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To incur grad school debt or not?

749 Views 23 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  Crunchy*VT*Mom
I have recently become a SAHM to my beautiful 5mo daughter. When we made the decision for me to stay home, the intent was that I would finish grad school and return to work when she was two or three.

I am having second thoughts about grad school. It's in a field I love, and the degree is necessary to my profession. Generally, a PhD or a second master's is even preferred.

But the cost is almost $40,000 which we'd be taking out in student loans. Currently, including our mortgage, we have about $170,000 in debt. My husband makes about $55,000 per year.

I am conflicted about grad school because I would love to continue to stay home with dd and also have another child at some point. This, too, is complicated by the fact that we have to purchase our own insurance which is about $800/mo with a maternity rider.

Do I take on the extra debt to go to grad school? We'd really like to be debt free and can see me making more with the degree, but the catch is that I might have to move to find the best salary, etc., and then the cost of the degree ...

So much to think about. What are your thoughts?
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Sometimes grad programs have their own health insurance policies, though a lot of places are discontinuing it.

I went for grad school, and I'm just finishing while also being pregnant. To get my license, I need 9months of full time work to qualify, which is going to be tricky with a child. However, once I've got that (and even before it), I have essentially 100% job security way into the forseable future.

I want to SAHM, but I also need to think of my family. If for some reason, the economy really tanks and DH is laid off, we'll need my skills to earn an income.

Since you would need multiple degrees, perhaps look at a new field where you can work with the skills from a first degree? Health care and education fields are especially good areas to look at.
I would also consider your earning power once grad school would be complete. I know many of folks that pursued a grad degree to figure out that their choosen career field tops out a lot lower in compensation than what they thought they could make. Not everyone with a grad degree walks into a job that pays big money.

My cousin's wife is going thru this just now.
Bach degree- school guideance counsler - $32K a year
Grad degree - school social worker - $41K a year

Grad school loans - $60+K

She needs to work in this choosen field for 7 years in order to break even on loans she took out. (Considering she gets no raises).

My mother herself learned this same lesson.

Gym/ Health teacher at ritzy grade school - $48K a year (1987)
Graduate degree as a private counsler - $27K a year (present)
(no loans - cash flowed)

Did her degree pay off? Only in her personal fullfillment level but not financially or her considering her stress levels did it.

*** Mom went to grad school when I entered highschool. She graduated one week after I finished highschool. So she took 4 years going part time to complete her graduate schooling.

Just some other things for you to consider as you make your choices.
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I wouldn't do it in your situation unless the degree will make you very marketable and well-compensated. If the vast majority of your debt is mortgage-related, I wouldn't worry about that too much, but if there's a big part of it that isn't, I'd get that paid off first.

Does this degree really have to cost $40K? Is there any cheaper way to do it? Could you get it from a state university? Could you take a course every semester and pay it off as you go? That's how I did my masters. If you are going to be at home for a few more years, it's not so urgent to get the degree really quickly.
Unfortunately, we can't move to be near the program, so I have to pursue it at a distance. Even though the program is online, they still charge out-of-state fees, which is why it costs so much.

To continue to get student loans, I would have to take no less than 6 hours per semester.

I think my starting range would be right at $40,000 and would max out at around $80,000 after many, many years of experience on the job (if I ever got to that point).
I absolutely would not do a PhD unless I had full funding.
I had about $28k in student loans (undergrad plus grad) after I finished with my Masters in Social Work. Honestly, I regret spending so much on my schooling, especially for a degree in a low paying field. That loan felt like a monkey on my back, it kept me up at night because I was so stressed out about it. I paid it all off in 2 years working at a strip club and throwing most of my income towards the loans. But if I had gotten a job immediately as a social worker, I would have been making around $40k, and it would have been a huge struggle for YEARS to pay it off.

If I was trying to make the decision, I'd run through all the possible scenarios, and run the numbers for each one.

Like, figure out how much your student loan payment would be every month after you finish grad school. See if it would fit into your budget assuming you did get a job in your field, and had to pay child care for your daughter. See how it would fit into the budget if you continue to SAHM and live off your DH's salaray for a while. I'd also run through what would happen if you did have to move for your job--like, what the cost of living would be like in a new place, and if you would be able to support the family on your salary alone if you move and your husband can't find a job right away.

If a 2nd masters or PhD is preferred in your field, would you be able to get a job with just one masters?

Would you be able to take a class or two a semester and pay it out of pocket as you go? If you do that, you might end up finished with your degree around the time your daughter goes to school.
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The debt is such a big concern for me. My husband thinks I should pursue the degree. I'd rather be debt-free than have the degree, but I'm not sure we can pay off the $60,000 (the non-mortgage debt which is predominantly my husband's student loans and a small car payment) alone on his salary.

Originally Posted by swimswamswum View Post
I absolutely would not do a PhD unless I had full funding.
what she said.
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Go with your gut. If you're not comfortable, you're not comfortable.

...and no one ever regrets spending more time with a young child....
Such great advice and wisdom. Thank you mamas!
I wouldn't do it until you know when you'll be going back to work.
Maybe set a date for which you will make a decision. I tend to urge people to follow their passions, especially if they are lucky enough to identify a paying one. However, I don't think I'd go for multiple degrees until able to pay for some of it out of pocket.

DH is in school (state school), and we have a health insurance policy for both of us at about $350 a month. It's a great policy too.

GoGoGirl - You made me laugh so hard! If only I had thought of working in a strip club after earning my social work degree! Instead, my salary was so low that I qualified for food stamps and couldn't afford clothes, even from thrift stores.
As someone who racked up close to 50K for grad school, I am inclined to say no. Turns out while my degree has been useful for getting jobs, financially it has not paid off. In fact I make less than when I had no degrees
, yeah my work is enjoyable and I love it but in these hard times especially when you don't even know if you will go back to work sooner rather than later, I would probably sit on this plan for a while.

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I'd check into the program very carefully and would be leery of doing grad school online/at a distance. I'd make sure the earning potential justified the cost. I'd be unlikely to do more school if there were no grants etc offered. Just for comparison, when I did my degrees, I graduated with $10,000 in student loans, the rest I either got a research grant, teaching assistantship or fellowship for. So for me, well worth it. Without those pockets of money no way would it be worth it as my earning potential starts too low.
I'm going to say yes, if the pay in the job you want increases substantially with the advanced degree and there is satisfaction that goes along with that job. Dh went back to school 6 years ago to be a teacher. In two years, he finished 95% of the coursework (he's doing his last 3 credits now and will graduate in May). It cost us (gasp!) about $35k. However, he now has tenure at his school in his 4th year and gets paid at the highest possible level for that much experience because he is considered Masters +30 (credits). Oh, and he already had another master's degree to begin with in business.

He is the happiest I've ever seen him. I don't know anyone else who gets fulfillment from their job like he does and can't wait to do this for the rest of his life. He gets excited to work! For 35k, I think it's worth it - for him, for me and for our family.
I'd recommend that you take AT LEAST another year or two to think about it before making the decision. The program isn't going anywhere, is it?

I had similar plans when I first became a mama. I was in grad school when my oldest child was born. I planned to return to school when my baby was a few months old. DH would've stayed home with the baby during the day while I was at school, since he was working 2nd shift at the time. But when it came time for me to return to school, I had second thoughts. I was enjoying my time as a SAHM. I wanted to have more kids eventually. And after having children, I didn't really want to go to school full-time and then go to work full-time, I felt I would miss out on too much of my children's lives. Plus, at that point in time I hadn't yet taken out any school loans, but I was out of money and would need to take out loans to continue my education. I struggled with the thought of taking out loans if I didn't want to work full-time when I graduated. So I decided to stay home for another term, and after that I withdrew from school completely, with the thought that I could go back again when my kids were older.

In the years I was at home with my kids, I found that my passion didn't lie in the field that I was studying. I have other interests that are just as important, and I no longer have the desire to return to that field of study. I am SO glad that I didn't continue to go to school and incur debt. My kids are getting older- my baby will go to kindergarden next year. And I do feel like I'm ready to focus on myself again after being 'just' a mom for 10 years. To that end, I'm going back to school. But instead of returning to grad school, I'm going back for another bachelor's degree. My interests have altered a bit, and after researching, I've discovered that this bachelor's degree will give me far more flexibility than going back to grad school would. Because I waited to return to school, we've had time to save money. My DH has advanced in his career, and we can afford to pay for my schooling out of pocket. We will have to cut back on other expenses, but I can go back to school without taking out loans.

I'm really happy I didn't rush into any decisions earlier in my life. For me, quitting grad school to be a SAHM was a great decision. Waiting to return to school has allowed me to gather more life experience and I feel like I'm choosing a better field of study than I would've if I had rushed into the decision 10 years ago.
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What do you want/are you going to study annethcz?
I haven't read the other advice yet, but I skimmed and I would second this:

I'd recommend that you take AT LEAST another year or two to think about it before making the decision. The program isn't going anywhere, is it?
~~Especially~~ if you are planning to have another child.

These next five years will be crucial in the life of your two children, but it is not going to matter a bit when you start that graduate program.

And in five years you two will have paid off a big hunk of your husband's debt and might be in a better financial position.

You are having second thoughts because this is not the right path for you at this time. Go with your instinct.

Originally Posted by annethcz View Post
I had similar plans when I first became a mama. I was in grad school when my oldest child was born. I planned to return to school when my baby was a few months old
I am SO glad that I didn't continue to go to school and incur debt.
I have the exact same story, except for me it was medical school (Talk about huge DEBT!!!)

I may go back some day, but for right now I love being a SAHM and I've never regretted my decision.
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