I’m Terrified of Quitting My Terrible Job and Using My Savings for Grad School

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


13 Comments / Post A Comment

tussock (#1,296)

I am curious about why the writer doesn’t qualify for government loans. Is it because the graduate program is not eligible for some reason? If so, to me, that might be a red flag about the advisability of the program itself.

amglory89 (#3,588)

@tussock I’m the OP. I didn’t qualify because the government thinks if you live at home, have 11,000$ in your account, own your car and made over 40,000$ last year – you don’t need them to help fund your studies.

loren smith (#2,300)

@amglory89 Oh! Are you Canadian? I also couldn’t qualify for grad school loans. In retrospect THANK GOD, because I didn’t waste a cent of my own money for that nightmare.

tussock (#1,296)

@amglory89 Ah, I see… in that case, do what Mike says! (you know, if that makes sense for your life)

amglory89 (#3,588)

@loren smith yes I am.

cmcm (#267)

The thought of having $11,000 in savings at age 24 boggles my mind. I’m 29 and if I’ve ever had more than 4k in an account at any one time, I’m convinced I’m the richest person in the world.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@cmcm Seconded.

I’m in grad school and working full-time and oh god just the thought of quitting so I can actually dedicate myself to my studies sounds like a luxury. $11,000 seems like a mighty fine cushion to me.

cmcm (#267)

@bgprincipessa I also am part of this club! I’m doing my PhD part time and working full time to afford to be able to do something. Not enough hours. Want $11,000.

Megs (#644)

Yep, if you don’t have to worry about rent/grocery bills (by living at home) and have about $1000 each month to live off of so you don’t burn out before 25? DO IT.

PicNic (#3,760)

Mike’s advice columns always have the same soothing cadence my therapist has. I would probably follow you off a cliff, Mike. You’d be able to convince me it was a good idea.

Catface (#1,106)

@PicNic So true. When am I going to be able to buy a WWMDD bracelet?

NoName (#3,509)

@PicNic Quite. Mike had me at his “uniform” article – seems like a very together guy. Also, may I say that The Billfold is knocking it out of the park today with the compelling stories and the useful information.

xenu01 (#4,239)

1. Grad school is no joke. It depends on your program, but most that I know (including the one I’m in) require about 90% of your time, brain and energy.
2. The only reason you should ever be in grad school is because, at the heart of it, you really actually want to be in grad school. Not because it’s going to guarantee you a sweet job (nope in this economy and maybe in any economy), nope because you are trying to escape your life.
3. DO IT. Quit. If you love grad school & if you want to commit to it, I mean. You might even be able to get a job tutoring for $10 an hour or working as a student assistant or a TA, which will seem like a huge step-down for you financially but will be custom-made for students, as in DUH you should always put school first and of course they will work around your schedule!

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