Money vs. Happiness Part II: Elizabeth Strikes Back!

Elizabeth is making my job easy this week. Yesterday I wrote a post about her current dilemma about leaving her current, high-paying job with an investment firm and going back to school to become a math teacher. Lots of you responded, and in a variety of ways. I think the “follow your heart” advice was the most common, but there were also plenty of “keep the money!” answers, including a handful from teachers who think that Elizabeth may be wearing rose-colored glasses about what teaching is really like.

"Impressive. Most impressive. Obi-Wan has taught you well...then again, I'm a Harvard man m'self...."

The topic may have died there, but Elizabeth wrote me again this morning to fill in some extra details. And once again, the details are really compelling and worth talking about. She writes:

Hi Josh,Thanks for posting my question! I’ve read all the comments, and they were very helpful. Fortunately I have already had quite a bit of tutoring/substitute experience so I am relatively confident that teaching is the place for me. However, I agree that just because I may understand high school mathematics, I might not be the best teacher. I WANT to take classes to improve my teaching techniques.

I should point out here that I agree that it’s a good thing that teachers take some teaching/education courses. I think my rant yesterday convinced a lot of you that I don’t support education courses *at all* and that subject mastery is all that matters. I don’t think that — I know that you have to be able to relate the material to your audience, and I know education courses help enable that. I begin to have a problem with the education coursework, though, when the volume of it outweighs the subject-area coursework, then it’s overkill and not best for the teacher or the students over the long haul. Anyway, let’s get back to Elizabeth:

That being said, the education program I was accepted to is at Harvard…one of those ‘expensive’ schools everyone advised me to avoid, ha. Truth is, my acceptance to Harvard came as a great shock! I certainly don’t need a Harvard degree to teach- BUT how can I pass up an opportunity to learn from the best? For my undergrad degree I went to a state school (close to my home, where I lived at the time in order to save money) and feel as though I didn’t experience true college life.

Wow — leave it to brainy Elizabeth to throw us a massive curveball here! First of all, congrats on your acceptance to Harvard! That’s a rare achievement that no one can ever take away from you. It also turns up the heat on this discussion, doesn’t it? I mean, first we were talking very generically about private schools, expensive schools, “name” schools, etc. But now, we find we’re dealing with the biggest “name” school of them all — the one name that, above all others, really does carry a lot of weight in every corner of the world.

Man, there’s so much to say here. Let’s let Elizabeth finish first, though.

So yes…should I give up my salary to teach…and should I pay to go to Harvard to do it. Would I be missing out on a once in a life time opportunity if I opted to jump right into teaching (by getting my teacher’s certificate)? I think I might…

OK. Man, where to start. Let’s just go in order of what’s she’s said.

I certainly don’t need a Harvard degree to teach- BUT how can I pass up an opportunity to learn from the best?”

You know, with a question like this, advice from other people is almost worthless, because it’s such an intensely personal thing. And I hate to say that, because I give advice for a living. However, I was once in a similar spot.

Straight out of undergraduate school, I was accepted into a master’s program in journalism at Columbia University, also an Ivy League school. It was a master’s program that cost $40,000. They offered me $2,000 in financial aid. I protested. They upped it to $3,000. Final offer.

I was heartbroken, because I desperately wanted to enroll in that program and had counted on being there, reporting for a newspaper in the heart of New York City, the following year. But reality set in fast for me. As a print journalist, I MIGHT have been making $40,000 per year five years after getting that degree. MAYBE. So after briefly and desperately trying to make the math work (I briefly considered buying an old RV and living in it while renting a parking space, so that I wouldn’t have to pay room and board), I threw in the towel. It wasn’t gonna work.

Personally, I haven’t regretted it for a second. In fact, I shudder to think what would’ve happen had I taken that plunge. Three years later, I had a much cheaper but equally prestigious master’s in journalism from the University of Missouri. Fifteen years later, print journalism is dead, but my loan payments would still be very much alive.

My example is similar to Elizabeth’s, but that’s about as far as it goes. Columbia ain’t Harvard, and print journalism isn’t teaching. Teaching will be alive and well for some time, and our country desperately needs good math teachers. Most important to recognize, though, is that I ditched a LOW paying profession for a well-paying one (advertising); Elizabeth’s going the other way.

After a touch of research, I can ballpark that Elizabeth’s expenses will be somewhere around $60,000 at Harvard. With interest, probably $80-85,000-ish. That’s gonna make for a loan payment of around $700-ish per month, give or take.

In the end, Elizabeth has to weigh whether it’s worth it. For me, it probably wouldn’t be — half because I’m cheap, and half because I’m arrogant and hard to convince that other people have things to teach me (and I’m not bragging about either quality). But on the intangible side of things: you never stop being a Harvard grad, and that means a lot to a lot of people. The connections she makes there are probably better than any she’ll make elsewhere. And let’s not ignore the fact that, if she doesn’t like teaching after all, she can probably find another high-paying job like she has now.

Would I be missing out on a once in a life time opportunity if I opted to jump right into teaching (by getting my teacher’s certificate)? I think I might…

The opportunity to attend Harvard is a rare one, no doubt about that. I would say, just do your best to visualize the actual benefits of that Harvard education, the changes and opportunities it’ll bring about, and how long they’ll last. If you put those all together in an equation vs. the $80K you’ll be paying back and they outweigh it, then go for it.

Also, don’t forget to consider your own psyche in the equation. You know yourself better than anyone here does. If you pass up the opportunity to go to Harvard, will it stick in your gut like a shard of glass, the feeling of missed opportunity? Or will you blow it off and never look back? Saving money is one thing, but not the only thing. You’ve gotta keep your mind right. Plus, you’re obviously a girl who knows how to make money, so Harvard or not and teaching or not, I don’t have the feeling that you’ll be struggling to make ends meet, whatever it is you decide.

Do I even deserve scholarships/grants because I want them for such an expensive school?

Hell yes! Finally, an easy question! 🙂 What you “deserve” has nothing to do with the price tag of your school, in my opinion. Or, honestly, how much money is in your bank account, in your check every two weeks, etc. You’re giving up a lucrative career for a public-service career, in an area where our country desperately needs the help. You deserve to be rewarded for it. End of discussion.

I just wanted to let you know where I was coming from- but again, thank you SO MUCH (and thanks to all your readers) for giving me some advice. I truly appreciate it.

You’re welcome. I’m guessing they have more to say on the matter? Don’t let me down here, people. Let’s hear your opinion.

What should she do now?

(To send Elizabeth to Harvard, turn to page 46…)
(To keep Elizabeth at her day job making sweet bank, turn to page 78…)

71 thoughts on “Money vs. Happiness Part II: Elizabeth Strikes Back!”

  1. If she is happy and want to go there she should go.I would try it for a year. Can you take a leave for a year and see how you like it .Are you getting scholarship to go. .AND do your family help you out. I will go if it was me.

  2. That’s amazing that she got accepted to Harvard! I’d accept, if I were her. It’s true that more math teachers are needed, and if teaching doesn’t work, she has those connections back at her other job. However, she should do what makes her happy and do something she really enjoys.

  3. I would say follow your heart. However, the math of a $700 a month student loan payment is down right crazy! See if you can arrange for any type of loan from family, or something similar. Depending on your state there may be grant programs available where you will have to teach in low income or under performing schools. This may be difficult, but a rewarding experience. Best of all, they pay up to $5,000 a year for your schooling! That’s $20,000 right there.

    Be true to yourself!

  4. I think that Elizabeth should go to Harvard because that opportunity doesnot always comes along, and the fact that she was accepted is a blessing within it self. Good Luck Elizabeth!!

  5. Emily Odermatt

    Defer Harvard to continue working so you can save up enough money if they aren’t giving you the financial aid. Have money, go, then get your degree. Then if you must, go teach

  6. Harvard is such a cool opportunity. I think you should try it for a while and see if you like it. You’ll use your Master’s even if you don’t decide to teach in a high school, and I think more education is always better. Plus, you are more prepared. But, I wouldn’t drop everything in case you don’t like it. (Maybe take some classes over the summer)

  7. She should pray and ask God for guidance!
    I think the Harvard opportunity is a great one! But, I think that she should try and make some money before to save on paying her education with the position she has now instead of dropping everything to go.

    God bless!

  8. Harvard has many private scholarships, she should ask Harvard about them before she declines their offer. Many students never pay to attend Harvard, including the guy who wrote the book Scholarship Adviser per an article on him.

  9. All I can give you is what I have learned in my own experience in working towards being a high school math teacher. I can definitely understand wanting to go to Harvard and learning from the best, but I wouldn’t do it for the sake of the best teaching courses. Education classes are there mainly to give you all the qualifications you need to teach. There’s all kinds of philosophy behind it, certainly, but I believe that how you teach depends on who you are as a person and what works for you, not on how “experts” and famous philosophers would go about it.

    However, if you’re thinking about Harvard for the purpose of getting the best education in mathematics and if it’s worth the cost to you, go for it.

    Whatever you choose, remember that your biggest concern should be about what works for YOU. Harvard is famous for a reason, but its standard of excellence isn’t for everyone. I attend a much smaller, public school that costs me only about a quarter of what Harvard would cost you, and I love it. It’s known for its teaching program, and is a school were you can really connect with people. Originally, I was more concerned about my academics, degrees, and edorsements, but I have found the connections that I have built here to be invaluable. Again, this is what works for me – you need to ask what works for you.

    You’re taking a huge step in deciding to do something you love at the cost of a much smaller income. You need to take that courage and use it to put yourself in a school that you think you will be not only successful in, but enjoy. This is your life, and you are living it to the fullest. Make the best decision you can, and then go, go, go until you reach your goal.

    Best of luck – not that you need it!

  10. I haven’t done any research into harvard’s teaching program but I think that that is the thing that should determine where she should go. I want to be a math teacher so i am attending the college with the best teacher certification program in my region. Sure, saying that you went to harvard may be impressive, but if you don’t learn what you need to learn to be a good teach, than it doesn’t mean shit!

  11. Just want to make sure everyone’s not just being dazzled by the Harvard name. Teaching is a very hands-on thing, and I’m personally skeptical that going to Hah-vahd is going to be worth the tens of thousands more over other options that could also provide great training for teaching. Lots of programs, such as the New York Fellows program (which lots of other states have versions of), will PAY for your masters while you teach. And I would even say jumping right is is going to be more valuable, since you can’t learn to teach in a classroom – teaching is about passion and dedication and endurance, not theory and writing papers.

  12. I say you should go, but do EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING you can to create more funding to pay for Harvard. It’s such a great school and it would be an awesome opportunity. Also, when you become a teacher with that degree I think you’ll definitely be able to pay for it. I hate when dreams get limited because of money; the same happened to me and it’s a shame. Just reach for the stars!

    All the best!

  13. Interesting discussion right here.
    I’ve got a bit of a backstory myself. I was diagnosed with cancer my senior year of college. I managed (barely) to graduate. I had to cut a second minor but I got my degree. A few months after treatment, and following a period of time where I thought I was extremely close to death, I decided I really wanted to go back to school, and possibly get a masters in journalism. Ironic, eh? Dying industry, and here I am with a similar impending fate (haha).
    In any case, my passion for storytelling and news media is not one that I can easily walk away from. Cancer or no, I felt that it was a profession in which I find meaning and fulfillment in my professional life.
    I applied and got into a great journalism program. Since I am finally to the point where my health is more or less stable, I’m deciding to take the plunge back into academia, in spite of an unsure future, both career and health-wise (and not to mention funding!!! A lot of journalism scholarships require current enrollment in school but I’ve been out of school for a year now! Arg!).
    Yet life is really really short and unpredictable. Though this shouldn’t be an excuse to make hasty decisions, if you find fulfillment in anything, or believe that you might one day regret your decision, just do it!
    If you believe that whatever you do will positively impact the world around you, or even just positively impact your personal sense of achievement, do it! If the doors are opening, go through with it.
    Live to have no regrets.

  14. A Harvard degree might keep options open should you decide to return to finance and teach in that field. I think you should go for it, especially if you can get scholarships that will help. I think it’s also possible to stay right where you are and make the other parts of your life happy. Work is only part of your life, and happiness is an attitude.

  15. I went to Harvard, specifically for a Masters in Education. I find that it prepared me no better than a state school. Spend the money if you want (the name goes a long away) but really, I think a more established program is better if you want to learn pedagogy. And now I’m really in debt.

    One piece of good news: if you work in an at-risk school for 5 years then you can cancel out your debt. But it’s only specific schools.

  16. First, that’s mighty impressive.

    Okay, now consider this scenario.
    Quit your day job after saving ….say 10k or somethin’
    Then, pick up full time job as substitue, now subs don’t really teach, at least in my community, their more of…..cardboard cut-outs than anything, but that job would submerse you in the environment in which you want to work- – that warm-n-fuzzy feelin’ ain’t the only reason though, that dip in salary in going to actually save you a ton of money b/c there are a lot of ivy school leagues that offer to pay complete demonstrated need ( Yale comes to mind b/c that’s the only place I spent any time talkin with). The small savings you accumulate before quiting your job will diminish throughout the yearr and by the time you actually have to demonstrate your financial need, you’ll have very little savings and a low paying job. Ta-da, you get to go to a prestigious school full time and have the college life while attaining a respectable degree that will help you get a teaching job practically anywhere

  17. I know that at least one school (UPenn) allows you to teach (esp math) in underserved areas while taking classes towards a teaching certificate. PLUS, the city of Philadelphia will pay for your schooling if you commit an amount of time after graduation to teach in the underserved area. It’s a win-win situation in my mind: Penn – good education; city pays – no loan; start teaching while in school – happiness. Check out opportunities like this!

  18. In the field of teaching where you get your degree doesn’t exactly matter. Once you get your first job schools won’t look at where you went to get that degree. So long as you have one. If what you really want to do is teach then go somewhere else and get that degree. Yes, Harvard is a fantastic school, and if you are going to do politics or law or something more than just teach then I’d say go. If all you want to do is teach math then save your money. Because you won’t make much when you become a teacher. Besides. The kids are what really matter, not where you got your masters. Unless of course you just want to gloat that you went to Harvard. At which point I’d have to question your motives to become a teacher. I say all of this as a current education student at NYU and have seen all of this first hand. I opted to come here because I wanted to get into the political side of education. NYU is proving to be very lucrative for that but if I didn’t have these plans it would have been a huge waste of money.


  20. Don’t go to Harvard unless you can afford it! My partner went to MIT and had a half tuition scholarship, and now she’s stuck at a job she doesn’t like and that doesn’t pay as much as she had hoped, because she has too much debt to feel free to strike out for a job she’d enjoy more. I recently passed up a master’s at Yale to go to a prestigious state school where I’m getting paid to get my master’s, and I don’t regret it at all. Not having to pay a boat load for my education is allowing me to take more of the courses that I want because I don’t have to TA to pay my way, AND I know I won’t be saddled with debt when I graduate and pursue my career in environmental consulting. Sure, it was hard passing up Yale, but I realize that I’m getting an equally good education at a state school, and I don’t have the stress of debt. Don’t underestimate how much debt can chain you down later in life.

  21. I think we need to go back to Elizabeth’s credentials in teaching. It seems that Harvard blindly accepted her based on the strength of her resume, not teaching-related credits. I honestly think that Elizabeth needs to spend a good half year in teaching to see if it’s really for her. One or two days of substitute teaching doesn’t fit the bill. Also, several Harvard professors present their teaching strategies, etc. in conferences, which will probably add up to less than $2,000 per year (if you decide to attend them). Elizabeth, please think of your situation in dollars and sense.

  22. If I were in this most intriguing situation, it would not seem clear as to which road I should take. As for me, after some thought, I would go to Harvard. Cost of schooling and money making afterwards would not be the deciding factors for me. The prestige of attending Harvard will be something you can never replace. It will leave you feeling you are living your life out to the fullest, and will be something you never look back on with regrets and what-ifs.

  23. First of all, congratulations on getting into one of the most prestigious schools in this country. That in and of itself makes you an incredibly talented individual. Like others, I think your choice should be based on what program is going to prepare you best for what you want to do, combined with other more personal factors, such as location, expense of living there, etc. Does Harvard have a good program in education? Is it going to matter when you get out where you got your degree? How will you feel if you don’t go to Harvard?

    I was faced with a similar decision when choosing whether to go into a doctoral program in clinical psychology or a master’s in art therapy. The master’s was at a more prestigious university; the doctorate was at a less prestigious professional school. Neither offered funding. I decided to enroll in the doctoral program because I just wanted that degree (I have a master’s already in a different field), I can do more with a doctorate, and because I’ll earn more when I get out. The fact that it wasn’t such a prestigious school mattered less, especially when I considered that no-one in my current field cares where I got my master’s degree and that will be even more true when I become a clinical psychologist.

    You might want to consider working as a consultant on the side to help pay for expenses and minimize the need for loans. You already seem to have a lot of excellent skills and talents. Can you continue to consult as a financial analyst while you’re in school? I’m planning on doing this myself because I can make far more as a consultant than doing 20 hours of work study per week. Granted, I expect it will be exceptionally challenging to balance everything (l won’t have time to visit sites like this one!), but I think I can make it work.

    Whatever you do, I think you should go with what your heart/gut/head tells you. At some point—after I had consulted many people and done a lot of research on my options–I had to just make a decision based on what I thought *I* wanted and not what others were telling me to do.

  24. Elizabeth, I like the fact that you are considering teaching as your future career because the person I admire the most was my teacher. I don’t have much experience to give you an advice, but I can say that I don’t care where my teacher got his degree from; he gave me the motivation to reach my goals. Even though he was teaching me algebra, he was constantly encouraging everyone in class to do better not just in the classroom, but also outside in every activity we, the students, did.
    So what I want to say, Elizabeth, is to follow your passion for teaching and go to Harvard. Even though I believe that even when one doesn’t go to one’s dream school, the experiences and opportunities are still available to the one’s who look for them. Finally, I say, “my teacher is the best because of what he taught me not because he was taught by the best.”

  25. Alapati Tautai

    I believe that a person should work at a job where he or she is happy. Often times, people are very unproductive because they are not happy with their current jobs. Sometimes, money is not everything. You can have all the money in the world but if you are not happy, the money you have may not mean anything at all. I remember my mom sometimes want to quit but she hesitates because she enjoys the company of her staff. In this case, she prefers loyalty over the pressure and headache she goes through at work. Bottom line is, it depends on the person and his or her objectives and mission in life. We have to sacrifice some things in life to realize the greatness of other aspects of life.

  26. I think the answer is simple, send Elizabeth to Harvard. It should be about the quality of the education she receives rather than the expense. If I had the opportunity I would take it at the drop of a hat. There will always be more money, but will there always be Harvard probably not. Some things in life are far to valuable to pass up and this one of those things.

  27. Bonnie Walton

    A mind is a terrible thing to waste. While I did not respond yesterday, the sky is the limit. When the opportunity arises to better your education, one must take advantage of it and look at the long term result versus the short term sacrifices and right now satisfaction.

  28. If you’re giving up $50-60k or so per year salary, how important is another $60k, especially since that chunk will likely equal higher pay in the end. You don’t mention children, so I’m guessing you have none. I see nothing lost by going to Harvard and a lot to gain.

  29. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and a degree from Harvard will be the foundation for a plethora of opportunities to come.

  30. Speaking as an elementarty education major, I will say there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the look on a child’s face when they finally get it. To be fair, I will also say there is nothing more frustrating than to explain something every way you know how, and they still can’t grasp the concept. You have to have a real heart for it if you want to teach. However, though the pay is low, and the hours suck (don’t let anyone tell you you really get summers off) and the work always comes home with you, in the end it is all a labor of love, and what could be better than that?

  31. I don’t think I’d do it for two main reasons. First, you’ll be making beans as a math teacher and will have a hell of a time paying it back after you’re done. It would be one thing to accept admittance to Harvard Law or Medicine under the assumption you could pay back the enormous costs after becoming a lawyer or a doctor, but paying back that kind of money on a high school teacher salary would be a lifetime pursuit. Second, Harvard is so “great” partially because that’s how we always talk about it. There will be pros and cons no matter where you go for your masters so don’t expect people at Harvard to be superhuman in their abilities to help you learn. People tend to reify and exaggerate how great the greatest schools are. Sure they’re the best, but by how much of a margin? Can they offer you something twice as good as a state school education?… four times as good?… eight times as good? That’s what you would expect given the price tag, but I’d suspect that’s not the case..

    Just as a side comment, I do not think it is advisable to “just try it for a year” as some others have suggested. I wonder what the point of this would be. You wouldn’t plan to do something halfway any other time, so why plan to go only halfway in grad school? Along these same lines, I wouldn’t advise applying for schools that you know are extremely expensive, but don’t offer much financial aid. It’s kind of like an average Joe running for President of the United States… he knows he has zero chance of financing a decent campaign and ultimately being elected, but he wastes the time and energy he DOES have and campaigns anyway. If it’s not feasible for you to fund the highest-level educational campaign (Harvard), then shoot for a mid-level campaign that doesn’t ruin you financially (State U.).

  32. Go to Harvard and don’t worry about your loan payments. Lucky for you you have decided to go into a public service career. That means you will qualify for the loan forgiveness programs which could cancel your Perkins and Stafford loans. In one program, if you teach full time for five consecutive, serve low-income families you may be eligible for forgiveness of up to a combined total of $17,500 OR You can also qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which asked that you make minimum payments for ten years (if your not making much money, your payments can be reduced according to your income) and your loans will be forgiven. There are plenty of was to clear your loans, so go for it!!!

  33. It was said earlier that Elizabeth may be making a six figure salary. If that is the case then a possibility would be to work for a few more years, save a substantial amount of her income and then go to Harvard, which will give her far less debt to worry about. I feel like the more debt she has in the years to come, the more she may regret her decision to go back to school but if it’s something she is really passionate about, she should do it.

  34. I am pretty sure, Harvard officers have by now, figure out, that being a Math teacher for High School isn’t exactly the best way to get off a loan quick and live a happy life. They will have something to help you with the costs, for sure. If you are admitted, you don’t have to worry about money, sweetie. Harvard wants you to enjoy your education experience, and for you to get the best of it. No one, who is admitted, declines Harvard because of money. Just show them how much you have, and how much you think you can earn in the future, and they will make it happen. Good luck, and congratulations! Your life is about to change dramatically!

  35. do whatever makes you happy. i don’t need to write my whole story here but i learned that money is def not the most important thing and should never be. If it will make you happy to go to Harvard, go. If not, saying you got accepted is still a pretty big deal. The money you will be paying back for awhile but if you have Harvard on your resume you will probably make a lot more money anyways. all this to say, do what makes you happy:)

  36. Patrick Jenkinson

    In truth, passion is what you want to pursue, but in reality the best thing is security. Everybody has needs and security is one of those. Its your choice but if i were you id keep the job or find ways to do both.

  37. If she really wants to, i think she should go through with it. Money isn’t everything. Money doesn’t bring happiness.

  38. Has anyone mentioned that teaching jobs are extremely hard to come by right now?

    I just don’t think the time is right to make that move. Is there anyway to put off Harvard for a little while?

    I finished my Master’s Degree (in Leadership and Management) at a wonderful private school in Southern California last year, and I had a hard time getting into a better position, but finally got a supervisory position and am making a little more money (and am finally happy with my job). I only spent $20,000 on grad school. But, when I went into it (in late 2007) I thought – Oh no problem I’ll instantly be making $20,000 more a year with the degree – ha well then the economy took a dive and now that those student loans have kicked in, I am hurting.

  39. Anthony Pietsch

    I may be incorrect in my assumption, but it sounds to me like you are interested in a career that will make a tangible difference in the life of others (through teaching). If this is your rational for desiring a career change, then there are two important things you should consider about your education. If you attend Harvard, you will not only have excellent training, but you will also have the prestige that comes with the degree. With that sort of sway, you might have a greater than average opportunity to influence education on a wide scale. However, you should also consider how vitally important locally community teachers can be for their students. Teachers with “less prestigious” credentials not only make a vital difference every day, but they are the backbone of our educational system. Either option presents you with a chance to enhance your benevolance and create new opportunities for children. If I were you, I wouldn’t even consider the money factor. You will be making payments on something or another for the rest of your life, but the choices you make about how you will influence your society are all unique and fleeting.

  40. Money cannot buy happiness. Elizabeth needs to make a choice based on what she loves. That being said, I would have to agree with Jane’s comments to Elizabeth about not being “dazzled by the Harvard name.” You can teach someone head knowledge but it is only Elizabeth who can develop her skills by practice. Her skills will come from her personal strength and passion for what she is doing, not from Harvard. I am sure helping students, succeed can be very rewarding, a feeling that money cannot buy. Saddling oneself with excess debts just for the prestige attached to a name, like Harvard, could cause Elizabeth needless stress that could zap any joy she might gain from a teaching career. Elizabeth will have to do the Math on her own as to what direction in life would bring her the greatest happiness. She will be the one who has to pay for, live with, and be responsible for this choice.

  41. I love that Elizabeth wants to be a math teacher. Using her skills in a job that doesn’t make her happy is silly. Elizabeth’s decision to do what makes her happy will effect the future. Hopefully future generations of students.

  42. In my opinion she have to got to Harvard follow her Master program. How knows may she will become one of the most famous mathematician.

  43. My sister is a high school math teacher and we were just talking about her teaching woes last night; I suppose every job has its silver lining until you’re smack dab in the middle of it. What I do in difficult situations is list benefits and drawbacks of each (talk to current high school math teachers if you need to get out of cloud 9, there are a lot of school politics that are just as unsavory as some shifty investing politics). Ultimately, it’s translating your goal that you want from life into the workplace, so if it has to do with teaching people how to overcome financial obstacles, then stay in the stock market. If it is teaching students how to overcome mathematical obstacles, then go into teaching. My sister’s greatest teaching joy is when she encounters the student who is scared sh*tless of math, and then she gets to watch that student not only conquer that fear, but teach other students how to conquer that fear, too. The idiom “every cloud has its silver lining” is false; only clouds with the sun behind it get that silver lining. So have your lifelong purpose behind your work and whatever you do, you’ll be happy.

    Finally, the Harvard issue. How much will you owe, is it 60k per year? Eek. How many scholarships can you receive? What’s the ending balance? Do you have to take out a loan? If yes; will you feasibly be able to pay back that loan with a known $-value of a teaching job and still be able to live comfortably into your retirement–and if the answer of this is no, what are other, more realistic school options? If you don’t have to take out a loan, then why are you asking us? Do it already!

  44. I think Liz should go to Harvard. You American people have myriad of opportunities. If you don’t have enough cash for your education you can still borrow from the federal loans or there are people who let you borrow the money for your quality education. If I have a chance like Liz, I think I will give preference to a quality education. I am an English teacher too, I have been teaching English at Jesuit school for 3 years and St. Peter Intermediate Seminary for 10 months. I haven’t got a college degree but I was trained as an English teacher at American Center, Yangon, Myanmar. I earned a teaching certificate called “QuiLt” stands for Qualification in Language Teaching. I have been longing for going to school again to finish my degree but things never happen. So Liz, don’t lose that chance. You won’t be able to have such opportunity in the future. It is right that you have served your community but in order to serve the community better it is good for you to take risk.

  45. Let me throw in my two cents here, since I think I’m coming from a fairly unique point of view. I am an undergraduate at Harvard interested in education, and have taken classes at the grad school here and spoken to students there, so I think I can speak a bit more to what you can expect. My commentary is detached from the issue of money and more about how Harvard GSE might apply to your goals.

    If you are going mainly to learn how to teach, I would advise a different school. Harvard GSE is known for being strong on more abstract, “bigger-picture” aspects of education like policy and administration, less so for preparing high school teachers.

    If, however, you might be interested in learning more about the aforementioned topics and maybe getting into some educational theory, then perhaps it might be the right place for you. It doesn’t hurt that you also meet a really, really fantastic crew of people (as you might guess, the professors are amazingly accomplished). I can say with confidence that the people I’ve met here (Harvard in general, not just GSE) are by far the most incredible group I think I will ever meet in my life–not just in terms of accomplishment, but in terms of passion, dedication, wit, and the audacity to dream big. A truly inspirational crowd!

    I hope this helps you decide, even before the $60,000 comes into the picture, whether Harvard might be the right place for you.

  46. Opportunity like this comes but once in a lifetime. Life plays trick but it is left for us to overcome those tricks. The decision is yours to make but i urge you to be determine to pursue whatever decision you take without regret of any kind. The future is yours to shape.

  47. With a Harvard Degree she can get a really high paying job afterwards and then after having repaid most of her debt, she can switch to being a regular teacher. She can also teach at a private school where the salary will probably be higher.

    Maybe after a weeks at Harvard she discovers another incredible field of study and might consider switching her career again.

    In her place I would apply for scholarships first and then decide where to go. Since eduation in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain is so overpriced anyway, I would consider applying to schools outside these countries which might even be better than the best university in the US. Where schools in the US think it’s pretty damn good to have 25½ internationals, it is normal for other universities to have at least 60%.

    Being Ivy or elite is a Marketing tool (for students after theirs students and the universities). It has nothing to do with the quality of what you will be learning. So you have to decide whether you need to use this marketing tool or not. (It is also a marketing tool among students who will later get highpaying jobs, they will know each other and pass good offers along = passive marketing = accepting great offers)

  48. If you look at education as an investment, then going to Harvard to become a teacher would be unwise. Your earnings as a teacher will never justify the expense of Harvard.

    If you look at education as an experience, then Harvard is as good as it gets, but it’s an expensive experience. If I was going to spen that kind of money for an “experience,” I would go to Europe or something.

    Considering you already have an undergrad degree, I think it’s time to move on, make smart choices with your money and use it for life’s experiences beyond education. In other words: get a teaching certificate on the cheap, get a teaching job and live life. You can frame that harvard acceptance letter if you want, but I would not chase the diploma.

  49. As an older student going back to school I understand Elizabeth’s concerns. Following your heart is great advice but unfortunately in today’s economy and job market it doesn’t pay your bills. Is the thought of going to Harvard the most important part of her going back to school or being a teacher? Does Harvard gaurantee her a job when she leaves Harvard? What is the job market for Math teachers? What about her life style now? Because she is an older student there will be some isolation from those of her peers. It can get lonely sometimes not having people your age to talk to. If you can answer these questions honestly then the choice should be easy. I hope this helps when you consider your decision.

  50. Hello. Elizabeth-In 2006, I too ditched a well paying job to go back to school and teach. I was hesitant at first to give up a high paying job with company paid travel, not to mention bonuses. It was the best decision I have ever made. Is teaching challenging? Yes! However, even on my worst day I still love what I do!
    Yes, you will drastically reduce your salary but if you do not make this move, you will always wonder “what if”. Also, if thid I’d a burning desire in your heart that will not go away, I say go for it.

    I too was on the fence for several years but over the course of thse years I had met women who had left high earning careers to teach.

    My husband and I have learned to live with less. There were many things that were nice to have but just not necessities. Such is life!

    Another thing, I was sucessful in my old career amking $60K plus WITH NO COLLEGE DEGREE! So in order for me to become an Educator, I had to start from scratch. I currently maintain a 3.8 GPAM I will graduate with a BS in Pysch and BS in Human Services. I will pursue a MA in Couseling and possibly one in Special Education.I am currently a. Special Education Aide and am thankful I am in this role which in and of itself is a very humbling experience.
    Previously I worked for an IT company whose primary product was intellectual capital. My clients’ were buy side investor so my job was to advise them on when to buy.

    I took a part-time position as an Aide to get in the door. Doors have been opening for me left and right since. For me, I sense that this is the career I was destined for!

  51. I am in a similar situation, having gotten accepted to Harvard for a PhD program in public health. Many people think I am crazy to turn them down, but they didn’t offer me any financial support! I already have student loans from a Master’s program and I have no desire to scrape by financially for another 4-5 years. I think in the end the program is going to be what you make of it. I am instead going to a top-10 public university that can fund my time. I plan to work hard and conduct high-quality research that speaks for itself. For me, the financial situation at Harvard would be a constant stress and I would much rather be somewhere where many thousands of dollars of debt was not hanging over my head. I think this is a personal decision and you should do whatever you want most that you can still live with at the end of the day. Good luck!

  52. I am currently in a Master’s program at the University of Houston for Math Education, but started out in their Transition to Teaching program, which is a graduate-level certification program for people interested in entering the education field through teaching math or science, as those subjects generally tend to be where most of the jobs are. I had the chance to be a student teacher my first semester of the certification program, an experience that was truly helpful in figuring out whether or not teaching was for me. I had the tutoring experiences, both in person and online, and had thought that teaching would be similar, just with more students at one time, but of course, I was wrong. As a student teacher, I discovered that classroom management was perhaps the biggest shock to me. Growing up, I took Honors-level and AP classes with other students who were similar to me in academic ability, so we were very much self-motivated to learn. However, that may not be the case with students in other-level classes, or even those top rated classes, depending on what school you are talking about. I struggled quite a bit with that, especially when students had already taken the TAKS (the Texas state required testing) and were thinking that there was nothing more to learn. It also took me a while to be comfortable with teaching to a large group of students, as they have different strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles that a teacher needs to accommodate as much as possible. Through all those complications, I had my doubts about teaching, that perhaps I just liked tutoring. I eventually decided that I wanted to be a teacher, as I realized that no matter what struggles I had, the positive outweighed the negative. I was taking teaching method courses while I was student teaching, so as I got more integrated into my mentor teacher’s classes, I kept thinking and talking with my mentor about how we could change things to benefit the students. There were times where I really wanted to try something new, but my mentor wouldn’t agree, which made me want to be a teacher even more. I also found myself really enjoying getting to know the students, not only to use their interests to help get them more active in class, but also learning more about the Latino culture. I even brought in origami and Asian snacks, as I wanted them to learn more about my culture and experiences because I realized how many of them knew nothing more than just their own neighborhood.

    I’m not sure about Harvard, but many colleges and universities offer ways to get certified while earning a Master’s degree. The majority of certifications, no matter what state, subject, or grade level, will require you to do some number of observation and/or student teaching hours, so you could probably get a better feel for teaching that way. There are many alternative certification programs out there, but I’ve heard that not all of them have that observation/student teaching requirement, which I think is ridiculous. Getting experience through subbing can also be beneficial, but in many cases, as others have said, you don’t really do any teaching, as teachers tend to leave students busy work while they are out, perhaps because it really doesn’t take much to be a substitute teacher, but many places are working towards very specific requirements now, so hopefully subbing will change for the better. You will, no doubt, have the experience of managing a class as a substitute teacher. In my classes at the University of Houston, we have talked about how American teaching could become much more professional, in the sense that training of teachers could be as rigorous as training of doctors and lawyers. I think that would help with many of the problems we have with sub-par teachers, especially in math and science. Having truly qualified and able teachers would help resolve many of the discipline and other student-related issues in our schools.

    With a Master’s degree in education, you would definitely be able to do much more than teach secondary mathematics at public schools. It could help you get into perhaps a more desirable position at a secondary private school, which may allow you to teach more because of diminished discipline and classroom management issues, but that all depends on the school. You could teach college-level math courses at community colleges and perhaps some universities. With 3-5 years teaching experience allong with the Master’s, you could be involved with curriculum development.

    About that high price tag, well, I’m going to give the URLs which offer very specific info on the loan forgiveness programs:
    The following webpage allows you to look up what schools qualify: Not all low-income schools are in “bad” neighborhoods. Many of the public schools in Houston are considered low-income, so you could pretty much live where you want and still be able to commute to a job at a low-income school. This probably is the case with other large cities. I’ve been reading the posts before mine and found that I really like Eric’s idea. When you don’t have much income reported on your FAFSA, it obviously shows that you may not be able to put out much money towards your education, so you would need all the financial aid you can get. As many others have mentioned previously, I would think that Harvard help you out financially if you needed it in order to go there. When I was an undergraduate, Tufts really helped me out immensely in terms of financial aid. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have become a Tufts graduate and wouldn’t have had all the wonderful college experiences, studying abroad in London for a year and meeting interesting people I would have pretty much never would have met otherwise.

    Now, the choice is up to Elizabeth. I’d love to hear what happens.

  53. Hi again, Elizabeth!

    Well, here’s the thing… you REALLY don’t need to spend that much to get an exemplary education. You are paying for the name… other schools have excellent education departments. While some principal may be impressed with Harvard, it will only prove it’s worth over other schools once, at hiring. Harvard is a great school, but other less expensive schools are just as good. Look, instead, for a school that specializes in education courses… that principal will likely know that school as well, and you won’t be digging yourself into debt so deeply.

    I firmly still stand by my other advice… go to school at night while still working at your current job, and putting as much money aside for emergencies as possible. You will be able pay your way and not be in debt when you are looking for your dream job. If you stay at your current job until you switch over to teaching, your life will be MUCH less stressful!

    I am a teacher. I know your enthusiasm now in the beginning, but the pay is nothing like what you are making, and it is stressful to go without, and to worry how you will pay for necessities, none the less niceties. You need to start out in a positive financial situation, not owing tens of thousands of dollars.

    You CAN have your dream… just remember that the best things are worth waiting for, and you want to start out in a way that will allow you to enjoy your new career, not regret your decision financially.

    Good Luck!

  54. Good job on your part doing all this soul searching. I’d continue working for at least another year to save up tuition money so you aren’t hit with an additional 10-20k worth of interest when you start paying back student loans.

    As for Harvard, while it’s wonderful that they accepted you, I think that you should keep your eyes on the goal “teaching”, and not be seduced by the idea of getting some prestige points at Harvard. Going to a state school that will cost 10k or less per year will give you flexibility.

    You’ll be able to take the jobs that YOU want to take, not the ones that you have to take in order to pay back your loan payment every month. Teaching is not glamorous. It might make it unbearable if you have the stress of paying back loans in addition to the stress of teaching kids a subject they may or may not want to learn.

    A teaching degree from even the cheapest school will allow you to teach. There are plenty of schools that offer a “real college” atmosphere. Just ask around and find a school that isn’t a “commuter school” and move there. Think about the freedom that you’ll have paying less money for school. If for some reason you don’t like the first school you end up at, you quit and six months later travel and find another better school. You can’t quite do that with a $700 /month bill hovering over your head

    In sum, keep working to save a years worth of money, apply to a cheaper state school, and be happy that Harvard wanted you.

    Good luck.
    Shaun Spalding

  55. Elizabeth,

    Go for it I did the same thing. i left my job of $50,000 a year to do something I actually love and I am very happy and very pround becuase I am a non-traditional student.

  56. Hello,
    i believe that Elizabeth has just been granted a great opportunity to learn from the best of the best and she should take it. going to Harvard is expensive, however this does not change my answer from yesterday. Obviously, she is brilliant and can make it at Harvard. Elizabeth, do not worry about the cost. if this is what your dream really is all about take it. do it and do it now. teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs out there. remember, if the cost is a little scary, you could still go to another university closer to your hometown and get a good degree. title IX schools help pay back your student loans, so dont worry about taking out a loan. everything will be alright. chase your dreams and inspire others to do the same.

  57. My Dad had a high paying job, but he wasn’t happy with it. So he left it and became a full time student and waiter to get through school. He got his bachelors degree and started teaching 7 years ago. Now he has a Masters of education and is working on his administrative license. He absolutely loves teaching and everything about his job. He wouldn’t trade it back for his old job for anything. So as for the teaching I say if you love it do it. What’s the point in having money if you aren’t happy?
    Harvard is a once in a life time chance. I think you should go at least for a little while and see if you like it?? Schools will always be there, so wether you do it now, or start your masters, or finish your masters, you can always go back and teach.

  58. I admire Elizabeth’s courage to cosider leaving her high paying job to teach and I compleate understand. I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. Happiness should always trump money. My dad did the same thing after trying advertising. Going back to school is great but unless you are compleatly in love with the idea of going to Harvard I don’t think it is nessesary. I am in college now and know that you don’t have to go to an expensive school to have an amazing education program so look for a school with a reputation for a great education progam. I know in my state they offer a TAPP program where as long as you have a bachelor’s degree in somthing you can go back to school for a year or two and get certified to teach and it is often a lot cheaper. Somthing like that might work for Elizabeth.

  59. Why would you need to go to Harvard in order to become a high school math teacher? Is it the prestige and accolades that you might receive if you went there? I believe you should choose an institution that will adequately prepare you for your future career without giving you unnecessary debt. In the end, how you connect with your students and what knowledge you teach will matter more than where you went to college.

  60. The truth of the matter is – money makes the world go round. You can teach without a Harvard degree… But can you live without money? It is a sad fact that you cannot always follow your dreams because money doesn’t allow you too, but that is a reality you have to deal with in today’s society. I think that you will have instant gratification with either choice you make (because half the battle is the decision), but in the long run, you can get a degree at any college or university, but money is hard to come by. You can pray, but if we are getting religious here, God gave you free will. So your “answer” from God (in my opinion) will be biased. You can follow your dreams, but the world is full of dreamers who have failed – that is a reality you might have to live with. So is it worth the risk? I would say no – get your degree elsewhere and frame your acceptance letter. But, I have never liked my math teachers, so maybe I am cynical. =)

  61. Honestly, it’s a decision only Elizabeth can make. Harvard is without a doubt a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is truly hard to pass up. First, I would consider what financial aid they are offering, go out for as many scholarships as you can find(you deserve them!!!) and see what other loans or work/study programs you can participate it. Second, sort out your motives. Do you want to teach at a prestigious private school or an inner-city public school? Just high school or eventually become a professor? Picture where you see yourself and if being a Harvard grad fits in with that. Personally, one of my friends is going to Harvard in the fall for Political Science and I couldn’t be prouder of her. It takes so much courage and obviously, money. I think you should go for it, but only you know what you’re heart is really saying.

  62. Elizabeth-

    I think you would make a great teacher. You obviously appreciate the profession in all its capacities. This passion is evident in your decision to drop a high paying position to becoming one of the most life changing people a student can have in their life. Being a high school student myself, I have noticed that it is very difficult and rare to find a teacher that truly appreciates and acknowledges the problems that arise in a student’s academic and personal life. The best teachers are able to identify with their students, especially in the classroom. The best teachers don’t mind re-explaining things to you, they don’t mind all the questions. The best teachers are mad at themselves when the whole class fails a test. The best teachers are lenient on grades and long as they know you are really trying. The best teachers, though hard to find, know they want to be a guiding light in the key stages in a person’s life. No matter where “the best” teachers go to school, some of the above characteristics cannot be taught even at the best school in the country; rather, they are born into them. Passion is all you need to succeed at anything you do. Harvard University cannot teach you how to be passionate- it has to come from within, and I think you have that passion. In the end, the decision is yours- you will have to weigh the costs and benefits. The ability of a teacher is natural- you either have it, or you don’t. Again, from what you have said with your previous experiences with students- I think you have the natural ability and I don’t think you need Harvard to tell you that.

    My current AP Calculus teacher attended Clarion University (a fairly local university) known for their teaching program and she is “the best teacher” I have referenced in this post.

    Elizabeth, you will always know that you were good enough for Harvard- but you might not need them to teach you skills you may already have.

    Good luck with all your endeavors.

  63. Education is extremely important. Go for that masters and make twice as much money as that already high paying job while doing something you love!

  64. the choice is in her hand s to choose but if it was me i will tell her to go for the harvard and save the money for future used
    Girl the choicer is yours

  65. Wesley Robinson

    You can get your master’s much cheaper at Grand Canyon University where you can get your teacher license within a year.

  66. well, i would suggest Elizabeth to go to harvard and after getting her doctorate ..get on with university teaching which may be a lucrative job if you have the guts to be on harvards list or the glue to atleast make it up till colombia atleast ; having said that u might get the lost lucrative extravaganza and having in mind the expiditiousness of professional teaching you will instantaneously get back if you have missed any…..i mean waht the hell this is…1 who cares for money when it comes to an indulgent delight of hot coffee in december falls analogus to universityteaching…i feel i’m in the same situation where i have to quit a lucrative career for university teaching : my obsession….i mean it cos i’m persuing a scholarship in ms leading to phd programme of our governmant or an fullbright kind of a scholarship to get my dreams come …BACK to me…hope u got me sweetu..take care and have a beautifull life…but don’t forget u need to have faith for this!

  67. I think she should do what she feels right. After all, some people would give up working to further there education and better their life and some people would rather stay where they are especially if they don’t have the funds to pay for their education. I think her best bet is to find what she really wants to do.

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