Should I go to professional graduate school?
March 3, 2014 4:37 AM   Subscribe

I got into graduate school! But without funding. But it's for a professional degree, a master's in speech pathology. How can I decide?

I've had a rough time since my first time in college, 7-8 years ago. But now after a lot of struggle a graduate school has looked past a difficult start and I've been accepted! However that means I did not get one of the assistanships and even on the off chance I'm accepted at one of the two schools I'm waiting, I wouldn't expect funding to come through. But this for a professional program in speech pathology where not everyone gets funded. It is hard to find advice on this. I graduated several years ago so no professor I can ask.

It's a 2 year program. Almost everyone gets job offers but nothing is garunteed of course. Right now I'm making under $11 an hour with no advancement possible. It's an in-state public school. I really want to go (I am very passionate about doing this) but I'm trying to not let that cloud my decision-making process. I know you need the funding for phD programs but I'm so confused for a practical career like this.

Help me be rational about a life-changing decision.
posted by Aranquis to Education (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where does the information that "almost everyone gets job offers" come from? What does "almost" mean? How much are you looking at in loans over two years? Will you be able to work at all while in grad school? Do you owe for undergrad and what is your overall debt situation?

I think people will need this information before being able to advise you on your specific situation.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:43 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

How much is tuition? Can you work during school? Can you make a good plan for maximizing your employment opportunities post-school?

My first instinct is to go for it, because it isn't hard to do better than your current job situation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:43 AM on March 3, 2014

My first instinct is to go for it, because it isn't hard to do better than your current job situation.

I'd think that would almost cut the other way--a lot of jobs could let the OP do better, so perhaps no reason to spend money to go to school for two years.

But, all the same the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting growth in the market for speech language pathologists. Whether your particular prospects and the cost of getting this degree (including the opportunity costs you give up by leaving the labor market for two years) are worth it is for you to decide.

Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:00 AM on March 3, 2014

I was you 5 years ago! I ended up getting granted tuition from the department (after not knowing that, and paying for it each semester, and then getting it reimbursed), and then I found an assistantship that was outside the department. I graduated with very little debt.

Can you talk with the department to see if funding is available/might be available for tuition for graduate students who do not have funding? In some universities, the speech-language pathology department is part of the education program, and there is a LOT of funding for these programs, typically, because benefactors see education and future educators as very worthy of financially supporting.

Also, can you check with the financial aid or or the place that houses general info for graduate students about outside assistantships? Some universities have general assistantship positions that require you to work for usually 15-20 hours a week, and they pay your tuition and give you a living stipend. Some universities offer teaching assistantships, but larger ones will have others in office departments or with the recreation centers or office of student life, or whatever.

I'm not gonna lie--it was tough taking classes, having clinical rounds, and working my assistantship hours in grad school. But if you can hack through it for 2 years and graduate with less debt, overall I think it is less stressful.

Also, the job market for speech therapists is really great, in general. I'm in the schools, and when my county was laying off teachers and had a hiring freeze, they were still hiring speech therapists. Keep in mind that job prospects are good, but that most speech therapists don't get rich by any means. I have a teacher's salary, but also good benefits and lots of time off with school holidays. Speech therapist positions in nursing homes and long-term care centers generally pay significantly more, and job prospects are very good in that environment. In my experience, jobs in hospitals and private practice clinics are harder to come by, at least until you have a few years of experience in the field.

If you think you'd like being a speech pathologist, then go for it, but be smart about looking for funding if it is not automatically granted to you. Memail me if I can help with other questions.
posted by shortyJBot at 5:01 AM on March 3, 2014

You need to assess the debt incurred in a worst-case-scenario frame of mind.

If you take on this debt, can you live with the worst-case-result. If so, go for it.
Remember, all advancement involves risk. The question is, how risk-averse are you?
posted by Flood at 5:01 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not in speech pathology, but I think I'm in/was in a similar situation as you. I had a really rough time after graduating, and went back to grad school 6 years after finishing undergrad. I assume when you say "almost everyone gets offered a job" you mean based on statistics provided by the school? It was the same with my school, but it seems most of my cohort is floundering in unpaid internships and bartending. I had to drain the tiny savings I had and borrow money from friends to do my Masters. I had to work in a thankless, physically demanding job (while my classmates all got money from their parents/had loans to cover all of their costs) but I do not regret it at all.

I have a friend who did an MA in speech pathology, and she has a really, really good, well-paid, great-benefit having speech pathology job in Dubai. Of course every individual situation is different, but that is one anecdotal story in favor of doing it.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 5:13 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't hate the idea, if you work like an idiot and try to find alternative funding. Scholarships, etc.

Scour the internet looking for any kind of scholarship you can find. See if family members can hook you up through their jobs (AT&T/BellSouth had family scholarships.)

Get a job working the swing shift in a call center, hotel or hospital. A standard 40 hour week, in a quiet job, would be great for studying, as well as have benefits and money coming in.

Don't just throw up your hands and take out loans, avail yourself of ALL other sources of income first.

Then I love the idea.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:19 AM on March 3, 2014

I'm in a professional masters program! I think it's totally worth it. I would express our program the same way, with "almost everyone gets jobs." I know a couple of the people who didn't get jobs -- they were either only applying to the very best and exclusive companies, or were very unmotivated individuals. A professional masters program is preparing you for a job in a specific discipline; if this is what you want to do with your life (which it sounds like it is!) then it's a great way to get the training needed for that career and end up with a job in that field.

As far as tuition -- most professional masters' are paid. I would expect there to be scholarships available from your department or university, or from a third party. Have you contacted your department about this? I would expect them to direct you to helpful resources in figuring out funding. In my department, some people pay out of pocket/with loans, some pay from savings, some have jobs with tuition benefits/reimbursement, and some have scholarships. Those who aren't working full time make ends meet by TAing or working on campus.

And for success -- it can be a transition to move from the working world back into academia. Your university has resources for this. It takes a combination of hard work, passion, and being willing to ask for help. I know a bunch of people who have done this (in my program and in others at my school) and it's a little bit scary but very do-able. Good luck!
posted by DoubleLune at 5:51 AM on March 3, 2014

I've talked to the department about jobs - all 25 students last year had job offers and that is true most years. I havd tried so hard to find other work but I've had no other job offers. I was unemployed for a year applying to job after job after job so it's fine to say you can easily find a job but that's not been my reality.

I am focused on pediatrics. I don't want to do adults (I have a lot of releevant experiences). Yes, i know they make less but pediatrics is where my passion lies. This program is not part of the education department.

And yes, SLP has a good job market.
posted by Aranquis at 5:51 AM on March 3, 2014

It sounds like a good opportunity, but there are serious pitfalls to watch for, especially taking loans on the strength of "guaranteed" job placement.

Passion is good, as is probability of job placement -- see if the department will give you placement stats, along the lines of % hired, and # of months to hire -- but loans can be ruinous. I'm not talking quantity-of-the-loan ruinous, but the kind of ruinous that circumscribes the rest of your life and opportunities if you don't get a job (or even if you do). I got a professional degree and a job, and I know many other folks who have done both, but I also know folks who got the one and not the other, and if you find your $11/hour job tedious and unpleasant now, you need to consider seriously the possibility of working that same job in three years, with no adjustment for inflation, and debt.

All that to say, hope for the best, but be conscious of the worst. I don't know beans about speech pathology, but I do know that recessions or changes in a field can bring about huge changes in the hiring environment, and debt doesn't vanish with those changes. Look for funding as folks mention above, and also look into the possibility of going part-time if there's no money at all to be found -- paying as you go takes longer, but paying off interest takes even longer than that.
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:54 AM on March 3, 2014

Do the math. What will your total debt be at the end of your program, including any loans you need to take out for living expenses? (I advice keeping those expenses super-low, by the way; live with family or roommates and work if you can.) How much money will you have to make to pay off your debts in a reasonable amount of time? (You can use an amortization calculator to figure out payments. I personally would want it paid off in five years, but I’m an anti-debt freak.) Is that a starting salary you can reasonably expect? If not, you probably shouldn’t go, or should find a way to go with less debt.

This ignores the opportunity cost of lost wages while you’re in school, but if you are really excited about this career, making non-economic decisions is okay!
posted by metasarah at 6:20 AM on March 3, 2014

A lot of these programs don't come with funding. Really, masters-level programs almost always don't. The fact that you didn't get any is not an automatic indicator that you should not go, the way it would be if we were talking about any Ph.D. program.

You basically just need to do the math. How much debt are we talking about, how likely are you to get a job, and how much will said job pay? If you can't get legitimate numbers on those things from the school, that would be a red flag. But if you can, do the math and make the call.
posted by valkyryn at 6:59 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've talked to the department about jobs - all 25 students last year had job offers and that is true most years.

Because we're talking about going into a significant amount of non-dischargeable debt, I say, be paranoid. Of course the department that is about to take your money is going to paint a rosy picture. Ask the department to put you in touch with one of those 25 students so that you can chat about the program.

Then, ask that student to put you in touch with someone who had trouble finding a job or had a rough time in the program. I would be shocked if they didn't know someone who fit the bill.

Whenever possible, try to work your network to get firsthand opinions on opportunities like these instead of using the contacts provided by the program itself.
posted by telegraph at 7:00 AM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I say do it. You are excited about this career and you worked hard to get accepted. You're in a dead-end job now and you're definitely not going to end up in a SLP job without going to school. Also, you say it's a public state school, so presumably tuition isn't crazy high? I'm assuming it's closer to $10k a year and not something like $40k a year. You'll have to pay living expenses also, but still, this can totally be doable, especially if you manage to minimize the loans you have to take out.

But, agreed with Ruthless Bunny and others upthread: don't just take out loans for the full amount. Investigate all your options for getting help with tuition. Talk to everyone at the school who could help you find funding: the admin folks for the program, the graduate school's office, the main financial aid office, everything. Be really aggressive about reaching out to lots of professors and asking if they have any money to hire you in an RA role (sometimes you can ferret out money that you wouldn't have otherwise known about by doing this). Do lots of research and apply to every relevant scholarship out there, even tiny ones. See if you can manage to keep working part-time at your current job, or get another part-time job or paid internship that will work with your class schedule.

It will be a lot of work and stress to manage school and creating your own funding. But you can do it. And when you're done you'll have a wonderful new career that you love, and hopefully you'll also have managed to graduate with a manageable amount of debt.
posted by aka burlap at 7:02 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you should do it too. I know a few SLP's and they are very happy and have great jobs. Do your best to keep your debt low and pay it off early after you graduate and get a job in your field.
posted by mjcon at 8:04 AM on March 3, 2014

Wow, there's a lot of gloom and doom here. I think you'd be a fool not to go for it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts SLP jobs will grow faster than average over the next several years, and U.S. News cites a 1.8% unemployment rate for speech language pathologists. If you're full-time now, you're making about $23,000 a year. I can't imagine a job in your field that would pay under say $40,000 for full-time work. Even if you have to take out $30-40k in loans, you've made that back in the first two years of professional work and from there on, it's gravy. Just make sure your program is accredited, don't automatically take out the maximum amount of loans, and try to earn some money during grad school to at least offset living expenses (or find a bunch of roommates). Your $11 an hour job isn't going to get you anywhere. This is an opportunity for a career!
posted by jabes at 8:29 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a speech pathologist, in an area with two graduate programs (so an overabundance of new graduates every year), and I've not heard of anyone being unable to find a job afterward. In a highly competitive area you may initially find that you have to take a position you're not thrilled about, but if you're willing to relocate you'll find lots of options and opportunities in less population-dense areas.

I also know that most masters-level programs are unfunded, so most of these new graduates are walking out with a boatload of debt. Something to look into when you're considering a job afterward, is whether your employer might qualify for the federal student loan forgiveness program.
posted by lilnublet at 8:37 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something to look into when you're considering a job afterward, is whether your employer might qualify for the federal student loan forgiveness program.

This is a very important thing to think about. My impression is that a significant number of SLPs find work in public school intermediate units. Public school budgets are under pressure across the country--and IUs are one of the most expensive things they do on a per-student basis--so you might have to be willing to move around to find a job. But if you do, such a position definitely would enable you to quality for the program. Given that job security in such positions is good, staying there for the required ten years could be very doable.

With professional jobs generally, the rule is that you've got (1) Location, (2) Salary, and (3) Working conditions. You usually only get your pick with respect to two of them. I don't see why that should be any different for SLPs than it is for lawyers and doctors (though the range of potential salaries is almost certainly narrower).
posted by valkyryn at 9:46 AM on March 3, 2014

It is rational to acquire skills that are valued in the economy in which you live, so that you can ensure your survival, if you can't trade enough on the skills you currently possess to support a minimally acceptable standard of living (i.e. basic and some leisure needs met).

If you're 8 years out of school you have a lot of time to make up 2 years' tuition, especially if you're flexible for relocation and can find at least some financial support.

The future for people with no specific, market-friendly skills and a limited professional history is part-time service work, according to any current and projective stats I've read (and even just paying half attention). If you haven't already been able to ensconce yourself in a company and develop a set of marketable skills 8 years out, your best non-school chance for a slightly better wage is temping, and temping is increasingly permanent and dead-end.

Do it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:09 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you want to be a speech language pathologist?

This is sort of a yes or no question kind of thing.

AFAIK you can't really do this for a living without the necessary qualifications.

If you are not committed to a career in speech pathology, by all means do not take on more debt to play with the idea of perhaps doing so.

If you are committed to going into this field, there is no way around the grad school requirement, so you might as well go.

I think you should do more research on the specific program and what the outcomes are for people who graduate from there, but yeah, if you want to do this for a living, you have to get the degree.

It seems silly to me to resign yourself to $11/hour for life out of fear of taking on a little debt to get a qualification you need to progress in your chosen field.
posted by Sara C. at 10:55 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I went from being a $12/hour copy editor to a very well-paid physical therapist by this route. I incurred 110,000 in debt to do it.

I would rather have less debt than I do, debt sucks. Sure. But when you have a decent job (and SLP is an EXTREMELY decent job) that kind of debt is, while not ideal, manageable.

Becoming a PT is the best, best, best decision I have ever made, for my finances, for my life overall, for my job satisfaction, for my soul. I love my work.

An amazing thing happened when I graduated from PT school: job interviews changed from "Please please please hire me," to "Please please please work for us." The job market for physical, occupational and speech therapists is fantastic in almost every area of the country, and it is not going anywhere near downhill anytime soon.

It can be hard to see from $12-an-hour land how incurring a lot of debt for a career can be a good thing - take a look at my question history, the idea of debt was so terrifying to me that I almost dropped out. But I am SO GLAD I didn't. Now I can work anywhere I want to work, I can decide where I want to live and know I'll get a job there, I can afford to have a quality of life that was utterly inaccessible to me at $12 an hour.

My only partial regret, honestly, is that I didn't become an SLP - the job market is even better, the pay is higher, and you don't have to lift as much!

Look at craigslist ads for SLPs. Call a couple of health care recruiters and ask them what the market is like - I guarantee they'll beg for your number. There is a lot if need for SLPs. You're gonna be fine. Take a deep breath and go for it.
posted by jennyjenny at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

Nearly all SLP programs have 100% in-field employment rates. So much so that when one school I was looking at couldn't post a 100% rate on its website for a certain year, it included a footnote explaining the unusual circumstances of the studnet who didn't get a job (family circumnstances, I think).

It's my understanding from researching programs for myself (I plan to start grad school in the fall of 2015) that there's not a ton of funding available. But that's pretty common for programs in health care and related fields. It's feeling like a pretty low-risk situation to me.
posted by not that girl at 1:24 PM on March 3, 2014

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