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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.