Education v. bricks and mortar?
June 11, 2010 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Will I regret spending my savings on further education?

After 10 years working in technical jobs I'm burnt out and need to move on. I've been accepted on a practical MA programme starting in October - yay! Except now I'm getting cold feet about actually handing in my notice...

At the time of applying it all made sense - I've becoming increasingly unhappy in my field - my current job is both stressful AND tedious - and I've lost a lot of confidence. I've have been in therapy for depression and anxiety for the last eight months and everyone who loves me says the career I fell into is just a bad fit. Nine months of full-time study plus an internship sounds like a glorious chance to reinvigorate my mind and soul, whilst broadening my chances of moving into a more suitable field - but I'm scared about the cost in time and money.

I will be self-funding to the tune of at least £13k (£3.8k course fees, £9K living expenses). I'll have a further £7k in liquid savings to cushion up to six months of job-hunting afterwards, but obviously I'm not keen on burning more of my hard-earned nest-egg than I have to.

I'm 35 and very aware of my peers buying houses, racking up pension funds, progressing in careers, doing all that grown-up stuff, and I'm worried that going back to school will do wonders for my mind but nothing for my financial security. I'm in the UK so don't have to worry about losing benefits but I am scared of spending so much money on something that isn't a deposit for a house (I'm renting currently). I'm from a poor background and feel panicky when looking at the sums. Job prospects in the new field are pretty good but they don't pay as anywhere near as much as my current job and despite having no kids and living pretty cheaply it'll probably take me a long time to build up an equivalent amount again.

I'm scared that short-term happiness might lead to long-term instability, but could short-term instability lead to long-term happiness? I don't know what to do. Any insight welcome. (Anonymous as sock puppet is yet to mature and co-workers read AskMe)
posted by anonymous to Education (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's gonna be really had to give any concrete advice here without knowing 1) what your current field is, and 2) what this MA program is for.
posted by valkyryn at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2010

I can completely understand your desire to make this big jump, and your reticence for the huge financial commitment. Does your budget include working part-time during the Master's? I worked part-time while doing mine in Edinburgh and it worked out very well, mainly because my job (research assistant) was actually on campus in one of the research departments. My final paper was written off the back of the work I was already doing, so they dovetailed nicely. I don't know if it's an option within your field, but it might be worth looking to see if similar opportunities are available for you.

I wouldn't worry quite so much about buying a house and being "grown-up" though. In the end, if you think that you will be happy in your new field and you have the means to achieve it, you should go for it.
posted by ukdanae at 10:56 AM on June 11, 2010

I don't know if this will help you, but I thought I was following my passion into a master's program and I'm sorry I spent money on it. I wasn't immediately sorry, but where I am in my life now, I wish I could get that money back. I don't like my field. You have work experience though and something to fall back on. But I wouldn't use up your money for a MA in Classics or whatever.
posted by anniecat at 11:14 AM on June 11, 2010

I'm scared that short-term happiness might lead to long-term instability

doesn't to me seem to fit well with

I've have been in therapy for depression and anxiety for the last eight months.

Anxiety and depression, even treated, can lead to long-term instability; hell, it IS long-term instability. If these are all the causative factors that you're aware of, your current job is making you ill. If you're really in the right mental state to start a new course, I think you owe it to yourself to get out of where you are and try something new.
posted by cromagnon at 11:19 AM on June 11, 2010

You're still pretty young and you have lots of time to make money so I wouldn't worry to much about the financial costs (especially if you hope to work well past 65 as I do). You're facing losses in the low five figures. That's perfectly reasonably. That being said, I would make sure you've got the depression in check before embarking on formal studies. I find that the routine external motivators of work buffer my depression while the more self directed motivators of academia exacerbate it. YMMV.

All in all, I think it's a bad idea to to turn to academia for escape, but never a bad idea to study something in which you're passionately interested (providing the financial costs aren't too ridiculous).
posted by sockpup at 9:36 PM on June 11, 2010

Not everyone shares this perspective, but I've always felt that any money spent on education is never wasted. I haven't done anything with my undergraduate degree specifically, but the experience and the things I learned were still worthwhile. If you love learning, it doesn't matter if you don't do anything with it; it can be the ends itself if you have that kind of perspective.

But let's say you don't. It sounds like you're miserable now. You can either stay with that job and be miserable forever or you can try something else. Learning new things and getting new skills with a degree in another field is a good way to get far, far away from the situation that's making you miserable now. I don't think trying something else is a waste of money. Money spent on new experiences, especially ones that are likely to be better than what you've got going on now, is another thing I never think is wasted.

And guess what? If you finish the program and it sucks too, you can do it all again with a third field. By all means continue with therapy in case your unhappiness has other causes, but life is too short to spend your time doing something you don't like. I don't mean to be cavalier about money, but when it comes down to having a shot at a life you enjoy and taking on debt, or being miserable and having some money, it's not even a question to me.

Also, I'm not sure how housing works in the UK, but at least in the US there are a ton of good reasons to rent perpetually instead of buying a house -- and it's things that have nothing to do with the recent crash and such. You might do some researching and looking around to qualm your fears. My father-in-law is one of the most intelligent people I know, and quite wealthy, and he intends to rent forever. My husband and I might do the same thing -- the only thing we like about buying is that you don't generally have a lot of freedom to customize your place if you rent, but even that's not always the case. Buying a house, at least in the United States, isn't always the financially smart thing to do. Plus you have somewhat greater freedom to move around if you rent -- if you can't tell, I'm not the kind of person that likes to be stuck doing one thing forever. I find it very freeing, but I'll admit it was hard to break out of the mindset that if you change paths you're fucking yourself over. Give it a shot, though! The standard life model that society pushes as responsible isn't suited to everyone, and it doesn't mean you're automatically irresponsible if you break from it.
posted by Nattie at 9:55 PM on June 11, 2010

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