Am I Emotionally Ready To Go Back To School?

Hi Josh,

Thank you so much for the advice you give! I’ve been on your mailing list for a long time and I’d gladly link back to you, but I don’t really have anywhere I can do that. This question is time-sensitive, so I hope you can answer it quickly. This is really long, but I kept it as short as possible. Please help.

Thanks, Anonymous – I will definitely do my best!

I’ve decided to go back to school for another degree. I’m in my late-twenties and I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall career-wise. I’m stuck in jobs that look like good jobs, but they’re not right for me, so they leave me feeling miserable, lifeless, and depressed. So, I’m going back.

Well that’s not good – but I bet you’re ready to do something about it.

If I get my tail in gear right away (there’s a big scholarship due at the beginning of November that I would need to get), I could make deadlines in time to start school in September 2015 (yes, 2015). But I’m wondering if I should wait until September 2016.

The thing is, I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotional stuff over the past few years: child abuse, the loss of my entire family (who rejected me when I broke the silence about the abuse), and a complicated situation with an ex (whom I might still have a future with). I’m actually feeling pretty good these days, but I’m not quite back to normal yet.

One questions I would ask before reading further is – what is it going to take to get you “back to normal?”  Is it just time?  If so – and if you think that is absolutely necessary to success in school – then we can stop right here and tell you to wait.  But if you answer yes to just needing more time – how do you know?  How do you know it’s not something else, like where you live, or working in crappy jobs?

Going back to school would mean (a) having to be able to mentally dedicate myself to my studies full-time and (b) moving far away. I think moving far away could be a wonderful fresh start, but it also means moving away from my friends and support systems (and the ex).

It sounds to me like the benefits of moving far away outweighs the downside.  Yes, your support system is there, but in this day and age, everyone is a click away.  Of course, I’m not you, so you have to look within yourself to see if you need your support system physically near you, but keep in mind that with the internet, no one is very far away at any given time.

I know this sounds simplistic, but I always think it’s a good idea when making a tough decision to site down with pen and paper (or keyboard and monitor) and make a list of the pros and cons.  See which one outweighs the other.  Sometimes it helps just to see it all right out in front of you, rather than to just have the good and bad bouncing around in your head.

Also, this is a PhD program, so there’s very little room for anything less than “A”s. I have the academic ability to get those “A”s, but I know I have to be 100% (or at least 90%) dedicated to my studies, which leaves very little time/room for emotional recovery.

I’m trying to figure out which option is the lesser of two evils:

1. Wait to go back to school until September 2016, which means two more years in depressing jobs but which also gives me two more years to emotionally recover (with my friends and support systems) before starting a degree.

2. Go back to school in September 2015, which will hopefully launch me back into a life that I love, but I may have to start the degree while still emotionally recovering (with my friends and support systems far away).

What’s tough about this decision is that I have to make the decision now but I really don’t know how I’m going to be feeling in a year (which is when the degree would actually start).

Also, applying and then deciding not to go isn’t really an option. Turning down this scholarship or this school wouldn’t be a good idea.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Any advice?


I agree – you need to be 100% focused if you’re going to be in a PhD program.  But in my head I keep going back to my initial question – why do you think that time will heal you?  What I am about to say is in no way meant to minimize what you went through, I’m sure it was truly awful – but if you were abused as a minor and you’re now in your late 20s, do you think that 2 more years will leave you in a much better position than 1 more year?  Again, I am not you, but it sounds to me like more and more time may bot be the answer, and maybe you need to look to something other than time to help you recover.

My gut feeling is that you should go ahead and apply and move on with your life.  Being stuck in jobs that make you feel, as you say, “miserable, lifeless and depressed” will do nothing to help you heal emotionally.  It’s a tough call, and since only you know how you feel inside it’s one that no one can make but you – however everything I am hearing tells me that I think it’s time for you to do all you can to move forward and get to a place where you can enjoy your life to the fullest.

How about the rest of you – what do you think Anonymous should do?  Do you think 2 more years is the better path to help Anaonymous heal?  Or should he/she move forward more quickly?  Tell us what you think!

6 thoughts on “Am I Emotionally Ready To Go Back To School?”

  1. I would say that fresh starts are incredibly helpful for breaking away from past problems. It can be very therapeutic.

    On the other hand, doctoral programs are brutal. A former adviser of mine said “the PhD program tears you apart, gets you to break down, and then puts you back together.” Also, grades are not your main concern in doctoral programs – in my program, for example, grades were completely irrelevant. However, the coursework was much harder than anything I had ever done before and culminated in a very difficult exam. I was also doing research the whole time. There were countless nights when I slept less than three hours and the stress levels were extraordinary. Depending on the field, job prospects might also be somewhat demotivating.

    As you can gather from everything I mentioned above, I do think a PhD program is a very challenging experience even for a perfectly emotionally stable person.

    I would like to propose a third option: have you considered starting a new job in a new place? That might give you the fresh start you need, without throwing you right into an emotionally grueling experience.

  2. I say sign up and go get that degree. I started college while going through a divorce with two kids and a difficult ex, and being in school really helped me to get through that difficult time in my life. Knowing that I could be successful in my classes and build relationships with professors and fellow students really brought my self-esteem and confidence to a healthy level. Fear of the unknown is always going to be a reality, but when it is time to move forward, it is time, and from everything you say here, it sounds like it is time.

  3. I think it’s a great idea to go back to school. I had the same issue after high school. I wanted school to be over, but when I started working, it was terrible. Jobs were too stressful for lit

  4. In 2 years, you will be two years older anyway. Just do it.
    I am 52 and started back to school for a second master’s degree by taking undergrad courses in 2012. I am now in my 3rd semester of a very demanding speech language pathology program.
    You CAN do this. You have had challenges, changes and obstacles. Jump over those obstacles and do it. Do you have to get a PhD? Can you get another master’s in another profession?

  5. Wow, so many things you say are similar to my situation! I was also recently making the decision to go to grad school (possibly will be intermediate to a phD program), I’m in my late twenties, feeling stuck in dead end depressing jobs, have experienced lots of intense suffering since I was a child, and the decision for grad school entailed a big move away from friends and my support system. Every situation is unique, but one thing I will say: I know what it feels like to get in a rut of indecision and hopelessness (with all the ups and downs that come all of a sudden, hence the ever-present threat of discouragement even though you’re feeling fine right now). In my case, I weighed my options with the help of close friends and family, prayed for direction from God, and went for it. I made the decision to go to grad school and it has been good! You’re in a tough spot, and I have no way of knowing how tough. Dunno how you feel about Jesus Christ (sorry for getting all churchy on you!) but he says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I pray he brings you emotional healing and direction, and that you make a good decision with confidence!

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