I’m 24 and I quit my job as an assistant manager at a retail bank making decent money (especially for someone my age) in August to go back to school to pursue a master’s degree. I was really miserable at my old job, and I’m fairly confident that the degree I’ve chosen will lead to work, in general, and likely work that I am passionate about (bonus!).
Originally, I (wrongfully) assumed I would qualify for government loans, on top of the funding I received from my school (which covers just about 50% of my tuition). When I found out I didn’t qualify for loans, I decided to work part-time for the company I had just left and juggle this with my classes. Now I find myself sinking under my course load (I already dropped one class, and am now at the minimum to keep my funding) and work.
I am contemplating quitting my job on the following rationale: “If I fail my classes, I will have wasted the money I spent on tuition, regardless of how much of those costs I recuperate through my part-time work.” I haven’t been unemployed since I was 14, so I am slightly terrified of taking the leap. I live at home and also have $11,000 in savings I could live off for the next year—but I was hoping that by working I could keep that for a down payment for a house. Advice? — A.
When I was 23, I decided to quit the job I felt I wasn’t cut out for, and move to New York to go to grad school. I was able to get half of my education funded, and the rest was borrowed via a private student loan, which I felt okay about because the interest rate was below 5 percent. I learned about my acceptance into my graduate program in March, and socked away as much money as I could before moving across the country and starting school in August. That money slowly dribbled out of my account while I was in school and not working, but I was okay with that. I thought about what it would cost to make this leap, but I thought more about what it would mean for my future—the kind of jobs it would lead to, and the kind of life it would enable me to have.
It’s been seven years, and a lot has happened. The financial crisis, for one thing, a string of apartments, a handful of jobs, and that private student loan I took out? It’s steadily being paid off through monthly automated payments, and I don’t think too much about it. I’m happy with the work I’m doing and the life I have. My point is that I took a leap and it all worked out.
You’re right: If you’re not getting what you need out of grad school, those part-time dollars aren’t really doing much to help you. So yes, If I were you I’d quit that miserable job and dig in deep into the master’s program and get as much as I can out of it. The success I had in school was carried with me after I was done—the work I completed demonstrated the kind of work I could do for an organization, and the people I took the time to get to know when I was in grad school helped lead me to the right jobs. And with the right jobs came the negotiations, the benefits, the money. You sort those things out. I had no idea where I was going to live and what I was going to be doing after I finished my graduate program, but I figured it out because I had no other choice.
That down payment for that house you want to buy someday? You will figure it out. You figured out how to save $11,000 once, and you will figure it out again. What’s important is that you get what you need out of your program to ensure that you’ll land the right jobs after you’ve graduated—which is the point of all this, right? With those jobs will come the money you’ll need for a down payment, and for the life you want to build for yourself.
One last thought: Just because this part-time job didn’t work out while you are in school doesn’t mean another one won’t. Perhaps there are work study jobs available on campus that will work with your schedule better. Perhaps there are odd jobs you can do occasionally. You’ve got a lot going for you—the option of living at home and a cushion of savings—things that people want to have when doing something like going back to school, and figuring out a new career path. Take a leap.
Photo: Daniel Flower