WWYD: I Want to Go to Grad School … Again

So here’s the deal. I graduated from college in 2009 with a degree in urban and regional planning and have been working ever since in the urban planning field. During the past five years of work and various life experiences, I have discovered that this field is absolutely not for me and I feel a strong calling to become a marriage and family therapist. The only thing is: becoming one requires a state license and two-year graduate program. I am willing to be a student again at almost 30, but the one thing that holds me back is money. How do I leave my good paying job with benefits to be a broke student?

I have zero credit card debt, but have massive student loan debt of $60K from undergrad and grad school. I know that ultimately this new career path will make me happy and more aligned with my interests in the long run, and I have made the decision to follow through and apply to attend grad school in the fall of 2014. This would give me a little over a year to work and save money.

So I guess my question is not what would you do, but how would you go about planning for this change? Should I work for a few more years to save enough so I don’t have to take out more loans? Is this even a feasible idea? Am I totally nuts?

Some other stats, I make $54,000 a year (before tax). I pay the minimum on my student loan, $326/month, make no contributions to a retirement fund, and have very recently paid off a large credit card balance so I am able to save around $400-$700 per month (depending on how disciplined I am-I like good food and travel). I currently have $1,500 in savings. I also plan to apply only to state schools. — M.S.

No, you aren’t totally nuts. Plenty of people discover that the fields they are currently working in aren’t right for them and decide to make a career change. It’s great that you’ve identified a calling that you believe will be better suited for you, and have committed to going after it.

And yes, I can tell you about how I would plan for this kind of change, or rather, I’ll tell you what I actually did when I decided to get a master’s degree.

I made the decision to go to grad school a year or so after I completed my undergraduate degree and had little in terms of savings when I made the committed to doing it. At the time, I had about $14,000 in loans from undergrad and I wasn’t too concerned about taking on more student debt. Even so, I immediately went into austerity mode. I moved back home with my parents to save on living costs, saved every dollar I could from my job as a magazine contributor, and took on a second job as a cashier for additional income. When I was accepted into my program, I thought a lot about what it was going to cost, and ended up asking for more money—the lesson being: If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it.

I had about $10,000 saved up by the time I started grad school. That money wasn’t for school—scholarships and loans paid for that—it was there for me for after I received my master’s degree. It allowed me to live in New York and pay the rent while I looked for jobs and jumpstarted my career. It allowed me to not worry about how I was going to start making student loan payments once the grace period ended. That money was peace of mind. It gave me a feeling of stability I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t gone into austerity mode and saved up before moving across the country.

If you’re able to save $700 a month, go for it. You could have $10,000 in savings in a year. If you have the discipline to cut back even more on non-necessities (like travel) and save even more, do it. Set the highest attainable savings goal you can. Make a list of reasons why being a marriage and family therapist is your calling, and why it’ll make you happier. Whenever you need to remind yourself about why you’re saving, pull out your list and read it.

You could work for a few more years and save, but I’d set a goal to start the program in the fall of 2014 and save as much as I could until the program started. That way, I could focus on doing one year of austerity and look forward to starting the program sooner rather than later—especially with the cost of college rising steadily every year (I did a quick Google search and it looks like the average cost of your grad program at the state schools where you live is about $8,000 a year, which isn’t so terrible. Also, it looks like you’ll be earning a similar salary to your current position once you hunt for a job).

A plan is has been hatched, and I believe it’s well within reason. It’s just a matter of pulling it off.


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments. Photo: Vancouver Film School


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