February 8, 2017 12:26 PM   Subscribe

What are some of the long-term consequences to dropping out of a professional masters program? When is it a good idea? A few techy snowflakes inside.

tl;dr: I'd like to learn a little more about what to expect after withdrawing from a professional masters program -- in this case, a kind of generalist tech program (think information systems).

While the program was a good fit when I wanted to be a researcher, and I am in the unique position of having a scholarship with full funding, I no longer want to pursue the research path (so, so happy to finally realize this! whew.) and instead I want to get directly into web/software development or a related field like customer support engineering, tech writing, etc. I've learned a lot from my more technical classes here and an internship in the first semester, but I'm about to max out on how much I can pursue programming from within the curriculum. From talking to folks in the field, I feel like my technical skills are close to being hirable, but I really need to get more industry experience and things like pair programming, having a mentor look at my code, etc.

The other piece is that this semester (my second of four) has largely gotten away from me. My recovery from a major surgery took longer than expected, and a close family member is very ill. I have already missed almost 6 weeks of content (though was able to grok the first big intermediate python assignment in an afternoon without being in lecture). I'm working with student services to figure out whether I can still stumble through this semester okay, or if I can withdraw without paying way too much money.

So! My working plan right now, whether I withdraw from this semester or not, is to not continue with the program after the spring, move back to a city I love, and either take a more advanced programming bootcamp or find a programming-adjacent job, and in either case start to join meetups and community tech groups, build my network, and strive towards a solid position in the fall.

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have about what leaving a degree early will mean for future job hunting, psychologically, etc. My brother was warned me about the experience of having to explain why I didn't finish a program in future interviews. I am a little concerned with in the future, finding some kind of job that requires a masters and kicking myself for not having finished that second year. That being said, all of the tech folks I've spoken with have been supportive of either version of this plan and helped me really understand what I'm getting myself into (that I'll need to make a few web apps, network, etc.) Also just personally, emotionally, a lot has happened the last few months, and after realizing academia isn't for me I have a very strong urge to move closer to friends, work towards making a little more money, and enjoy challenging myself and doing some rewarding things in the work force. I guess this is all to say that I'm definitely not decided one way or another, but it would help to get a little more perspective, especially from folks who have experience from earlier in life and/or from the tech industry specifically. Many thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total)
There aren't any external consequences. No one really cares, and there are lots of good reasons for leaving school. You don't even have to put it on your resume if you don't want to.

I dropped out of a PhD program and it has limited my employment options, but it doesn't really bother me because suffering through that was soooo not worth it. How it will affect you psychologically depends a lot on your personality and how you frame it.
posted by metasarah at 1:00 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't see a downside. I dropped out of law school in a rather similar scenario (no longer/never really was interested mixed with mental health stuff and the desire to move back to the city I wanted to live in and do things I was more interested in), and I've never really regretted it. You've got two advantages over me, even, in that I wasted $20k in student loans and my plan B wasn't nearly as lucrative as yours.

Don't worry about having to explain why you left. Really, you're only putting it on your resume now to show that you weren't just sitting at home eating Cheetos and playing video games for a year. After you've got some experience, you can leave it off entirely. As people always say, you're under no obligation to list anything on your resume you don't want to.

On the off chance that someone does ask you to explain, just say what you said here. "I realized I wasn't really interested in what I was studying, and I wanted to work on something that interested me more." As long as it's not obvious BS (e.g. you're applying for a pizza delivery position and trying to paint that as "more interesting"), people accept that. It's good to see that you're not wasting time when you know what you want.

If you're going into programming, I don't think you have to worry much about needing a master's degree later. I know the field is changing and it's not what it used to be, but there are programmers out there who didn't even finish college. If you do see your career path requiring an advanced degree, you can always work for a few years and take advantage of a tuition reimbursement program to get an M.A. in a more applicable field.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:12 PM on February 8, 2017

I want to get directly into web/software development or a related field like customer support engineering, tech writing, etc.

Pretty sure nobody in those fields cares, at all. If anything, you can probably some mileage out of some well-placed comments of the form "oh I learned about that in grad school", provided you don't over do it.

The only problem is that you won't be able to apply for jobs that require masters degrees, and you may have a hard time getting in to a good masters or PhD program in the future. If you are certain you don't want to do those things, that's fine.

All that being said: so you have a little over a year left? That's not that long. It sounds like you'd not be putting out any money, just spending a little more time. Even if you hate it, if you can tough it out and get the degree, that may still be useful in getting you higher starting pay, or qualifying you for more interesting jobs. It may, but maybe not -- that will depend on the exact nature of your degree and where its from. If it's a weird new hybrid program at a not-famous school, I'd be more likely to recommend quitting without looking back.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:13 PM on February 8, 2017

This is based on my impression that staying in the program is totally funded.

I'm generally very pro-leaving grad school. That said, I finished my master's in a useless field when I'd already decided that I didn't want to go on in over a year before. Part of that was that I was close enough to done, I wanted to just finish it, and more importantly, almost all of my income came from the program. The big question is: how much savings do you have to live on if you leave?

Unless you have a job lined up, leaving grad school is going to lose you money, not make money, especially if you pay for the semester if you leave immediately. Instead, get through the rest of the semester as best you can while figuring out your best exit plan.

Almost of the things you mention wanting to do are compatible with continuing your masters. You can join meetups and tech groups, network, build your portfolio, find a tech or tech-adjacent job.

Right now, learn as much as you possibly can about programming and the specific skills you need to work on to get hired. Build a portfolio to show off what you can do: make a website for yourself or a friend, build an app, make some small program that helps with something for grad school or you find interesting. Look for any freelance opportunities that you can apply for. Look at the job postings in your current city and desired city to find out what you need to know.

Identify bootcamps that have good reviews and are affordable. I've read that bootcamps can teach you enough to get a job but it's a lot, lot better if you come in with those skills and a portfolio of your work, so that you can focus on new, advanced skills and capitalize on the networking they offer by demonstrating that even before this great learning experience, you had the initiative and motivation to learn all this on your own.
posted by raeka at 2:40 PM on February 8, 2017

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