Is taking a year off uni for work a bad idea?
June 16, 2008 10:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm a third year CompSci BSci Student in Large Canadian City, and I've just been offered to extend my co-op term into next winter or probably next year. Is this a good idea and it's worth it to delay my degree by another year? Is this a bad idea, and I would be better off graduating asap?

It's a very cozy, comfortably paid job, in a pretty laid back office that is fairly easy to get to. If I were to stay on longer, I'd spend a chunk of my time performing sysadmin-y and support work, and more of the same development on internal tools I've been doing so far. Probably all Ruby, Java, Solaris.

I like it. It's very decent.

My family is convinced, no, firm in their belief that I will never go back and finish my degree once I get used to the cash influx, and they raise a good point. I could live comfortably with my salary, but I could only scrape by if I also had to put aside rent and living expenses for the year I return to school. So, moving out is tempting, but I'm not convinced it's a terribly wise idea.

If I were to stay at home, my lifestyle would probably increase to a pretty comfortable level, but I'm not sure delaying the end of my degree and sticking around at home for an extra year is worth it. (Traveling would be awesome, tho).

On the other hand, I've just had a really rough year at school, for various reasons, and I'm just not feeling it yet. I could probably do the motions just fine, but right now I'm fed up and tired of it. Part of me likes to think that a good number of months of work would allow me to clear out and want to go back.

What's more, from what I've read and others have told me, it seems that a year of experience on top of a degree goes a long way once you've finally left school.

Fortunately, tuition is not an issue, and this is a university run co-op program. This is my second out of a maximum of five four-month periods, and last summer I was at a different, more dysfunctional company.

Thanks, Hive mind.
posted by pmv to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Biases up front: I'm a big advocate of finishing school as quickly as you can, while allowing for a little bit of co-op.

Part of me likes to think that a good number of months of work would allow me to clear out and want to go back.

It's entirely possible you'd be more disenfranchised with the idea of returning to homework, tests, not having a real weekend, etc. This is obviously something only you can determine, but I know a lot of people who took some time of to clear their hand/find themselves/whatever with full intent of returning to school and never did. I believe that every single one of them would have been better off had they returned and finished.

What's more, from what I've read and others have told me, it seems that a year of experience on top of a degree goes a long way once you've finally left school.

A year vs. eight months probably won't make a difference in the long run. Having some co-op experience versus none is a huge difference, eight months versus twelve is much less so.
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:14 PM on June 16, 2008

Clear their head, not hand. *le sigh*
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:15 PM on June 16, 2008

Absolutely go for it. As someone currently trying to hire new college graduates, the biggest problem I see is that they have no experience! I'd recommend moving out since the real world will get you whether you want it to or not, but that's more of a personal decision.

That said, remember that if you want to continue in computer science, you can't progress without a degree. Period. Pick a date to go back right now, tell your employer that you will quit on precisely that day, and do everything you possibly can to ensure that you will not stay in your co-op as a full-time job. You may consider taking one class online if that's available to you just to remember that you are still a student.
posted by saeculorum at 10:16 PM on June 16, 2008

Unlike Nelsormensch, I'm a big advocate for breaks and delays. I've done what you did and now I'm just a semester away (though by this point I am already totally disinterested in academia - thank goodness my final semester is all practical).

If you're not ready for it, and need a breather, absolutely take the breather. The year at work may show you what you really want to know - and you may end up changing careers, which is fine. I personally don't see what the great danger is in "not going to university again" - if you find something better, what's the trouble?
posted by divabat at 10:30 PM on June 16, 2008

Do it if the job is providing you with beneficial experience, or if you worry you'll have a difficult time at school right now. Don't do it because of the cash or because it's comfortable to stay in one spot. If you are a capable worker, the company wants you because you come a lot cheaper without a degree, not because it cares about your future.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:32 PM on June 16, 2008

I am in the IT business, experience will mean more than your degree but you should eventually get the degree - the high level guys have degrees.

I am not sure what larger Canadian centre you are from, but I have been in enough Western Canadian IT offices to know there is no shortage of demand for IT workers in any of the Western cities, so you won't hurt your job prospects by finishing school.

Regina and Calgary are hiring crazy numbers of IT people - you'd easily have multiple offers in under a week with a reasonable history. There are some big things going down in Victoria, but overall its a small industry there. Edmonton is usually pretty steady and work probably won't be a problem, but I don't know the details. I have no data on Winnipeg or Saskatoon, but Saskatoon is probably the hottest economy in the country right now and its pretty much the last major centre before you get to those big natural resource pools in the North (the Saskatchewan tar sands and the Uranium industry). IT is pretty good right now - its practically a perfect storm, so don't let your relative security hold you from getting you degree; in fact, the company you are with may hold your job until you finish school.

I would let your personal preference be your guide, or take the money now if you feel the US downturn will put the Canadian economy in the shitter.
posted by Deep Dish at 10:47 PM on June 16, 2008

Go for it. I did 5 co-op terms and also worked at other relevant positions and I don't regret it. I used the money to graduate without loans, go on a European backpacking trip and buy a (used) car.

Why not take a course via distance? Or enroll as a visiting student (you need permission both ways)? I took distance courses during all my co-op terms. You might also take one or two of those one-week compressed courses. You could make up for an entire semester this way.
posted by acoutu at 11:13 PM on June 16, 2008

Take the job. Everyone ends up with a degree, good experience is worth tons on top of that.

Stay at home, so that you can
a)save enough to live on comfortably when you get back to uni
c)remember that you don't intend this to be permanent, and you're planning to go back to school. Sounds like your family will be happy to keep you reminded of this.

If you can, maybe look into studying part time in your second semester of work: so, don't study at all next semester, but ease yourself back into it by taking one subject the semester after.
posted by jacalata at 11:41 PM on June 16, 2008

Depending on how you feel about working in the US, getting your degree sooner rather than later may be a huge asset in terms of available opportunities: have a bachelor's in CS qualifies you for TN status in the US, and that's good for a lot of potential employers and jobs.

Finish your degree now, and you get to close a significant chapter in your life. I contemplated the same decision; for me, the psychological benefits of Just. Being. Done. made the decision pretty simple.
posted by kanuck at 12:44 AM on June 17, 2008

What's more, from what I've read and others have told me, it seems that a year of experience on top of a degree goes a long way once you've finally left school.

Well, you can graduate with a year's experience, or you can graduate a year early. Either way, you'll end up with the same experience after a year on the job.

If you finish your degree then get a job you'll make more money than on a year as a co-op because you'll have a degree. So delaying finishing your degree for 1 year costs you the difference between your current wage and your wage with a degree.

That said, it's only a year, and you might as well do what you enjoy. If you're feeling uninspired by school at the moment and you wouldn't put forth the effort required to learn the stuff you're paying a lot to learn, you are maybe better taking a break and returning to school more enthusiastic to hammer out that quick final year!

Of course, delaying will mean all your classmates graduate - are you cool with that? Obviously it's more of a problem if you're living with them or something.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:50 AM on June 17, 2008

In my experience as a previous academic advisor to university students, in a different field, in a different university, in a different country, most students who take a year off never come back. Maybe they go to other universities, maybe they die.

Some (few) certainly do come back and get good results and a degree. What are you going to do at the end of your year to make sure you come back and get the qualification, because it's going to be awfully easy to say to yourself, I'm doing fine without it, I have a good job, good money, good prospects...

Problem is, without the degree, in a lot of cases, the promotions stop after a certain point. When you finally work out why, you're a long way past being comfortable living at home and surviving on a pittance. Or your partner doesn't want to support you or whatever.

Can you do both? Can you study part-time (take 2 more years instead of 1) and work part-time? It requires a lot of organisation and committment, but I think it's a lot more fun than doing just one of them.
posted by b33j at 3:07 AM on June 17, 2008

Thanks for the responses so far!

Basically, I feel the degree is non negotiable. It'd be a terrible waste not to finish up. And it's a university co-op thing, they encourage people to take it, you need a certain average, etc.

The main things I'm worried about is not being able to go back, which a lot of MeFi'ers and my family have been telling me. Mike1024 raises a good point, in opportunity cost.

I like the idea of taking a course or two in the winter, and at least take some of the load off.
posted by pmv at 5:24 AM on June 17, 2008

Take it. As someone who is a CS co-op graduate from another large Canadian city, my co-op experience was the best thing I could have done for myself. By taking the job, you'll have that extra year of experience, which will help you stand out that much further from the rest of new CS grads.

Chances are, after another year in this same job, you'll be ready for a change anyway. It seems to me, anyway, that the itch to do something new starts to hit after about 2 years in any CS-related job. I'm assuming you've already done 8 months (or at least 4), so in a year or so you'll be close to this point anyway. This will be the perfect time to go finish the degree.

Plus, that last year of the CS degree can be rough. Since you're happy with the job, take the breather now. After you graduate, you'll tons of opportunity to end up in jobs that range from barely tolerable to i-can't-take-another-day-of-these-dumbasses-please-kill-me-now. No need to rush that! (Not trying to discourage you or anything, however. When you're done that degree, post another askMefi to about what questions to ask of a prospective employer...)

It's been 7 years since I graduated uni, and having that extra year when I was really green would have made a ton of difference back then. (Now, not so much, but that's irrelevant.)
posted by cgg at 7:30 AM on June 17, 2008

Pardon the random missing words in my above post. Pretty please can we have that edit function already?
posted by cgg at 7:32 AM on June 17, 2008

I think it would be in your best interest to finish up you co-op placement, and then complete the degree. It's no wonder that companies want good co-op students to stay. They basically get a known entity at a discount rate. The problem with staying with this company is that when you start looking for opportunities outside the company, instead of saying you have a CompSci degree and some real-world work experience, you'll have to say, "I have a high school diploma and been doing sysadmin-y and support work". Which sounds better to a potential employer?
posted by kamelhoecker at 9:14 AM on June 17, 2008

Take the time away from school to do the co-op. Like what was said above, everyone's going to graduate with a degree but having a co-op experience, especially extended, will set you apart. Who knows you might even get an offer from them at the end.

Sure the idea of leaving your graduating class, those you came in with freshman year, might put you off since deviating from the normal track is, well, not normal. But at the end it is not a big deal at all. Really. I started off with a 3 month internship which expanded into a 8 month co-op, and thereafter I did my senior project there (engineering), then ended up getting a job offer. I was getting other offers at the end, but it was nice to know I had this one solid in the back because they had already invested so much in me and was able to easily negotiate for a higher salary.
posted by Jimmie at 6:55 PM on June 17, 2008

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