Let’s get all contrarian from the outset today, shall we? Graduate school can be a great idea that expands your knowledge and opens up your career prospects. It can also be a lousy one that multiplies your student loan debt and walls you off from career opportunities that arise while you’re toiling away on your thesis or dissertation.
It just depends on the situation. To that end, we address Regine’s concerns:
I know you are receiving more and more emails lately, but I am really hoping this one will quietly “pop out” through the pile you get everyday.
It did when you gave me the linkback from your hi5 account! 🙂
I am Regine, almost 32 years old, 4th year undergraduate student in Architecture. I am in a rush to finish with school to say the least and kind of tired hanging around what you would call your “prototypical-straight-to-college-from-high-school” students everyday.
I can understand that.
I have a “quarter-time” job on campus (less than part-time), paying less than half what’s needed to survive.
I’m going to assume that the other half needed to keep you above the survival line is student loans. And I’m also going to start accumulating some questions for addressing later, the first of which is: Can you work more somewhere off-campus?
I am too old to get some good financial help but still want to get my Master’s degree.
I’m not sure what you mean by that — I know there are lots of scholarships out there cater to high school seniors and therefore aren’t available to you, but there’s still a LOT of scholarship money out there for you regardless of your age — of course, if you’ve got the grades and essays and credentials and all that to earn it.
Anyways, in 2 years I am done with college and I would like to get my Master’s degree at once.
OK, another question for later: Why is it that you’re certain you want to get a master’s degree at all, and to get it immediately following your bachelor’s? And the inevitable followup question there is — what is it exactly that you want to do with your professional life following college?
1) I can either stay at my school and take out more loans ( I am already $30,000 in debt) keeping in mind that a Master’s degree at IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) is pricey.
2) I can go to a more affordable school, public would be better, where I would not have to pay that much .
Let me suggest a third option: graduate from IIT as soon as you can, then forget the master’s degree for now. More on that in a second, though.
Although I prefer this last option, the only good schools that offer a great Master’s program in Architecture are far from Chicago (University of Michigan, University of Cincinnati for ex). At my age, I am tired of moving and starting over. I also cant afford to wait another year for in-state tuition.
At the end of the day I’m going to stick by my recommendation of ditching the master’s program for now, but just as a side road here, you have to ask yourself what you’re really looking for in a master’s degree in the first place. A deeper education? A nameplate school on your diploma so that all the other architects you meet in the future open their eyes a little wider when you mention where you got your master’s? I’m being a little facetious here, but my point is real — I haven’t heard any solid *reason* for going after a master’s degree yet, and that’s always important, but especially so when the student involved is really itching to start building their lives.
I would prefer staying where I am and start building my life.
See! I knew it! 🙂 I’ll say more about this in a second, but, contrary to what seems to be the conventional wisdom these days — going to grad school is not always a good idea. Yes, deeper and more expansive knowledge is great, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. The costs do not always outweigh the benefits. Sometimes it increases your marketability commensurate with its price tag, and sometimes it doesn’t.
But one thing remains constant — it’s expensive, and if you can’t reasonably predict that you’ll make up the cost difference in increased pay and opportunity later on, then grad school is not worth it.
Disclaimer: I went to grad school for journalism, which generally is a field in which it is NOT worth your time and money to pursue a graduate degree. However, my master’s degree from Missouri paid for itself many times over. Missouri’s journalism school has been the best in the world for over 100 years, and simply having the degree opened careers doors for me that never would’ve been opened if it weren’t for Mizzou.
BUT MIND YOU: this was not from any special secret journalism knowledge that was imparted to me during my two years in the master’s program there. As much as I love my alma mater, I will steadfastly tell you that I am probably no smarter journalism-wise as a result of my coursework there than I would be if I picked up an M.A. at just about any other journalism program around (in fact, I came out pretty discouraged about journalism and abandoned the profession immediately afterward).
So, do I regret spending the money and two years of my life on the degree? Hell no I don’t — it made my career. But it was a special situation. It wasn’t having *a* master’s that did me the good, it was having one from the top school in my field that did it (That was more long-winded than I intended for it to be, but I don’t want to appear to be a hypocrite with the advice I’m giving today).
At the same time, I cant afford to pay IIT much more money if (God forbids!) I would have to get my Master’s at IIT. I looked at DesignIntelligence, a magazine that lists some of the best schools for undergrad & grad in Architecture, and most of the schools are either Ivy League (cant afford) & the public ones (out-of-state, meaning I would have to sit another year).
Let me roughly quote my venerable mother (man, I must be getting old) when I say: you don’t have to go to the “best” schools in order to be the best — or very, very good, even — at what you do. And then, let me tell you my own spin on my mother’s wisdom after 36 years of listening to it:
You don’t need ANYBODY else to tell you that you’re smart, your education is valid and that you’re good at what you do. Not the small group of writers and editors and DesignIntelligence, not some admissions board at the University of Michigan, not your future co-workers and not me. It sounds simplistic but it’s true — just work as hard as you can to learn as much as you can while you’re at IIT, and you’ll be as good as most people you meet in your profession (and that’s because most people in college do NOT work as hard as they can nor try to learn as much as they can).
I’m really skittish about playing armchair psychologist with people asking me for help, but here goes — from reading your email, it sounds like a main reason you want that master’s degree is to communicate to others and yourself that you’ve got a great education pedigree. You don’t seem to want it for the bottom-line financial reasons that a lot of people have for pursuing the grad degree, and you also don’t want it for the more romantic, “knowledge feeds my soul” kinda reasoning that other (usually more affluent types) have. Again, I’m speculating and if I’m wrong about that, I apologize, but that’s just the vibe I get from your email.
I believe that in most cases, the value of the education you receive is about 30% up to your school’s program and 70% up to you personally — meaning, how much effort you put into learning and applying what they teach you, how aggressive you are in learning more things above and beyond what you’re required to learn to get your degree, how assertive you are in pursuing internships and work experience, etc.
Having said that, there are certainly wonderful reasons to spend the money on a master’s degree.
a) The deeper knowledge you acquire, of course, can in many situations launch you into a job that’s a couple of rungs higher on the career ladder and pay scale than you could get with a bachelor’s degree.
b) In my experience, the professional network you build in graduate school is more valuable than the one you build in undergrad school. People who go to grad school tend to move on to bigger and better jobs faster than those who don’t. That’s my personal experience, anyway — it may not always be true.
Am I being too difficult?
I believe that you are. Again, I have to speculate on your reasoning here, but let me lay down my assumptions:
I assume that you’re pursuing an architecture degree so that you can become an architect (seems obvious, but not always). And I assume that you have the time to work more than just 10 hours a week or so.
If I’m in the neighborhood here, my advice is to get a job working more hours during the week somewhere off-campus if you must. That’ll begin to address the money situation — you’ll have more cash in your pocket and then you can dial back the student loans a bit if you want.
Then, ditch the idea of master’s degree for now. Your top two concerns seem to be a) to stop spending money on education, and b) to start working. Both of those problems are solved by getting out into the work force full time. And if you’re still set on getting a master’s degree, start going part-time if you can, and even check into whether your employer might help you pay for at least a portion of it.
I cant move anymore and wait a year for in-state tuition, I cant either afford IIT. I feel stuck, frustrated that I cant think logically at my age. Any advice would be welcome!!!
You’re welcome. That’s my best advice on the subject, but what about you all? Should she ditch the master’s degree or keep after it? Let us know in the comments below!
On a side note, I am always looking for native speakers of other languages to translate my posts into their native tongues. If you’re willing to do that in exchange for being publicly credited on each article, getting a link to your personal website/LinkedIn and a strong reference from me on your resume, please email me at judgejosh (at) outlawstudent.com.