I finally made some decisions, but I'm pretty sure i was wrong. Help?
October 19, 2013 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I recently switched to part time at work and moved back in with my parents so that I could attend grad school full time and I'm beginning to think that I made a horrible mistake. Would it be a terrible idea to leave school and try to figure out another direction? (details inside)

So here's the deal...I graduated with a BA in psychology about 9 years ago and had no direction, so accepted a job at the bank I had worked in during breaks, and I am still there, making very little money (less than 35,000/year) and not liking my job at all. Recently, I decided that I needed to take some action in my life, so I applied and was accepted to a local, not terribly hard to get into graduate program in substance abuse treatment.

So I started classes this fall, and as I stated, I moved back home to my parents, and went to part time at my job. Ever since the semester started, I am seriously struggling. The classes are interesting enough, but I'm realizing that I might not like being in school very much. Plus, I am seriously questioning whether or not I will make any money in this field, and whether or not it is even right for me.

Living at home is a serious blow to my ego and as the housing market is starting to recover I am starting to really regret not buying a condo (which was one of my other options). Work has somehow gotten even harder.

I hate the idea of quitting anything, but it seems like a really bad idea to get into debt for a program that I am completely unsure about. At the same time, I fear that if I do not make some sort of decision on the direction of my life, I will be stuck working at the bank forever.

posted by aka_anon to Education (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Given my experience in working on my PhD in physics (where I'm paid to do research rather than the other way around), I would say that grad school is not a good idea unless, deep down, your answer to "do I want to get this degree?" is an unqualified yes. It sounds like for you it's not.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:03 AM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

You haven't given one reason you think the degree is a good idea for you beyond a vague idea of making more money, which you don't think will end up being the case.

Quit now. There's nothing wrong with changing a decision that will make you worse off and takes your valuable time.
posted by saeculorum at 10:08 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hate the idea of quitting anything, but it seems like a really bad idea to get into debt for a program that I am completely unsure about. At the same time, I fear that if I do not make some sort of decision on the direction of my life, I will be stuck working at the bank forever.

Quitting this program doesn't mean you have to work at the bank forever. You had enough of a fire under you to apply for this program, you're clearly ready for a change. So why not quit and then spend some time aggressively considering your options, and figure out a better plan that the first easy program that came along?
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:13 AM on October 19, 2013

One thing to do would be to research what kinds of jobs you would be able to get with the additional degree. It sounds like informational interviews would be useful a) for finding out whether the degree would be valuable and how much you could expect to earn with it, and b) as a way of networking with potential future employers. If you have time to volunteer at any relevant places, that would also be a way of finding out if you actually enjoy the work.
posted by egg drop at 10:23 AM on October 19, 2013

I'm in a similar situation, and unless it's completely untenable financially, I think you should try sticking it out for a bit to see if the problem is the transition and not the actual decision to go to grad school, or the specific program you chose. Is this still your first or second semester?

It's incredibly tough to go from financial and personal independence to being completely broke/in debt and living under your parents' roof, and it's incredibly tough to go from the obvious duties and incentives of a job to the kind of vague and abstract duties and incentives of schoolwork. Of course you're feeling like this is horrible and a huge mistake and imagining a financially secure and private life in your own condo. Been there, completely, though with me it's more looking at my old budgets/bank statements and getting a pit in my stomach. And this *might* have been the wrong move for you. However, the issues you're bringing up, like feeling trapped in your job at the bank and not being sure about your post-degree prospects, are things that you must have considered before you went down this path, and yet you chose to apply to and enroll in school anyway, so I'm thinking there's at least a good chance this is cold feet and a rough transition rather than a real mistake.

Something that I really regret and now think was shortsighted is trying to continue to work while starting grad school. I didn't want to give up the last shred of security and independence that my job represented, and that's allowed me to cut down on my loans -- but honestly, holding on to the working-a-shit-job mindset has held me back a lot in terms of school, both in how much schoolwork I've been able to get done (work is a huge time and energy suck, and it's so tempting to put it first since that's the status quo) and in how well I was able to adapt to my new cohort's/program's/industry's way of thinking. I got into a hole, both grade-wise and socially, because I was trying to keep two incompatible lives going; I now think that the few thousand bucks I saved wasn't really worth it, in the long run. Anyway, I ended up phasing out of work about three weeks ago, and took a complete leave starting last week, and already there's a huge difference. Hence the regret for not doing it earlier. Could you try taking a leave from the bank, at least until after finals? I know that's a huge financial decision (believe me, I know), but student loans exist because school really does often require a high level of commitment, and they're a way of solving this exact problem.

If after at least a semester of being *fully* committed to school it feels wrong and pointless to you, then that's a different kettle of fish. But if you're feeling overwhelmed and it seems safer and easier to dump school rather than your part-time, unsatisfying, dead-end job, then I think you're shooting yourself in the foot.
posted by rue72 at 10:44 AM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I agree that you could try to stick with the program a bit longer. It seems like you had some personal motivation for choosing this degree besides money, because it's not a field people usually get into to make money. Sometimes when things are really overwhelming and new, it can seem that we don't like them but it's just a matter of getting used to the situation. So, at least try the program for a little while to see if your initial instincts or interest in the degree match up to the reality.

After that point, if you really decided it's not for you, start thinking about other options BESIDES the bank. Since your major was Psych and it sounds like you are interested in careers dealing with social work, maybe you could apply for some jobs in that direction?

good luck!
posted by bearette at 10:55 AM on October 19, 2013

Living at home is saving you lots of money. Don't worry about that so much as the grad program. Where do you want to be in five years?
posted by oceanjesse at 10:56 AM on October 19, 2013

I recently made some major life decisions that included moving back in with my parent, so I totally feel you on a lot of this and have definitely questioned the wisdom of my decisions (and have been leaning towards "this was the worst idea ever" side of things). That said, I suggest finishing the semester before you leave the program, because you may just be experiencing the initial growing pains and doubts that come with so many big changes at once. The fact that the classes are interesting to you means you weren't totally off base by choosing to do this and that will give you time to settle in and make up your mind. Even if you conclude this program isn't for you, you might be able to transfer some, if not all, of the credits if your next career path involves school. If at the end of the semester you are feeling the same way but don't have a clear direction, investigate taking a leave of absence rather than leaving the program completely so you can keep your options open. The answers will come but during this adjustment phase I think it's really easy to let our doubts and questioning push us towards making decisions that might feel more comfortable but may not actually be what will lead to long term happiness.

I know it might not feel this way, but spending one semester investigating a career path is not a waste of time or money, even if you conclude this is not the program or career for you. That information is actually very valuable in helping you figure out what your path actually is. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 10:58 AM on October 19, 2013

There is some sort of cultural ideal out there that it is "wrong" to quit something, and I think that's absolute BS. If it's not working out for you and you don't see it as going anywhere or worth it in the long run, then don't invest more time into it. Finish the semester if you feel it's right, sure, but don't feel obligated to do that.

While you're living with your parents, I'm assuming your living expenses are reduced, so you can take advantage of that to spend some time searching out employment options beyond the bank. Maybe you just need to try a new kind of job that your bank experience has qualified you for (something else that involves working with people or finances?) rather than getting a whole new degree.
posted by cosmicbeast at 11:00 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the responses. I think that I will try to stick the semester out, if only because the majority of my work needs to be done by November 20th (save for a couple of finals). The next month may suck, but I've made it through bad months before.

I think that one of my problems is that I spent a few years in somewhat of a funk, and when I finally worked to come out of it, I had all of this motivation to do something, but I still lacked direction.

I was going to try to get certified in the same field (addictions) at a local community college just because it sounded interesting and I thought that it would go well with my bachelors, but then I found the masters program. I thought, well, surely a masters program is better. This is probably not the best way to choose a program.

So here is my plan:
1. Finish the semester with good grades (hopefully)
2. Register for classes for next semester next week
3. Spend my break seriously contemplating if I want to continue with this program/what to do with my my future

I will not (as I was contemplating this morning)
1. Quit my classes by the drop date
2. Beg my boss to let me go back full time
3. Try to buy a condo while they are still cheap
4. Apply to any job that will make me more money

(random note that I removed from the main comment: I also fear that I am just choosing the path of least resistance with my future. I have a psychology degree, so I go into a helping field. Despite doing really well in my undergraduate, I choose a program that basically requires transcripts to get in (because I didn't keep in touch with my professors and didn't know who to ask for letters of recommendation). I even picked psychology because I liked the classes well enough and desperately needed to pick a major.)
posted by aka_anon at 12:31 PM on October 19, 2013

I left a (lucrative but boring) career in my mid-twenties to go back to grad school. In the first few months, I definitely had moments of terrified conviction that I'd made a horrible mistake.* It ended up being the best decision I'd ever made.

That said, becoming a substance abuse counselor may not be the best decision for you. Have you gotten to observe or participate in any clinical treatment yet? That will really show you whether or not it's the job for you. So I agree with others that you should definitely hang in there until the end of the semester, and/or ideally until you get to see the actual work you'd be doing.

If you do decide that this wasn't the role for you, please don't just quit, move into your own place, and start working at the bank full-time. This is a dead-end job and you got out for a reason. Ultimately, you made a good decision, even if this new job isn't the right fit.

Here's how to leverage your current situation to your advantage:
1. Use your enrollment at this college - ask professors of classes that interest you if you can audit their classes. This is basically a free way to find a program that would be of interest to you.
2. Ask people you know in jobs that might interest you if you can shadow them for a day or a half-day. Soak up everything you can about their role and the jobs of others you come into contact with.
3. Do informational interviews with people in various jobs that might interest you. Bring questions you've written down ahead of time. Ask them what they love about their job, how their time is divided, what they don't like about their jobs. Ask what qualities someone has to have to excel in their profession.
4. Get part-time or volunteer work in industries that might interest you.

Whatever you end up deciding, make this step a springboard to something better. There's nothing wrong with deciding that this program/future job isn't the right fit for you - it's just a terrible idea to come to the conclusion, based on that, that you should go back to working at a bank. Good luck!

*Note to other potential teachers: don't watch Season 4 of The Wire while pursuing a new career in teaching.
posted by leitmotif at 12:42 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

The classes are interesting enough, but I'm realizing that I might not like being in school very much

Classes are interesting, but school isn't, or the tradeoffs in order to attend school outweigh the interestingness of coursework?
posted by zippy at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2013

Please do some research on what jobs are actually like once you get the degree! Liking classes is very different from linking the real work. Addiction/substance abuse is a hard job with a high burn-out rate. Do some information interviews with people currently working in the field to find out what they like and what they hate about their jobs. They can also give you some perspective on community college versus master's degree in terms of whether the master's is really worth the extra time. You can also get an idea of what the income is like - if it is no better than the bank job, do you really want to invest in that?
posted by metahawk at 3:00 PM on October 19, 2013

Curious, how long is the grad course? If it is only 1 year, then you may be further ahead to finish it out and have that piece of paper in your hands... can't recoup the half cost of this semester if you exit now, and there's no benefit to a half-degree.
But if it is a 2 year+ program, then you've only been in for a quarter of the cost - which would be better economy to leave the program at the end of the semester if you truly aren't into this.

Is it coursework based or thesis based, or practical? If there is a practical aspect, it may be worth sticking with for the coop job experience, which will stand out on the resume. If it is coursework based with a few assignments, you can probably push through it. If it's thesis based, that's a lot harder to push yourself to do without an intrinsic motivation (which is my current problem that is making my world a lot harder - little intrinsic interest in my thesis, and its all on me to produce). Personally, I'd push through on a coursework or practical degree. I'd ditch a thesis-based one (unless you are done this April).

I suggest that when you are picking next term's courses, be very judicious - if there is another program that has your heart, fulfill the elective requirements of both courses in the next semester 9if possible). Essentially, kill 2 birds with 1 stone. That way, if you do hop the fence to a different schooling aspect, then you've satisfied those requirements in advance (and if not, then you satisfied the ones for this existing course). Maybe look at the other programs that you were potentially interested in, and see where the transferable credit options lie in similar fields.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:41 PM on October 21, 2013

Response by poster: Just responding to answer a few questions that were asked:

1. When I say that the classes are interesting enough, I mean it in the sense of: the classes are interesting enough to hold my attention, but I don't feel passionate about them.

2. It is not a thesis based program (thank god). The degree is actually 6 semesters long counting internships, but if I want to be licensed, not just certified, it will be another 3 semesters. You are expected to attend for the summer, so it will take about 3 years in total.

One of the things that really made me start to consider my place in the program (besides everything else mentioned) is that last week I was talking to someone who has knowledge of the counseling field. I realized that even on the high end of pay for this field, I will still not make as much as I would like. I know that money isn't everything, but I want to be able to support myself and plan for my future. I was so excited about the concept of moving forward and doing something (finally) that I think I ignored some of my concerns.
posted by aka_anon at 11:07 AM on October 22, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone, for your help. I have decided not to continue with the program, but I am finishing up two of the three classes (I ended up dropping one for a variety of reasons). I am going to refocus my attention on getting a better job for now. I do not regret going back to school because it helped me realize that I do not want to go down the path I was considering.
posted by aka_anon at 11:52 PM on November 13, 2013

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