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April 29, 2006 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Should I drop out of school?

I am 31 years old. I began my undergraduate degree at 28, got straight As all the way through (except physics) and am now just completing the first year of a 2.5 year physical therapy program.

I have 45 thousand dollars in student loan debt right now, and at this rate will have another 45 thousand when I graduate with a Master's in December 2007. I have no other debt.

In the last six months a lot has changed in my life. One of those things has been my enthusiasm for my chosen profession. All I have to do is look around me at my life as it is now, and it's pretty clear that my schooling is the one thing that doesn't fit. I am interested in a lot of things, have always been involved in the arts and working for nonprofit organizations, and now I am saddling myself with enormous debt for something that I am not entirely certain that I want to do. I fear that my debt when I leave school will require that I work as a PT in order to pay off, and I will never be able to pursue my real, lower-paycheck dreams.

But I have so much invested in this! I don't even have a BS yet (I will in December). But the debt will be very serious.

Has anyone run into a situation like this? How did you handle it? How do you wish you handled it?
posted by jennyjenny to Education (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What? Why would anyone tell you you should drop out?

Simple economic analysis:

How much money will you save by dropping out now? that's X.

How much more money will you make, over your entire life, having your masters then if you dropped out now? That's Y

If Y > X, and it almost certainly is, you should not drop out.

If you don't like your profession, you can always quit and then get another job. You can maybe do it after you graduate.

I have about $50k in student loan debt, and my monthly payments are about $500/mo. You can probably afford to pay this without your masters, but I dunno.
posted by delmoi at 8:24 PM on April 29, 2006

I got half-way through an expensive MBA and started wondering whether this was what I wanted to do...even though I was pulling down great marks and had been focused on my field/career/industry for several years. I don't think it's uncommon to change your mind. But it's hard to tell if that's disillusionment or what.

If you don't want to be a PT, just get the BS and defer further studies. See if you can get into a co-op or internship program or an employment program for recent grads. If you have a bachelors, you'll be more employable than you would be without any degree. Also, you can show employers that you set a goal and achieved it. They don't need to know that the complete goal involved a masters.

I'm assuming you can finish by December with around $50k in debt. That does seem like a lot, but you can manage it. Paid back over 10 years, you're looking at around $500 a month. I'm sure you can make $500 a month more than you would without a degree. In fact, by the time you're 41, you'll be making even more than that.

Get the BS. No sense having debt for no reason at all. You can at least put a bachelors to work for you. What are your "real, lower-paycheck dreams"? Describe them and maybe Mefi can help.
posted by acoutu at 8:25 PM on April 29, 2006

I should have addressed my MBA. I finished it and I currently do consulting at a rate far higher than if I had no MBA. And I still have the freedom to do other stuff. It was better than leaving half-way and having nothing to show for it.
posted by acoutu at 8:26 PM on April 29, 2006

I vote for finishing the program. You have a large amount of debt regardless, and with the PT degree you'll have an actual way of paying it off.

Plus, you can do the arts and non-profit stuff as a volunteer easily while the PT pays the bills.
posted by visual mechanic at 8:31 PM on April 29, 2006

Wait, you don't have a burning passion to be a physical therapist? It wasn't a calling from birth?

So what? It will pay you more than whatever else it is you are thinking about and how many of your fellow classmates actually want to spend the rest of their lives being a physical therapist; I would bet very few.

There seems to be a persistent myth that money somehow fits into the equation after you decide to follow your dream. I assure you that this is BS for 9/10 of the population. The 1/10 this is true for are the people who have a burning passion to be physical therapists.

Take the money you are making as a PT and channel it into the things that really interest you, the things that aren't work.
posted by 517 at 8:34 PM on April 29, 2006

Finish. You're almost there. I'm in a similar position, with similar debt, and hope to graduate in December, as well. As Rob Schneider once said to Adam Sandler, 'YOU CAN DO IT!'
posted by jtron at 8:38 PM on April 29, 2006

Are you asking if you should finish the BS or if you should start and finish the masters program?

I would say yes to the first. If you want to get a job anywhere it won't look good if you haven't finished your degree after working at it for 3+ years.

If you haven't started the masters and don't want to be a PT don't do it. Alternatively you could delay doing your masters indefinitely. If you've started a lot of programs will let you put your program on hold for a year or more (mostly because high attrition rates don't look good for schools). You could use that year to work at a non-profit or something similar and figure out what you actually want to do. This way you make money, can pay off some of your student loan, and still keep your options open.
posted by kechi at 9:04 PM on April 29, 2006


Just reread the question... but the second part of my answer still applies. Stick with it until December then re-evaluate.
posted by kechi at 9:06 PM on April 29, 2006

I got the blahs on my first degree too and thought of quitting. The end is closer than it looks, finish the degreee
posted by Deep Dish at 10:31 PM on April 29, 2006

So, what will you do if you don't become a PT?

The main concern that I would have were I you, is that whatever non-profit you'll end up working for will pay you very little money, or at least considerably less than PT with a master's. Would you rather have 45k debt and make 30k a year, or 90k and make 50k? That extra 20k may not sound like much but over a period of just five years, you'll easily make enough more money to pay off the extra debt. Also, student loan debt is some of the easiest debt to bear (yes I have loans) the low interest rates and ability to easily alter your payment plan makes 90k in student loans significantly easier to handle than 90k of any other kind of debt.

But beyond the merely practical. How do you know you won't find your passion for the work rekindled when you get a job? Grad school is usually a very different kind of endeavor than most any kind of work. Consider whether you may just be burnt out on the parts of your life that you will leave behind once you graduate.
posted by oddman at 10:41 PM on April 29, 2006

I think the answer lies in what you consider more valuable; practicality or satusfaction?

Practicality; You have a huge amount of debt, and if you drop out, you will either have to get a crappy job you probably won't enjoy that pays next to nothing, which in turn means it will be difficult, if not impossible, to pay off that debt. That's assuming you can even get a job at all. At 31, some employers (not all, but some) might be hesitatnt to employ someone who, at least on paper, seems to have accomplished nothing with their life. So, if practicality is more important, you shouldn't drop out.

Satisfaction; If you really don't think you'll enjoy the job that your schooling can get you, then you probably should, on the face of it, drop out. But consider that een if you hate your job (which many people do), at least you can pay off that debt. And if you slog it out in a crappy job for a few years, it might lead to other opportunities which might get you a job you like, or hate marginally less. And even if you don't go into the job market that your degree provides you access to, at least on paper employers in other professions can see that you've done something.

So ultimately it depends on what you consider more important. For my money, though, I say you don't drop out, because the opportunities that having that degree can provide you with outweigh the few positives that dropping out seems to provide you with.
posted by Effigy2000 at 11:14 PM on April 29, 2006

As a forty year old college dropout with no health insurance and an annual income of less than thirty thousand dollars per year, I advise you to finish the goddamned degree already.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:43 AM on April 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

At least get the BS. It will give you options no matter what else you do with your life.

If you dont need money, no need for PT. If you need money, PT makes sense for the money, for a while. YOu can always quit after you make some money in it and you can always have that as a backup if you need it.

So yes, stick with it atleast thru the BS and if you need decent money, then with PT too. Other than that, sure, quit and do whatever you want. Its all about options; the BS will give you options, PT will give you money.
posted by jak68 at 12:55 AM on April 30, 2006

I dropped out of a PhD program. I originally said, Well, might as well get my Master's. But then I dropped out of that as well after two years, because I just wasn't interested -- I was doing well grade-wise, but it was hard to pay attention when I didn't care.

I don't make as much money as I would have if I'd continued in that track, but I really didn't like it. I nth the recommendations to get your BS first, though. You can probably find a job you like that makes enough to pay off $500. Not having a BS might be a problem for even a lower-level job that makes you happy, though. Good luck.
posted by theredpen at 4:53 AM on April 30, 2006

I don't know if you can use this option, but can you withdraw for just one semester with the intention of returning (be sure to talk to your advisor to make sure you do not lose your place in the program)?

During that semester, can you get a close to part time job to at least stay afloat so you are not accumulating more debt, and at the same time, volunteer at a non-profit and volunteer to work with patients in an environment similar to PT. At both places you volunteer, talk to people - what do they enjoy or not enjoy about their particular job? Do be more successful in the field, can they suggest a possible course?

Better yet, get an internnship at a nonprofit and volunteer part time at a PT place. The point of the 2 volunteer positions is to evaluate whether you truly envision yourself working in that environment.

Do return to finish the undergraduate degree. In the end for many employers, the degree does not matter, but can you learn the skills for that particular job. Seriously, you will have more options - even in nonprofit.

Also, I currently hate my job and weeks or even days at a job that I hate seem like infinite. If you know you will truly dislike the job, it will not be worth your health, believe me.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 5:23 AM on April 30, 2006

The 21 year old me would tell you to drop out and pursue your other interests. The 36 year old, married with 4 kids, me is telling you to finish your degree. You are closer than you think, and it will be much easier to pay off your debt as a licensed PT. I think it would be a big mistake for you to quit now.
posted by Jesco at 5:31 AM on April 30, 2006

I'm usually in the "college-debt is for suckers" crowd, but in a situation like this, you've already saddled yourself with a shitload of debt. Might as well get something out of it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:49 AM on April 30, 2006

I have dropped out of every course I've ever started since finishing high school, and I'm doing fine.

Then again, I live in Australia, started my tertiary education in the early eighties when it was 100% state-funded - no student loans - and was lucky enough to get interested in computing at about the same time, ending up with one solid longterm programming job followed by a couple of bursts of high paid contract work.

Somewhere in between was a year spent travelling around Australia with no income at all (living on savings) followed by three years living in a ten-bedroom shared house on a total income of $100/week, earned by driving four or five taxi night shifts per month. They were pretty damn good years, too.

There are two essentially complementary ways to go about getting what you want. One is to go head down and bum up and work like a bastard until you can pay for everything you want; the other is to whittle your wants down until they coincide with your basic needs (air, water, food, shelter, love). The more emphasis you place on the second method, the more time you will have available. Voluntary austerity really works.

My advice to you: if there's no joy in what you're doing, do something else.

People say time is money, but I disagree. My $100/week years taught me that time is better than money by at least an order of magnitude.
posted by flabdablet at 5:50 AM on April 30, 2006

Is there some way you can do the things you want to do while staying in the career you're studying for? You're studying physical therapy and interested in the arts and non-profits. Is becoming the PT for a ballet or other large dance company an option, for example?

We can't all do what we love forever and hope to make liveable money at it. But if you can take what will pay the bills and make it involve the things you love, maybe you can have a bit of both.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:50 AM on April 30, 2006

First, read this.

Based on your brief synopsis, I'd reply that you should absolutely, positively complete your bachelor's — and that if nothing changes and your feelings remain the same, then at that point, maybe you should walk away.
posted by cribcage at 7:07 AM on April 30, 2006

could u somehow switch mid-degree to occupational therapy where u could use your enthusiasm for art and helping others?

something i remember from a dorm mate who studied occupational therapy was that the studies were done in medicine school and had a lot in common with physiotherapy studies (a lot more than i imagined).
posted by mirileh at 12:27 PM on April 30, 2006

Another Aussie chiming in that time is worth a lot more than money. That said, I completed a master's degree in an area I have never worked.
I found it lends credibility that I am not a flake (which an uncompleted bachelor's might tend to indicate) and when a job advert says "or related tertiary degree" it is usually enough to get a tick in that box.
So, a strong recommendation to slog through until December and graduate, then maybe defer the master's a while so you can reassess?
Coming back to the time/money scenario, a few years of good earnings to pay down debt and save for a house help give you some options to try other avenues, providing you keep your wants in check.
Good on you for thinking about this now, rather than when you are indebted and mortgaged with kids and a job you hate.
posted by bystander at 5:46 PM on April 30, 2006

By all means, finish.

It's not about the content of your degree, it's about the process.

Prove that you can make and follow through with a 4-year plan, both to yourself and the world at large.

WHen I review resumes, people who did not finish college did not go, as far as I am concerned. Even if they miss it by a course, let alone a year. My attitude is not unusual in most management circles.

If the can't muster the push for that last year or semester, what assurance do I have that they'll finish anything I assign them to?

As far as economic success, a non-grad has to work forever to overcome the credibility issues. That's not to say that they can't achieve economic success. But why prolong one element of stress perpetually in order to avoid a far shorter one now?

As far as grad school, it's better to study what you want. Don't fear debt, just use it wisely to achieve right livelihood.
posted by FauxScot at 7:13 PM on April 30, 2006

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