My Terrible Mistake to Attend Graduate School
July 3, 2012 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Should I leave my graduate school? Is it even worth it to get a master's degree? Long story inside.

I had a baby at the tail end of my bachelor's degree (in Art History nonetheless) and thought it would be a wonderful idea to attend graduate school. (If you search my previous questions you'll see how I've struggled with the decision.)
I basically wanted a good, steady job in something I cared about, and thought that historic preservation would fit the bill. So i applied and got into a program that promised a lot of things, such as more hands on preservation workshops and a coursework in sustainability as it pertains to old buildings and homes. I guess I came into the program thinking I would find my niche really fast, and have yet to do so. The program, in reality, has a real focus on academia as the director of the program is basically just a scholar and has done not much more in his life than write books about architectural history. The hands on work that has been offered has been really disappointing, and others in the program will second my sentiment. Also, the program has doubled, even tripled its enrollment since I entered, which maxes out our facility capacity, as well as puts a major strain on the instructors (who, I might add, are ALL adjuncts, there is one tenured and that is the director).
Ok, so there's my beef with the program. Not totally a big deal. However, there is no funding for the program at my sports centered university, so I've footed the bill with student loans. I was inches from getting a teaching fellowship but didn't get any of the ones I applied and interviewed for. The first 6-7 months of the program I was alone with my toddler while my partner worked out of state, and he has since found employment in town, but it really put a huge strain on my mental state that I am still recovering from.
Forward to now: I have had to find a job myself, one where I could work nights and avoid daycare. So I got a job in a super popular cake shop, and have recently been hired at a craft beer tap house. I can't help but feeling I should just finish my master's degree so i don't feel like I'm going backwards in my life (I'm 26). I've held professional admin positions before, but am not wanting to foot a daycare bill and be away from my daughter 50+ hours a week, which would also cancel out any opportunity for me to finish my degree if I decided I wanted to. However, I'm still unsure what I want to do with my life, although I've spent a lot of money on my education (please don't bash me for that, there's not a whole lot I can do). I'd love to get a degree in something in the medical field, but financial aid won't cover a post bacc and I've maxed out my undergrad loans.
So, should I suck it up and finish my masters, or go in a different direction and cut my losses? I'm willing to move laterally into a different field that is in demand and have the drive to teach myself, I just don't know what it would be. Also, I should note, that my grades have been less than stellar (still passing) due to the strains of raising a toddler.
posted by ohmansocute to Education (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How much time do you have left, and how much more money will it cost you to finish?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:30 AM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: About a year and a half, and over $15k.
posted by ohmansocute at 10:31 AM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry, a year and a half at part time; I've finished a year full-time, but now that I'm working, I won't be able to go full-time.
posted by ohmansocute at 10:32 AM on July 3, 2012

How long have you been in this program and what are the sunk costs you've already plowed into it?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:32 AM on July 3, 2012

(Sorry, you answered with your 2nd reply and we cross-posted)
posted by DarlingBri at 10:33 AM on July 3, 2012

So you have a year left to finish your masters? I quit grad school with only a year under my belt and never looked back. It simply wasn't worth it, and there's been no job I wanted that I couldn't get unless I had a masters.

I asked about this in 2007, and have since gone to pastry school, worked as a pastry cook, and have worked four years as a copyeditor and proofreader. It all depends on where you want to go from here. It sounds like your current job situation is amenable to raising a toddler, and that focusing on the short term of that might be your best bet.

Grad school will be right where you left it (especially since you were paying for it), should you ever want to go back. I am pretty confident I won't.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:33 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want to stay in school to keep your loans from coming due.

Check out your local JC for medical programs, LPN, RN, Sonography, Radiology, Dental Hygeine, etc are all offered at Junior Colleges at discount rates.

You might even be able to trasfer some of your undergrad credits so it won't take so long.

Typical RN program is 3 years, but a lot of that is classroom mumbo jumbo.

If you're program is a bust, don't put one more minute, or one more dollar into it. Just change your major!

I was in college for decades! I have credits in my English degree, nursing, teaching and an MBA. Who cares how old you are, or how long it takes. It's the journey, not the destination!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:37 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're = your. Sheesh!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:38 AM on July 3, 2012

It sounds like you aren't really enjoying the program, and your motivation to keep going is the sunken costs. This is not a good reason to stay in graduate school.There might be good reasons though.

A good reason to stay in graduate school is if finishing the degree will realistically improve your lot in life, better work or better pay.

Take a hard look: If you think finishing will result in better work or better pay, (or both!). I'd say bite the bullet and finish, maybe even take out private loans to make it easier on yourself.

If not, move on! Look at nursing schools, or keep working at your current jobs if they are working out well for you. Don't waste more time on graduate school if it is not going to help you out.
posted by pseudonick at 10:43 AM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I sympathize. It's hard to enjoy a professional master's program when the profs and stuff are more academically minded - they probably take much better care of their PhD candidates, leaving the students floundering in an under-resourced professional Masters program out to dry. You might want to consider taking a Leave of Absence - usually the school will let you re-enroll within a few years - so that you can spend some time working, raising your little one, and figuring out whether historic preservation is something you really want to do (if it's not then you will not have wasted time on finishing). Just my 2 cents.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 10:52 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Forget the program for a minute. Will you get a reasonable job in your field when you graduate? If so, finish. If not, change now.
posted by fshgrl at 11:02 AM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: My classmates think they can "bullshit" their way into a good job. I don't really see that happening, but I'm a pessimist.
posted by ohmansocute at 11:08 AM on July 3, 2012

I have a degree in historic preservation and have not worked in the field since graduation. I can think of two of my classmates who are actually working in preservation. The rest are working other jobs (including some cool ones like being a foreign service officer!)

I got pretty depressed about not working in the field for a while because I felt like career changers got all the jobs and there was no place for an entry level employee. Also, there aren't a whole lot of jobs in the field. Your classmates are probably right about bullshitting their way into jobs. If they've already got connections, they're in a much better position job wise (but that's true for any job.)
posted by vespabelle at 11:17 AM on July 3, 2012

Response by poster: vespabelle, do you think the degree helped you land a better job than you would have otherwise?
posted by ohmansocute at 11:28 AM on July 3, 2012

Best answer: Yeah, the historic preservation field's current outlook is pretty dismal, and an MA will not help much. Former art history student and museum-dweller here, who declined to pursue a PhD for similar reasons after much heart-rending internal debate. It was tough to walk away because I fell into the easy trap of feeling like my field of academic interest defined who I was, and I was afraid that if I left to do something different, I would be leaving some essential part of myself behind. But I had to put practical realities first (like needing to provide for myself and my loved ones, and wanting to have the means and freedom to actually go see and enjoy the amazing works I enjoyed).

I'm glad I made the jump to a more "practical" field and have never looked back. At this point, I'm a few years of happy, art-unrelated employment down the road. Even though my career field is now unrelated to art history, I use my creative and critical thinking skills every day. I still enjoy art on my own. And now I can actually think about fun trips to visit far-flung museums as a financial possibility (not now, but hopefully in the future!).

If your gut is telling you this is wrong, why not listen to it and take a breather from this program? Think of the different ways that $15,000 saved could help you achieve your goals in other ways. Why not take a break and see where your current jobs lead you? Or the suggestion to try a shorter-term community college program with high employability could also be a good idea. Who's to say you can't do a different job to provide for yourself and your family, but ALSO stay involved with historic preservation through volunteering, being a docent, etc.? That's what I plan to do with museum work someday down the road. You can love a field while acknowledging that it isn't solid enough to depend on for a career. It's actually really freeing. Best of luck to you, and don't be scared to do what's right for YOU.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:45 AM on July 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

15k in debt is not worth it.

As someone suggested above, take a leave of absence JUST in case and go work at that cake shop!!!!

As an academic mommy, I feel you.
posted by k8t at 1:32 PM on July 3, 2012

My classmates think they can "bullshit" their way into a good job. I don't really see that happening, but I'm a pessimist.

This is conventional wisdom at this point, but worth repeating: You shouldn't ask "what kinds of jobs can I get with this degree?" You should ask "what degree do I need to get the kinds of jobs that I want?".

I wish I'd listened to my gut and dropped out of my masters program two semesters in and switched to another program, and I was fully funded. I think you need to seriously think about where you see yourself in 5 years and then figure out the steps you need to get there. This degree may or may not be one of those steps.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 12:54 PM on September 25, 2012

Is this a repost? Didn't most of us advise you NOT to do this? Pretty much for the reasons you're outlining here?

Bounce out of school this instant. Get a refund on whatever fees you can.

When you get your jobs sorted out, go to school for nursing or something at a JC. It's cheap and cheerful.

Stop agonizing over this! If you liked it, you wouldn't be anxious about it. You don't like it, it's expensive and there's no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:16 PM on September 25, 2012

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