Question about grad school, loans and work
February 19, 2018 6:04 AM   Subscribe

I am enrolled part-time in a grad program and working full-time currently. I want to quit my job, work part-time, and supplement living expenses with loans. Bad idea?

I'm unhappy at my job, and it's also difficult to work full time and go to school part-time because of certain requirements I have with summer semester and internship. My current job is stressful as well and I don't really like it.

My grad program is in Counseling Psychology. I am thinking if I enroll full-time I can start working faster in the field (I'm 39). The program is not that work-intensive (not many papers, reading or research; it's more practice-based; i.e. workload has been manageable)

So my basic question is, is it a bad idea financially- I would have to take out more loans for living expenses, unless I got a really well-paying part-time job I guess. Are there considerations I am overlooking? I don't really have a mind for financial decisions.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total)
If you can finish the program without taking on debt, then that's the best financial decision for two reasons: First, you won't have an employment gap, and second, you won't have debt. Debt sucks, and you can never get rid of student loan debt except by paying it off. Even if you're penniless and shaking a cup for change on the highway, they'll still be coming after you for payments. So unless you think you have really stellar employment prospects, it's always better to try and finish school without debt if possible. I'm not sure which consideration you might be missing except that debt is expensive and more burdensome than it seems up front.
posted by dis_integration at 6:30 AM on February 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Is it a bad idea financially
It's definitely risky, but I did this when I went back to grad school at 31 for an MPH (enrolled full-time, worked part-time as a research assistant and received a small stipend and tuition remission, took out loans to cover living expenses that weren't met by the stipend). I'm not terribly debt-averse, however, and this was on top of undergrad loans that are still in repayment.

Are there considerations I am overlooking?
What's the cost of living where you are? How many semesters do you have remaining? Could you get a part-time job at your institution that isn't necessarily well-paying, but provides other benefits (like tuition remission or a chance to work on a project that would strengthen your skills in the job market when you graduate)?
posted by pants at 6:32 AM on February 19, 2018

I'll add that my current job (post-MPH) allows me to pay off debt at a healthy pace, and taking the time to really focus on my educational experience (that intensity you describe you're currently lacking) helped me feel more sure that I've chosen the right path for myself coming back out of school.

If I'd continued to work full-time, I would have had to pass up interesting opportunities (like winning an "innovation" seed grant with an interdisciplinary team) which I can look back on and recognize as even more important than my coursework in preparing me for my current career.
posted by pants at 6:38 AM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I started medical school at 37 after working part-time and taking science prerequisites from ages 31-37. I regret not going full-time on prereqs (with more loans) and starting school earlier. So I say to do what will let you finish faster. It's not THAT much more debt (unless I'm missing something).
posted by 8603 at 6:50 AM on February 19, 2018

What is your professional status going to be right when you graduate? Are you needing to do years of (low-paid) supervised hours before you can get a professional license, like to become an LPCC or LMFT? A thing to keep in mind that may not be true of other grad-school pursuits is that master's level degrees in counseling often do not up your earning potential until after you finish the post-degree apprenticeship portion of the training. Which isn't necessarily to say don't take out more loans, but just to think about what your earning potential realistically will be coming out of school.
posted by lazuli at 7:36 AM on February 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

I totally regret the amount of loans I took out for my professional degree. The earning power in my field just isn't worth all those loans. Yes, I have all my needs and lots of wants met, but it does feel a bit like a ball and chain around my neck. I would sit down and do some calculations and figure out what you can tolerate debt-wise based on realistic salary projections.
posted by Aranquis at 7:37 AM on February 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

Going into debt for school isn't necessarily bad. Yes, you can't discharge the loans in bankruptcy, but if you get federally guaranteed loans, you can get reasonable payment plans based on your income and, if you're homeless, you can apply for forbearance and delay payments (though interest will accrue). Avoid private loans like the plague though.

Also, be really disciplined about how you spend money. Use your loans for things you absolutely need. Some people end up using them for TVs or vacations or eating out. Super bad idea.
posted by FencingGal at 7:38 AM on February 19, 2018

I think you should run some numbers here. If you currently make $30,000, can *definitely* expect to make $60,000 a year after graduation, and can graduate a year earlier, then you gain $30,000. So compare that to the debt you would take on. A few things to consider with this approach:
1. Employment right after graduation is not a sure thing. Think about the odds for you personally.
2. Be realistic about how much debt you will take on.
3. Research starting salaries.
4. Keep in mind that if you do your program full time and can devote you full attention to it, you may be able to do better work and impress your professors, get references, etc.
posted by mai at 8:04 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think if you were planning on leaving your current job anyway and you've gone as far as you can go in your program where part-time was sufficient, it wouldn't be the worst idea to put in your notice and finish up the remainder of your coursework full-time, particularly if there are practical elements such as internships and practicums that would help cover any employment gaps down the road.

HOWEVER I also probably wouldn't quit any earlier than I had to in order to do justice to the program requirements because even low interest government loans are still loans. Before taking on any debt, I'd try to figure out how much you can cover without loans. What is your savings situation? Is there a way you can decrease any of your living expenses before leaving your job? Try to figure out the lowest amount of $$ you can realistically live on per month without wiping out your emergency funds, and go from there. It goes without saying that if you DO decided to take out loans to cover expenses for the remainder of your studies, you'll need to keep your expenses as low as possible, especially considering there are no immediate employment guarantees beyond graduation.

As for part-time employment, I definitely agree with the other suggestions above re: trying to find a job or work-study position at your institution, because there could be some tuition benefits at the grad level. If that's not an option, freelancing or something like driving for Lyft are some flexible job options. I also fully agree with pants in that if there are any unique student things you can do as a full-time student that you couldn't take advantage of as easily before (publishing opportunities, research groups, conferences, etc.), try to do as many of those things as you realistically can. Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:32 AM on February 19, 2018

I did it and I regret it. I had a fellowship to pay for a lot of my program (all, if I had been a little more patient), but it meant I had to work on campus a certain number of hours per week unpaid. I quit my part time job and took out loans to cover expenses. I finished my program in Dec 1999 and I'm still paying the loans back. That's a long time, and still a bunch of years left, and I'm now 53 and my monthly payment is almost $450. In your position, I would not do it. Suffer the unpleasantness, or find a job you can stand. Avoid the debt! Keep in mind that you can get a consolidation loan that extends your student loan repayment term to 20 years. Do you want to be still repaying at 60?
posted by clone boulevard at 9:01 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did this and it worked out fine. At my school full-time graduate students were eligible for assistantships with 100% tuition remission and student health insurance, and part-time students were not eligible for any of those things, so quitting my full-time job actually saved me money in the long run. But I didn't take the plunge until I had the offer letter in hand for an assistantship with full tuition remission. I also calculated my monthly loan payment and chose to borrow only an amount that would leave me owing <$250/month, since some of the starting salaries in my field are sub-$30K.
posted by xylothek at 9:05 AM on February 19, 2018

Should have noted: Graduated in 2009 and made the final payment on my student loan last month (woohoo!).
posted by xylothek at 9:07 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Unless you're going to make a huge amount of money, no, it isn't worth it. Everyone I know with grad school loans is suffering with $500-800/month payments. Even for those that are eligible for loan forgiveness are suffering. It makes a huge impact on your life.

There is a reddit forum called studentloans where you can more anonymously lay out your budget and your potential earnings.
posted by k8t at 9:22 AM on February 19, 2018

I'm not sure it would be wise to take on more education debt with so many of the education debt policies in flux right now. Everyone has an opinion, but the policies related to your student debt could change tomorrow. I am not typically a risk-averse person about money (i.e. one can always make more), but if I were in your position, I would scrupulously avoid taking on more educational debt right now.

If you are unhappy in your job, you can always look for another job that you would be happier in. I worked full time during grad school, and I don't regret it despite the occasional all-nighter that meant I needed to take a sick day from work. My cohort was mostly desperate to take a job after graduation, any job, to be able to pay back student loans ASAP, taking lowball offers and not negotiating, and I was able to take my time to find just the right job because I already had one and wasn't falling behind on bills.
posted by juniperesque at 10:09 AM on February 19, 2018

I would caution you against writing yourself off as bad at financial stuff and making philosophical decisions without the numbers. I would sit down and quantify what the loss of income (and savings contributions and medical insurance, etc. — whatever your job provides) means on a monthly basis. Then look at the loans you would have to take to cover that amount (less expenses you wouldn’t have.)

Theb use a loan payment calculator to really figure out what means for your future budget. Not just how much extra it is a month but its impact on how much money you will have after expenses on an average starting salary in your field.

Then you at least know what you’re working with. Good luck!
posted by warriorqueen at 10:15 AM on February 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

You need to give us more information to help you figure out if this is a good or bad idea, financially.

1. Where do you live?
2. What assets do you have? Do you own a home, for example?
3. How much do you make at your job?
4. How much time do you have left to get your degree/qualification?
5. How much are your living expenses?
6. What's your end of school job prospect? What does it pay?
7. What kind of loans?

I highly recommend YNAB as a way to start learning about *your* money and budgeting. Finance appears to be something that only some people have a knack for, but actually it is not that hard. What's hard is the psychological baggage that gets in the way of us just doing a few simple things to get a handle on the situation. But you're getting a degree that might just help you with that!
posted by girlpublisher at 10:45 AM on February 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

(Sorry to be clear: I'd like to know where you live because different places have different rules about student loans, different programs available for low interest loans, and it might help get a sense of your tuition costs, but really, I should just have added those as specific questions, rather than ask where you live).
posted by girlpublisher at 10:46 AM on February 19, 2018

I was in a very similar position (went back to school at 41 for a master's in counseling psychology while employed full time). Given the average salaries in my area for jobs in the field, and my student-loan debt from a previous degree, I decided to keep my stressful job instead of taking out more loans. But that decision had its costs--most importantly, it took me much longer to finish the program than it otherwise might have. I also had to pass up opportunities for professional development in the new field because of the demands of my job. So depending on your financial situation and your tolerance for stress, you may decide that the financial costs are less important to you than the professional ones.
posted by socialjusticeworrier at 11:53 AM on February 19, 2018

At 39? Find a different, still full-time, job.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:30 PM on February 19, 2018

It's a bad idea. Look for another job, preferably one that's directly related, and stay in the program part time.

I am also 39. Finished an excellent master's program two years ago, and even though I was working full time took out loans to supplement my income (my job was originally expected to pay for school, but the funding line fell through. Otherwise I probably would have stayed in a slightly-higher-paid but unrelated job).

Prospects are looking better now, but suffice it to say that I'm still earning less per annum than the sum of my loans. Your (prospective?) field has similar placement rates and salaries to mine. Don't do it.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:09 PM on February 20, 2018

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