Friday, September 21, 2012

How to decide if you should continue working while in grad school

by clok_moitie via Flickr
Two weeks ago, I outlined some tactics that I used to survive working full-time while going to grad school full-time (part 1 and part 2). While I wrote those posts as a way to help out those who are in a similar situation or who are going to be in a similar situation, I thought it would be even more helpful to explain why I decided to undertake those two years of hell and present some questions to ask yourself if you are debating whether or not to do something similar.

A case for working full-time
The main reason why I decided not to quit my job to go to grad school was because I knew my field. Believe it or not, library science has become a pretty competitive field these days thanks to drastically slashed budgets (meaning fewer positions available) and a high number of newly minted librarians finishing their degrees every year. I knew from reading job postings and from participating in many, many job interviews at my library that experience is a key factor in landing a library job. Many entry level positions require you to have anywhere between one to three years of experience (sometimes even 5!) to be seriously considered for the position. If I had quit my full-time job, I would have been cutting my experience length short by at least two years and I had no guarantee that I would be able to secure an assistantship and or part-time library job to add to the experience I already had. It was a risk I was not willing to take.

Another key reason I did not quit my job was because of the paycheck. By keeping my job, I was able to take out fewer student loans to cover my expenses. The only loans I took out were to cover tuition and a new computer; everything else was paid for by my salary. The smaller debt burden was a huge relief for me.

Things you should consider when debating whether or not to quit your full-time job to pursue grad school:
  • Your field. How competitive is your field/the field you want to break into? Is your current job in the field you are interested in? How much work experience does the typical entry level job require in your field? Do you have the required work experience already? If so, would a few extra years make you stand out from the competition? 
  • Your financial situation. If you continue working, would you need to take out student loans to pay for tuition? How about living expenses? If you don’t continue working, would you need to take out student loans to pay for tuition? How about living expenses? How much student loan debt do you already have? Are you comfortable adding to that debt?

A case for going to grad school full-time
The main reason why I decided to go to grad school full-time was because I knew my "school stress style," for lack of a better term. In order to get back into the swing of being in school, I took a graduate level class that was not related to my library program the spring before I started grad school (which is something I would recommend to anyone thinking about going back to school full-time, but who has gotten out of the swing of school). Even though it was only one class, it took over my life. I spent all of my extra time reading, writing, and studying for that class (even though the grades I got weren't really going to count for anything beyond a personal sense of satisfaction since it wasn't a part of my real graduate program and it was at a different school). I knew that taking one class would already leave me stressed out and time crunched, so I figured I might as well take multiple classes because I knew that less classes did not necessarily mean less stress for me. 

Another large reason I decided to go full-time was because of my pretty open schedule. I didn’t have kids to take care of, a husband to feed, a business to run, an organization to chair. I worked full-time and that was about it. Time is a gift and I decided to take advantage of the relative abundance of it that I knew I would have at my disposal over those two years. If I dragged school out, there was a possibility that my time would not be as open in the future and my degree would take forever and a day to complete. 

Which leads me to the next reason why I did grad school full-time: I was simply impatient. I wanted my degree and I wanted it right then. I was already chomping at the bit knowing that I was going at it as fast as I could. I just knew that if I slowed it down any, I would feel like I was going to burst out of my skin with anticipation. The only thing holding me back from the life and job I wanted was a few measly letters after my name. That small hurdle was targeted and phasers were set to destroy. 

The last reason for my choosing to go full-time was my belief that it was a requirement in order to get in-state tuition. You see, Virginia does not have any library schools and so I was entitled to in-state tuition from whichever school I attended that was a participant in the Academic Common Market (I did an online program which was also included in the agreement). One of the requirements to get in-state tuition is supposedly full-time status, but the school I got my degree from wound up not enforcing this technicality.

Things you should consider when debating whether or not to pursue grad school full-time: 
  • Your school stress style. How do you handle stress from school? Would one class be just as stressful for you as taking two or more classes? 
  • Your schedule. How busy are you? Can you drop any obligations in order to free up more of your time to dedicate to schoolwork? Is there anything coming up in your life over the next few years that would hinder your ability to attend classes and get your schoolwork done? 
  • Your eagerness. Do you feel like you’re being held back by not having your advanced degree? How tenacious are you about earning those extra letters? Would you be a Grumpy Gus if you felt like you were going at a snail’s pace? 
  • Your financial situation. Are there opportunities available to you for either saving or earning money that are only available if you are a full-time student? If you went to grad school at a slower pace, would you be able to pay out of pocket for school expenses rather than having to take out student loans to cover a full-time course load? 

I realize (and I hope you realize too!) that just because jumping in with both feet worked for me, it will not work for everyone. Please look at your own situation with honesty and evaluate what is doable for you. Grad school is a big commitment and you should not take it lightly. Taking it at your own pace will be far more rewarding than pushing your limits unnecessarily and not getting anything out of it but gray hairs.


  1. Yes, jumping in with both feet for me would have been a very bad idea. I did so poorly in college (haha, you know this!), I wanted to do grad school the right way and make sure that I was able to dedicate enough time and mental capacity to it. But I also knew I couldn't sacrifice my job for my studies, because the likelihood of being able to get back into my old position would be slim to none. So I stick with two classes per semester, which has worked well for me--it's enough work to keep me busy, but also not so much that I'm totally overwhelmed, and with some fine balancing of studies I still have time to run up to Charlotte a few times a month for curling.

    I'm trying to decide if I want to take six in 2013, which would mean I'd graduate earlier, but I'd have to take two classes over the summer, and 2013's summer classes don't fall anywhere remotely close to my program of study. So I have to figure out which would be a bigger sacrifice: waiting longer to graduate or taking courses that might not interest me and as such might damage my GPA or force me to miss out on a class I really do want to take.

    1. Yeah, one drawback for me going super quickly was not being able to take some classes that I wanted to because they conflicted with something else the first (and second) time they were offered and then they weren't offered again until after I was finished. It worked out fine in the end, but I think if I weren't so adamant about finishing quickly, I would have waited longer to graduate so I could take advantage of taking all of the classes that I wanted to take.

  2. You should be proud, and stick to what you're doing. It's a harsh economy we are dealing with here. Being jobless means getting more acquainted with debt. Imagine what it’s going to be like when you finish grad school. It can mean a better job with a better salary. If you're thinking of quitting your job, then see to it that you have another means of earning income.

  3. I came upon your blog somewhat serendipitously. I was searching for advice about quitting vs no quitting a professional job to go back to grad school. Your blog post literally made me laugh out loud as I am also in the library science field. What a coinky-dink!

    I graduated with my MLIS degree in 2009. While getting my library degree, I took a full course-load and was working full time as a library assistant (I mostly handled interlibrary loans). Working and schooling full-time didn't almost kill me and it really wasn't that bad. I regularly worked Sundays and was able to complete a lot of my classwork then (my employer was cool with it as long as my job was done and honestly, we rarely had interlibrary loans on Sundays anyway).

    I am now in a position where I am still working at the same library and honestly, I hate it. I was promoted into a professional librarian position when I graduated with my MLIS degree, however much of my daily duties have remained the same plus some (I do a lot of ILL work still but also have to teach and do reference). I'm in a specialized field of library science that I'm not passionate about too. I have decided to go back to school to pursue an Ed.S degree in Instructional technology. I think ultimately, I'd like to work as a school media specialist.

    In the past year, our library has had a turnover of administration. I feel like I have less of a voice now than ever. I do make decent money and have a fiance who works in IT and he makes a lot more. I have stashed away a savings totaling my annual salary and am thinking of leaving my job if things don't improve. I'd hate to be in a miserable job and then also stressed with school. On the other hand, I think focusing on school would allow me to overlook much of my current job stress.

    So thank you for your detailed and thoughtful series on this topic. I am not sure what I will do but just having a specialized degree to work towards has been attitude-changing enough!