overly dissected with OPs desires and dreams completely poopooed. OP should proceed 10-15 years in the rut to get to FIRE before pursuing this......why is that not then the standard advice for 2 years of traveling?

I would think a year or two of travel much more self-indulgent/no returns than getting a master's degree.

So a couple of things to keep in mind.

First of all, I'm not sure I agree with your initial premise. If a person wanted to take several years off before FIRE to travel at a burn rate of 30,000+/year on this forum, I don't believe they would get (or do get) consistent support. But let us put this aside because of two bigger issues:

1) I don't enjoy traveling for fun all that much, but in my personal life and reading accounts from people here on the forum, many people who actually do it seem to enjoy it. So if a person says: "I really want to travel and I think that would bring me a lot of happiness or fulfillment" I'm inclined to believe that they are probably right in that belief, regardless of whether the finances work out or not.

Contrast that with graduate school. I know lots of people both in my personal life and on the forum who went to graduate school. (I am one of these people.) Presumably they went to graduate school either because they thought they'd enjoy graduate school or they thought it would lead to a career they'd enjoy more than alternatives they could pursue without graduate school. Yet I cannot think of a single person I know who went through grad school and would now recommend the experience without reservations to others.

So if a person says: "I really want to go to grad school and I think it will be a lot of happiness or fulfillment" I'm inclined to believe that they believe this statement to be true. But at the same time, because I know so many people who believed the same thing, and then -- once they actually lived the experience of graduate school -- changed their minds, I am also inclined to believe that this person might also be making an incorrect prediction about the future.

Now there is nothing wrong with trying things for a little while, seeing whether they bring you joy or suffering, and then reevaluating. But that brings us to the second issue.

2) If a person thinks they'd enjoy traveling the world for a year or two, they try it, and after three weeks they're miserable and just want to go home, they can (and almost certainly will) do that. A person who tries grad school, particularly in a program without funding, is stepping into a bigger sunk cost trap. After a month if they are unhappy they'll be advised to just tough it out. And after all they're already on the hook for the tuition for the first semester. After a semester, they've already invested a quarter of the time and money to get to a Masters degree, so shouldn't they really buckle down, push ahead, and finish up the degree? Once a person has invested a couple of years of their life in getting a degree, it feels bad not to use it. And the main door an MS/MA opens up in a lot of fields is to PhD programs, particularly if ones BA/BS wasn't in the right field to do so.The OP touches on this, saying one reason to pursue a masters is that it might help them get into a good PhD program later.

Throughout this whole process a graduate student is surrounded by good friends (I made some of the best friends of my life in grad school, shared suffering is a strong bonding experience) all working and pushing towards a common goal. In many programs everyone they interact with in a work/educational context shares a common worldview that the reason you are doing all of this is to move forward and deeper into academia. And that worldview also includes the knowledge that lots of people don't make it, combined with the belief that it's primarily because those other people just didn't work hard enough. And those people might say they just changed their minds, but it's really because they couldn't hack it.

All this comes together to make it very hard to say "you know what, I thought I'd like this, but it turns out I was wrong, I'm going to go do something else."

So TL;DR:

Grad school is different than travel.
-Compared to travel it is lot more common that people think they'll enjoy grad school and discover later they don't.
-If you don't like traveling it's easy to stop. If you don't like grad school it can be emotionally, socially, and financially harder to disengage (and a two years masters can easily become a 7+ year masters + PhD).


akzidenz, the above may sound way too dark, so I don't want to tell you don't try this is you really want to. Just be aware that lots of people who think they'll enjoy it end up not enjoying it, that if you are one of those people it'll be harder than you realize to admit to yourself that you're unhappy and this isn't working, and be prepared to exert a lot of willpower to get out as soon as you realize it isn't working. Don't just put your head down and try to power through.

mistymoney

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #45 on: October 12, 2019, 12:13:36 PM »
what I'm finding most remarkable about the comments here is the difference between the attitude towards indulging in a degree and what I've seen for those taking 1-2 year off to travel well before hitting FIRE numbers.

Suddenly - because this is education and not travel (??) - the loss of compound interest from early investments, needs for medical insurance, eventual boredom from path chosen is something that needs to be overly dissected with OPs desires and dreams completely poopooed. OP should proceed 10-15 years in the rut to get to FIRE before pursuing this......why is that not then the standard advice for 2 years of traveling?

I would think a year or two of travel much more self-indulgent/no returns than getting a master's degree.

So a couple of things to keep in mind.

First of all, I'm not sure I agree with your initial premise. If a person wanted to take several years off before FIRE to travel at a burn rate of 30,000+/year on this forum, I don't believe they would get (or do get) consistent support. But let us put this aside because of two bigger issues:

1) I don't enjoy traveling for fun all that much, but in my personal life and reading accounts from people here on the forum, many people who actually do it seem to enjoy it. So if a person says: "I really want to travel and I think that would bring me a lot of happiness or fulfillment" I'm inclined to believe that they are probably right in that belief, regardless of whether the finances work out or not.

Contrast that with graduate school. I know lots of people both in my personal life and on the forum who went to graduate school. (I am one of these people.) Presumably they went to graduate school either because they thought they'd enjoy graduate school or they thought it would lead to a career they'd enjoy more than alternatives they could pursue without graduate school. Yet I cannot think of a single person I know who went through grad school and would now recommend the experience without reservations to others.

So if a person says: "I really want to go to grad school and I think it will be a lot of happiness or fulfillment" I'm inclined to believe that they believe this statement to be true. But at the same time, because I know so many people who believed the same thing, and then -- once they actually lived the experience of graduate school -- changed their minds, I am also inclined to believe that this person might also be making an incorrect prediction about the future.

Now there is nothing wrong with trying things for a little while, seeing whether they bring you joy or suffering, and then reevaluating. But that brings us to the second issue.

2) If a person thinks they'd enjoy traveling the world for a year or two, they try it, and after three weeks they're miserable and just want to go home, they can (and almost certainly will) do that. A person who tries grad school, particularly in a program without funding, is stepping into a bigger sunk cost trap. After a month if they are unhappy they'll be advised to just tough it out. And after all they're already on the hook for the tuition for the first semester. After a semester, they've already invested a quarter of the time and money to get to a Masters degree, so shouldn't they really buckle down, push ahead, and finish up the degree? Once a person has invested a couple of years of their life in getting a degree, it feels bad not to use it. And the main door an MS/MA opens up in a lot of fields is to PhD programs, particularly if ones BA/BS wasn't in the right field to do so.The OP touches on this, saying one reason to pursue a masters is that it might help them get into a good PhD program later.

Throughout this whole process a graduate student is surrounded by good friends (I made some of the best friends of my life in grad school, shared suffering is a strong bonding experience) all working and pushing towards a common goal. In many programs everyone they interact with in a work/educational context shares a common worldview that the reason you are doing all of this is to move forward and deeper into academia. And that worldview also includes the knowledge that lots of people don't make it, combined with the belief that it's primarily because those other people just didn't work hard enough. And those people might say they just changed their minds, but it's really because they couldn't hack it.

All this comes together to make it very hard to say "you know what, I thought I'd like this, but it turns out I was wrong, I'm going to go do something else."

So TL;DR:

Grad school is different than travel.
-Compared to travel it is lot more common that people think they'll enjoy grad school and discover later they don't.
-If you don't like traveling it's easy to stop. If you don't like grad school it can be emotionally, socially, and financially harder to disengage (and a two years masters can easily become a 7+ year masters + PhD).


akzidenz, the above may sound way too dark, so I don't want to tell you don't try this is you really want to. Just be aware that lots of people who think they'll enjoy it end up not enjoying it, that if you are one of those people it'll be harder than you realize to admit to yourself that you're unhappy and this isn't working, and be prepared to exert a lot of willpower to get out as soon as you realize it isn't working. Don't just put your head down and try to power through.

You realize most places give 100% refund of tuition if you drop all classes by a certain date? Usually two weeks in.

There is also a schedule of reimbursement through most of the semester. At my alma mater, the last drop date for getting a refund is 10 weeks into a 16 week semester, with 40% refund.

I also don't get this complete sense of helplessness once someone goes to school - like giving something a try for 1 semester and deciding it's not what you thought, not what you wanted, etc. and then changing course is impossible.

No, it's much better to be planning and dreaming and pining for this other career for 10 years while slogging away at something else you think is not what you wanted in life, or just not quite what you were supposed to be doing - when just a test-drive for 4 months at about 15k would resolve those feelings and let you move on with more clarity and let you settle into the career you started with more presence and knowledge of what you path over the next 10-15 years may be.

And you could go just 10 weeks, and then get 40% tuition back. So maybe it only cost about 6-7k to get that clarity.

In my experience, it is the things you didn't do that continue to unsettle you. As you say - those who went to grad school have some thoughts and lessons learned to share. Great. But no one knows what the other path may have been - and they don't know what frustrations or regrets they may have had if they didn't pursue those things.

I have advanced degrees. I enjoyed the education, the knowledge gained, and the challenges presented during the education. Maybe I'm a weirdo, but it works for me! I do very much wish I'd gotten those degrees earlier in life when there was more time for them to pay off - from financial, personal, and career perspectives.

I also know what it is like to regret not getting the degree I wanted. But as others have noted - sometimes life becomes more complicated the longer you live it. Which is why I think OP should strike while the iron is hot. If in fact, OP does their due diligence, gets all the info, thinks hard about it, and determines this is what they want to do with the next few years of their life.

maizefolk

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #46 on: October 12, 2019, 12:59:36 PM »
And you could go just 10 weeks, and then get 40% tuition back. So maybe it only cost about 6-7k to get that clarity.

Yes, if OP goes in with eyes open about other people's experiences, both positive and negative, and prepared to change course it if doesn't feel like the experience they were expecting. I completely agree that $6-7k and a couple of months is well worth it for clarity going forward.

Note at above you were asking why people weren't simply supporting two years and $70k to achieve that same clarify, which is an order of magnitude more costly in both time and money.

In my experience, once people have made a major life decision (for example quitting a job, starting a new relationship or ending an old one), the default for many of us is NOT to quickly change our minds if things don't work out the way we expect, but to double down and recommit. There are a lot of reasons for this, including not wanting to worry we might have made the wrong choice and not having a clear exit strategy planned in advance.

The trick to avoiding this self-image-protecting-mechanism is to make the original choice one to experiment "I'll try this for a few weeks or even a semester and see what happens" rather than a choice about a new path "I'm going to get a master's degree."

Quote
In my experience, it is the things you didn't do that continue to unsettle you. As you say - those who went to grad school have some thoughts and lessons learned to share. Great. But no one knows what the other path may have been - and they don't know what frustrations or regrets they may have had if they didn't pursue those things.

I have advanced degrees. I enjoyed the education, the knowledge gained, and the challenges presented during the education. Maybe I'm a weirdo, but it works for me! I do very much wish I'd gotten those degrees earlier in life when there was more time for them to pay off - from financial, personal, and career perspectives.

And indeed that is what is happening. People who went to grad school have been sharing their thoughts and perspectives. I don't understand why that feels like a personal attack to you (or so I surmise from your second bolded comment "Maybe I'm a weirdo").

What works for you may not work for others. Conversely the fact that others did the same thing as you and had different outcomes doesn't negate your own positive experience with higher education.

And on top of that, the same thing may not actually be the same thing. "Advanced degrees" is a term that spans a whole lot of very distinct life experiences.

Hula Hoop

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #47 on: October 12, 2019, 01:15:46 PM »
And on top of that, the same thing may not actually be the same thing. "Advanced degrees" is a term that spans a whole lot of very distinct life experiences.

I agree with this.  There is a world of difference between going to grad school for an incredibly competitive and not easily employable field like history of ceramics (anthropology, archeology, history etc etc) and going to, say, dental school or doing an MBA, or even something like clinical psychology which would actually lead to an easily defined different career path and/or more money and fulfilment at work. 

I'm also not clear on whether the OP actually wants to pursue an academic career in his/her new field or just go back to the highly paid career s/he is in now.  If it's the latter then there is absoluately no reason at all to go through the pain of grad school.  As others have said, s/he can just save up to become FIRE and then pursue the other fields to his/her heart's content.  Or just do it as a hobby.

mistymoney

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #48 on: October 12, 2019, 01:27:12 PM »
And you could go just 10 weeks, and then get 40% tuition back. So maybe it only cost about 6-7k to get that clarity.


And indeed that is what is happening. People who went to grad school have been sharing their thoughts and perspectives. I don't understand why that feels like a personal attack to you (or so I surmise from your second bolded comment "Maybe I'm a weirdo").



I'm not sure why you'd think I took it as a personal attack? You stated that "Yet I cannot think of a single person I know who went through grad school and would now recommend the experience without reservations to others." So - then I'm the only one here? Seems like a "weirdo" scenario for sure!

Was I not also just sharing my thoughts and perspectives?

maizefolk

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Re: Should I use my savings to go to grad school and follow my 'passion'?
« Reply #49 on: October 12, 2019, 01:40:43 PM »
Was I not also just sharing my thoughts and perspectives?

Your initial comment did not come across as sharing your own perspective (although your second one certainly was) but instead criticizing other people for sharing perspectives you disagreed with and viewed as logically inconsistent with how separate people had talked about travel. See below:

what I'm finding most remarkable about the comments here is the difference between the attitude towards indulging in a degree and what I've seen for those taking 1-2 year off to travel well before hitting FIRE numbers.

Suddenly - because this is education and not travel (??) - the loss of compound interest from early investments, needs for medical insurance, eventual boredom from path chosen is something that needs to be overly dissected with OPs desires and dreams completely poopooed. OP should proceed 10-15 years in the rut to get to FIRE before pursuing this......why is that not then the standard advice for 2 years of traveling?