Getting cold feet about getting a Master's degree
July 25, 2012 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Another "should I go to graduate school?" question.

- Six months ago, I was laid off from my corporate job, and received a severance package. Prior to being laid off, I had been toying with the idea of going back to school to get a master's degree in CSR / sustainable development, as this is a topic of interest for me and I have been looking for a way to sharpen my generalist background into something more specialised. I would like to use the Master's to later pursue work in corporate affairs or for a CSR/ sustainable development consultancy or NGO.

- After getting laid off, I applied and have been accepted into the program of my choice, which is a distance Master's program from a respected business school.

- The financial windfall from my severance package would make it possible for me to finance the entire Master's without taking on any debt. As it is a distance program, I am also able to stay in my current city and work while studying, and am currently working freelance for a single client. It seems fairly certain that I can continue this freelance project at least until the end of the year, with a possibility - though not a guarantee - to continue next year.

- I have no savings. The severance package was the first time I've ever had more than 5000 in my checking account. However, I live in an EU country with fairly strong social support system, I have a very supportive partner with a high-earning, stable job, and as mentioned I am able to freelance.

- The tuition for the program would eat up every cent of the severance package money.

So. Should I still do it? I'm nervous about the investment of time & money, and with all the "dear God don't go to grad school" comments on AskMefi, I'm worried that I'm making a foolish decision.
posted by anonymous to Education (14 answers total)
Usually 'dear god don't go to grad school' means:

Dear god don't take on massive debt getting a philosophy of post modern butt art because you are afraid of being a grown up.

That's not you. Have fun.

(from someone deeply in said 'dear god' camp)
posted by French Fry at 7:16 AM on July 25, 2012 [17 favorites]

What kind of job do you want w/ that masters?

Most Americans discourage other Americans because the cost of an American masters (a two year program here) can be well into the tens of thousands of dollars per year in tuition alone.

The EU is a different story.
posted by discopolo at 7:16 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why wouldn't you? It would be hard to be in a better position in your entire life to go get this certification. This is the optimal moment. Let it pass, and likely you'll never see a better chance. Many people would go to extremes to be in as good a position as you are to pursue this advanced training in a growing field.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on July 25, 2012

Check the job placements of people exactly like you: distance learners of the sustainable development degree. Will your degree reflect that you at not at the school?
posted by shothotbot at 7:20 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your prospective master's degree is in any way related to your current field, most corporate jobs would finance your getting the degree by going to school part-time. So in that situation, the most economically-savvy approach would be to find a new job in your current field and take part-time classes paid for by your company.

On the other hand, if the degree is so far removed from your usual profession that there is absolutely no way most companies would pay for it, then getting the degree now would be a really good idea and would also help camouflage the gap in your resume.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:20 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I too received a handsome severance package and since I already had a Master's degree, and didn't want another one, I took a job making 1/3 of my previous salary so that I could learn a very specific piece of software and make a career change.

That worked out very well for me. I had a plan and I executed it well.

You have a plan, you have the funds and you have appropriate back-up to achieve your goals.

I see no reason for you NOT to get your Master's, as long as the program is legit and well recognized (I'm always a bit leery of "distance learning". I do like wolfdreams01 take on the situation. I allowed my employer to pay for my MBA. Because, why not?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:22 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am firmly in the "don't go to grad school" camp 99 out of 100 times. This might be that hundredth time! You can afford it, can stay where you are, have ample support, and have the time. Why not?
posted by troika at 7:42 AM on July 25, 2012

As long as the degree is well accepted I don't see a problem. I do think a first step would be to talk to people in that field and make sure that you really need the degree, rather than interning or getting some kind of entry level job.
posted by Forktine at 7:54 AM on July 25, 2012

I am anti-grad school, having left a PhD program, but you are in a really good place to do it now and sustainable development is a hot subject and will be useful in a number of fields, especially NGOs. Go for it.
posted by peacrow at 8:21 AM on July 25, 2012

Is it a full Masters, how good is the distance learning support; what are the employment proportions and destinations of recent graduates? Other than that, go for it.
posted by cromagnon at 9:39 AM on July 25, 2012

I think that everyone should go to grad school when all three of these conditions are met:

a) the program appeals to you;
b) you don't have to go into debt;
c) the professional field you're interested in entering, or advancing within, recognizes the utility of that degree and the legitimacy or prestige of the institution that would be awarding it.

So I would give you a bright green light to go for it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:43 AM on July 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

You really shouldn't distinguish between borrowing and going out of pocket for graduate school -- given the relatively low interest rates on student loans, the spending is either worthwhile, or not, regardless of how you are paying, based on return on investment.

Shidedevil's factor "c" is critical: you need to be deeply skeptical of the value of masters degrees in trendy, specialized areas. The career value-add can be zero or next to it, and the ability to make your desired impact is low. If you must get a credential in CSR or development, get an MBA or MPP (or European equivalent of that) and do coursework and extracurriculars in your area of interest.
posted by MattD at 10:37 AM on July 25, 2012

It certainly sounds reasonable on its face, but as others have said, I'd definitely talk to people actually working in the field you want to go into, and ask: (1) is the degree absolutely necessary to get hired, (2) is the program that you're interested in one that is very well-respected, (3) are there other things that you could or should do instead, e.g. low-paying work experience, that would also increase your prospects of getting hired or be more worthwhile?

Just make sure that you are not getting all your information on the value of this program from people affiliated with the program itself. I'm aware of programs (mostly in the US and mostly from shady schools) that pitch themselves to students but are not well-respected in the industries they allegedly prepare you for a job in. It's very difficult for prospective students, who are typically not in the target industries (hence why they're interested in the program) to judge the quality of the program they're considering. It's a bit chicken-and-egg.

That would be my only reservation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:00 PM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work in a related field, policy and public affairs and agree strongly with MattD. I am sceptical about the value of a masters in CSR.

If you're looking for a change of direction go get an MBA from a top quartile school and specialise in this area.
posted by dmt at 1:21 AM on July 26, 2012

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