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Do You Really Need that Master’s Degree?

in Do What You Love, Joan's Posts, Rants

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

“Dear Joan,” the letter begins, “I am pleased to inform you of your acceptance into the Master of Business Administration Program for the Fall 2007 term. On behalf of the faculty and our MBA students, I welcome you as a part of our campus family.”

I was thisclose five years ago to committing 3 more years of my life – and more than $20,000 of my money – to a graduate degree at my alma mater.

It sounded like a good idea for a lot of reasons.

  • My company was offering some degree of tuition reimbursement.
  • I had an undergrad degree in mathematics with some work already done at a master’s level, so I’d get double credit for some work already done.
  • I wanted to run my own business someday.
  • My daughter was in school, so I could attend many classes without daycare issues.
  • No one in my family had yet gotten an advanced degree.
  • I loved to learn.

I got as far as meeting with my advisor and planning out the schedule you see above. And then, only weeks before it was time to start classes, I bailed on the entire thing.

Why??

The grad-school scam

Take a minute and a half of your time and watch this video. Funnily, this came my way just this month – not during my graduate angst phase in 2007. Not-so-funnily, it encapsulates a lot of my struggle with the grad-school system.

When I got my bachelor’s degree in 2002, I was still among the first handful of people in my family to graduate from college. I had a good job, a wonderful daughter, and this really nifty piece of paper saying I had really made it!

Why on earth wouldn’t I want to keep going for more?!

“If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone!”

The closing lines of the video clip above really got to me. It’s a joke, but yet, for me, it’s not quite.

Even early in my college career, I was darn proud of my money skills. I had one semester’s worth of loans from my bachelor’s coursework, and it was paid off the summer after graduation. I’d dodged that bullet – purposefully and through a lot of hard work – yet here I was, ready to jump in front of the next one?

If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. Whether it’s a decision about going to college at all (and THAT’S a loaded issue I’ll save for another post) or the specific question of whether to pursue a graduate degree like an MBA, if you’re a working professional or entrepreneur, the question is going to come up.

In my circle of friends, the “everyone’s doing it” pressure didn’t help. I had two other friends ready to enter the SAME master’s program at the same time. My teacher friends were well on their way to master’s degrees in education, simply thanks to the continuing education courses they were already required to take. And here I was, not even USING the mathematics degree I had earned at my job as a newspaper editor.

Going back to school seemed like the American dream for us.

Sure, it’ll cost a bunch of money up front and take a lot of my time. But imagine the earnings potential I’ll have afterward!…

When I really took my beliefs about education out and examined them as I prepared to go back into the classroom, I had a total epiphany.

Separating higher education from “higher education”

I mentioned before that I love to learn. One of my sisters and I have joked that if “perennial college student” were a paying job, we’d apply in a heartbeat. We would collect degrees like some people do postcards.

But I’ve come to realize that the “higher education system” isn’t the path to education for me.

Let me stop here and say that there are times when I think an advanced degree is a great thing. I want my doctor and my attorney to have one, for instance. For my teacher friends, who are required to amass credits as they work, why on earth would they outlay the money and time and NOT use it to build toward something that will significantly change their earning potential?

But for someone like me, the degree isn’t the end result I’m really going for. And that’s what stopped me from walking back through the college doors in 2007. It turned out that I didn’t need the formal system in order to learn what I wanted to learn. There were two main reasons why I bailed on grad school at the last minute.

REASON #1: I’ve always been a self-directed learner. I don’t really want to take a prescribed set of courses because someone else says they’re what I need to know, and I don’t want to take a “survey of accounting” course when I’ve worked as a business accountant in the past, just because the degree says I need that particular credit. Mostly, though, I don’t want to pay someone to give me information I could get on my own.

Again, there are degrees for which that’s not true. If I had gone to med school (as my high-school plan was), I’d be dissecting cadavers, and they sort of frown on you going off and doing that on your own!

REASON #2: I’m not interested in narrowing my interests. I’d still like to learn more about theoretical mathematics and some of the other things I specialized in during my undergrad career, like dynamical systems. I’m definitely interested in the quality and organizational theory aspects that were part of the MBA-that-wasn’t. I wouldn’t mind deepening my medical knowledge. Oh, and I have almost enough credits for another bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion, and I’ve actually considered attending seminary to further that. But I don’t want to pick just one.

Do you really need that piece of paper?

I’m lucky to have a choice. To do what I love, I don’t need a piece of paper saying I’m a “master” at it. In fact, I’m a happy Joan-of-all-trades in many ways. There are certainly some passions that don’t allow for that, and I realize this approach won’t work for everyone.

But in my case, I’ve decided to meet my insatiable need to be “learning” in some lower-cost, lower-stress, higher-flexibility ways. The best part is, since we homeschool, we can learn as a family – something we sure couldn’t do in a high-priced master’s degree program.

There are hundreds of resources I could list, from  Khan Academy to our local library system to auditing individual college courses without credit, to the great free-online-learning  directory No Excuse List. They’re the sorts of things I’d encourage anyone to check out, regardless of your current education level!

Hey, that’s working for me. In your case, maybe you do need that piece of paper that says “master” or “doctor.”

The point isn’t that advanced degrees are bad.

The point is that higher education is a BUSINESS, designed to make a profit. If you choose to buy, make sure you’ve carefully done the research – the way you would before choosing your home or your vehicle.

Don’t get talked into the Maserati Master’s Degree just because all your friends have one! Sometimes, the Ford Taurus Free Online Education will get you where you want to go just as well!

Today in the comments, I’d like to do something a little different. In addition to hearing your thoughts on the grad-school issue in general, if you’re willing to share, I’d love to know what degrees you have, if any, and how useful you found them!

Was your “higher education” experience worthwhile?

Comment and let us know!

{ 136 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric December 5, 2012 at 9:05 AM

I actually have a bachelors in Information Technology. By year 3 going to a pretty prestigious school I was so burned out in the field I never wanted to work on another computer. I did need “a degree” to enter the military as an officer but pretty much any degree would have done and a cheaper one (less than the 120k) I had invested would have been the way to go.
Two weeks ago I was accepted for a MBA program, but this time I think I will do it right. Part time and not going during any semesters where I can’t pay everything with a combination of cash and scholarships. I may only get to attend the first semester if I am transferred at work but I figure the investment will allow me easier entrance to possibly a cheaper program elsewhere should I want to pursue that.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 2:17 PM

Eric, it sounds like you’ve got a healthy attitude about it – essentially, “I’m choosing to spend my discretionary funds on this if I can!” If only more people thought that way!

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Michelle December 5, 2012 at 9:32 AM

I work in the finance industry, so having my Finance MBA was definitely worthwhile for me! :)

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 2:16 PM

Michelle, I’m just curious, did you get the degree first or start the career path first?

I do think that there is a high correlation between how closely intertwined your degree and your career are. There are some degrees (bachelor’s AND master’s) that don’t really match up to the work in the field very closely; I think finance is much more aligned!

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Freedom | Rethinking the Dream December 5, 2012 at 10:04 AM

I have a BS in Liberal Studies and it has served me well, althout I didn’t know it would at the time I got it. I work in IT and got some certifications that landed me a couple of jobs. IT often doesn’t require a college degree and I worked for several years at several different jobs that didn’t require any degree. Then, at one of my jobs they restructured their pay and advancment ladders into degreed and non-degreed categories. Degreed employees were suddenly ranked higher within the company. I’m glad I finished my BS degree, as if I hadn’t I would have been placed much lower on the corporate ladder and earned less money.

Later at another company, they only hired IT employees with college degrees. I wouldn’t even be able to have the job I have now without a degree.

I see alot of stuff on various blogs about skipping college, but I don’t think that is good advice for everyone. I didn’t even think I’d need a degree, but times changed and I’m glad I got one. I agree with not spending a fortune to get one, but if you are working in the corporate world it can come in handy when you least expect it.

My wife got a BS in psychology. It has allowed her to qualify for some pretty good jobs. Now she’s considering a masters as it would open up a lot more earning potential.

I think it’s an individual choice that needs to be weighed carefully. You have to weigh the costs vs. the benefits. Does the degree set you up for more earning potential in a job you’ll like. Also, look at how long it will take you to earn the money to pay for school. That’s something we’re looking at right now. Even if we pay cash for classes, we need to look at how long it takes us to earn that money and if it will pay off in the long term.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 2:22 PM

Definitely some good points. And here’s an interesting aside – I was hired for a degree-required job without the degree (without any degree, actually!) at a previous company. Later, I was offered a particular-degree-required job with a completely unrelated degree.

I mention that just because I think there are times when that becomes a roadblock for people when it doesn’t need to be. Do you have to know what you’re doing? Absolutely! But sometimes you can prove that in other ways!

I think you and your wife both are in career fields where there is a very specific correlation between pay scale and degree, so it sounds like it’s been beneficial to you to have them! I wish there were more companies out there (especially in IT) who operated beyond that fairly limited set of pay scale determiners, but in the end, there are more places that do than don’t!

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Jenny December 5, 2012 at 10:25 AM

I have a dual BA in Fine Arts and Art Education; as well as a teacher’s license for visual art in my home state, which is related but separate to having the BA, and which I have to keep renewing.

I also have 6 graduate credits in education which I used to ‘upgrade,’ if you will, my license from ‘Initial Practitioner’ to ‘Proficient Practitioner,’ the difference between a two year probationary license and a five year license. So I fought hard for the 5 year license and have 6 grad credits for which I have yet to determine if I could use towards a degree program of my choosing.

Many states won’t grant a teacher’s license without a Master’s; and some people I meet are surprised to find I don’t yet have it. Reading this post today was kind of an ugggh, and the same reason I’ve been dragging my feet. But the more I research the more I find it is going to put me forward when I do finally get things sorted out to pursue an education master’s of some type. At least here’s hoping, if I’m moving back across the globe to do it at that point.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 2:23 PM

Jenny, I think education is a WEIRD field, to be quite honest with you. All I can say is I sympathize – and I trust that you will do what makes the most sense overall for you, because I know you put a lot of thought into those types of decisions!!

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Sharon December 5, 2012 at 10:29 AM

I have an MBA and it hasn’t added much to my bottom line over the years. I went to grad school right after undergrad and didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted– it was easier to stay in school and avoid the “real world”.

The upside of my MBA is that I feel so much more aware of how I fit into where ever I am working. Recently, at my low-pay part-time retail job, I found myself drawing economics graphs that combined what I thought were interesting factors affecting sales– ouch! writing reminds me that “I’m over-qualified and underpaid”; however, if I get my ego out of the way, I know that this job is helping me get closer to my goal :)

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 2:25 PM

Sharon, I literally laughed out loud at your graphs… but you’re right, the job DOES you get you closer to your goals! And, I’ll add, things like that are what can help any employee move up in any company; as a hiring manager, I LOVED seeing people who would do more and really think about their efforts and the effects of them, because those were the people who would go far beyond any basic job description for me!

So good for you!! :)

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Sharon December 12, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Joan,

I love you already!!!

Sharon

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Cara December 5, 2012 at 10:38 AM

I have an honours Bachelor of Human Kinetics and a Masters degree in Sport Administration, in addition to a one-year Bachelor of Education (I’m Canadian). I had, like you, registered for another MA, though it would have no impact on my salary. I was thinking that it would be nice to eventually have a Ph.D.

I bailed too, when I finally realized the personal and financial sacrifices (my free time, and my love of travel would be impacted). I, too, realized that I could do more self-directed learning and focus on what I was interested in, and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be happy and balanced now, rather than pursuing “something that would be nice”.

I’m very happy with my decision. Though I teach middle school mathematics, I find myself using my knowledge of business management and organizational behaviour/development as the principles also apply to education.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Cara, those are great points – and I’m glad that you ARE using the knowledge you gained from your previous degrees! I’m in the “boy, it’d be neat to be a Dr. Something someday” camp too, but man, I just can’t justify it in my head!

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Diane C December 5, 2012 at 10:39 AM

First, I loved the clip – hilarious!

Second, today is the first day of my first retirement. At 54, it cannot be considered “extreme”, but I’m happy to have achieved my goal comparatively early.

I completed two years of junior college, earning an AA Degree, working two jobs and amassing no debt. My plan was to work (and save) for a year, declare myself emancipated (it was the seventies), and apply to four-year schools. I got a great job and was having a blast discovering the world, but was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. Happily, I am still healthy thirty-four years later, but I never went back to complete my “formal” education. My post-cancer bucket list included buying a house, traveling and amassing a fat savings account in case of trouble down the road. Also, I HAD to have health insurance. Somehow, “finishing” school got pushed lower and lower, until it fell off the list.
Now, I have the freedom to pursue a four-year degree, but as you mentioned, there are so many other alluring ways to learn. I have discovered I do not crave the validation another degree might offer. I’d rather retire early and pursue life and lifelong learning.
Here I go…

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Diane, that’s AWESOME!! And I am so glad to hear you’re committed to learning – that’s the biggest thing. Never stop – no matter the form it takes!! :)

HAPPY RETIREMENT!!!

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Kira December 5, 2012 at 10:40 AM

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Computer Science (double major), a Master of Arts in Applied Economics and an MBA. Now i am working on professional certifications – CFA and FRM, but kind of dreaming of getting a Ph.D. in Finance as well. All with no debt (except I need to work for my employer for a year or two more since they paid for my MBA).
I think all my degrees were all worth it! I have grown and learned a lot of complimentary skills through them. As you said, if there was a paid position of a student for life, I would apply and gladly accept the job (getting a Ph.D. might be just that ;). So far I don’t think they have helped me grow in my career, though, due to some quite unrelated circumstances. Once I leave my current employer, though, I do think they will lead to career growth – I get contacted at least once a week by recruiters who are impressed with my background.
If I had to go into debt for my degrees, I would have probably not done as many. Still, for me education is the most important thing that a parent can give their child and the only thing you cannot lose, as it is just a part of you and nobody can take that away from you. My parents always told me that they cannot give me much but they can give me an education and with that I can accomplish anything. Still, getting all kinds of scholarships/employer reimbursement/taking extra classes for the fixed cost per semester helped me achieve an insane (and I admit unnecessary level of) education with minimal cost to them. Hopefully it pays off long-term.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:10 PM

Kira, I think you and I should totally start that program, don’t you? “Perpetual college students!” :)

It sounds like you’ve really enjoyed your experiences – and I love that you did them without money debt, though I know what you mean about the debt of time to your employer who paid for the MBA!

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Shea Laughlin December 5, 2012 at 10:40 AM

I too have this debate with others on a frequent basis. I do not have an MBA but I went ahead and completed a masters degree in software systems. It was a continuation of my undergrad degree, computer information systems, but didn’t really add value for me personally.

One night, half way through my masters program, I was walking to the car and I literally stopped dead in my tracks and said to myself – “I’m doing this for a silly piece of paper”. Said piece of paper is framed and is somewhere in the basement.

Yes, my two degrees have helped progress through my corporate America endeavors but nothing personally. That’s where the personal MBA comes into play. I always challenge people with the following question when they say they’re going to pursue a traditional MBA. “What do you think you could accomplish if you were to put the time, money, and effort into a business, project, or [insert something personal] instead of an MBA?

As Michelle noted above… There are some areas where an MBA is beneficial, no questions about that.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:11 PM

Shea, I totally agree – it really depends on the work you want to do, and I love that same idea of the Personal MBA concept for those who CAN do without the piece of paper! I love that you stopped in your tracks with that same thought – great minds and all that! :)

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Financial Samurai December 5, 2012 at 10:45 AM

Gotta say, I loved the learning process and my company paid for my MBA. It was one of the most FUN experiences ever! Went to Rio and Sao Paula to study emerging markets abroad too.

I encourage folks to focus on the top 15-20 MBA programs. They will really help. Not sure if the program is ranked much lower. My total income doubled within 3 years of graduation.

Sam

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Financial Samurai December 5, 2012 at 10:47 AM

BTW, the education part is probably only about 30% of it. 60% is really the connections. It’s through connections we get jobs, we get investments, we rise higher.

Check out How The Rich And Powerful Get More Rich And Powerful. Is it a coincidence who is all there? MC Hammer, Mark Pincus, Marisa Mayer, Ed Lee our SF Mayor, Ron Conway, Father of Angel Investing? The party was so fun, and our connections help make life easier.

http://www.financialsamurai.com/2012/07/21/how-the-rich-and-powerful-become-more-rich-and-powerful/

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Michelle December 5, 2012 at 11:25 AM

I agree, networking is very important with an MBA. Especially in my industry since it seems like everyone knows everybody else.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:12 PM

Sam and Michelle, I agree – and I think someone else in the comments mentioned that’s a great reason NOT to get an MBA before you’ve worked for a few years and built some experiences and connections too!

My personal opinion is that is probably much more true, though, for a specific “business-based” grad degree like an MBA than for a general master’s degree (say, information literacy or education or theology.) Would you guys agree or disagree?

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Steve December 5, 2012 at 10:53 AM

I really appreciate your comments and perspectives on high education and advanced degrees. At the present time, I am considering pursuing another advanced degree – MBA – to make myself more “attractive” to employers and to provide greater options in my job search. I am in a job that does not fit me and I have not found anything that does or have not been hired for ones I thought might fit. However, at the same time, I am asking myself is this really what I want? Is an MBA or other degree (approx $20K) really what I want or am I pursuing it only to cater to an certain economy and culture… or, more accurately, to a deep fear inside me that says I don’t have enough or the right skills. It is probably the later. More searching, I guess, and more awareness of my motivations, emotions and desires for the type of life I want to live.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:13 PM

Steve, those are the right questions to ask yourself! I know that one of the hardest things for me was to turn down a job that I was offered – because I didn’t respect the field’s focus on “degrees, degrees, degrees” even though the opportunities might have been great. It just seemed draining and like a step down the path of giving up a lot to do something I didn’t really love in the first place!

I sincerely hope your searching puts you in a place where you find what YOU love!

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Philip Campbell (Freedom From Student Loans Blog) December 5, 2012 at 10:54 AM

Fantastic post Joan. School has it place for sure. But a commitment to lifelong learning after college is what can make the most difference in a person’s life, especially their financial life.

And it doesn’t pile on student debt that a person could be dragging around for ever and ever.

Great job!

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:14 PM

Thanks, Philip – that means a lot!! I am DEFINITELY of the mind that you should never stop learning :)

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cecelia futch December 5, 2012 at 11:30 AM

I am 2/3 through a masters degree program for mental health counseling. I am so sick of school I can hardly stand it, and the costs are soaring. But to do what I want to do (and good at it, and love the counseling career–used to do it before ‘licensing’ became the requirement in every state!) I have to have the MS and a LOT of other stuff before I can even test for my license. Experience doesn’t count for much any more. So, what can I say?… sometimes the masters is a necessary evil. I’ll be broke, but I’ll be doing something I love and I’ll be my own boss. That is worth all the hassle that I’m going through now.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:17 PM

Cecelia, I think you’re right – for the job you love, you’ll have to take the bad with the good, and I’m just glad you love it enough for it to be worthwhile. Isn’t that the real key?? :)

GOOD LUCK. I hope that last third of the program goes by quickly and you get started doing what you are meant to do!

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Jason Burk December 5, 2012 at 12:03 PM

Clearly to operate as a professional in today’s world, an advanced degree is necessary. But great consideration should be given to the pay-off. I am an architect, and although I don’t personally believe that the advanced degree should be absolutely necessary to become an architect (there is already a rigorous testing procedure and a multi-year experience requirement in many states), I can assure you that the difference between a masters and bachelors degree is NOT worth a lot of extra money, if any at all. In fact, I would prefer an architect to have more hands on experiential training than classroom training, because the classroom can only provide so much for a person. The real world, in this profession, is vastly different than the classroom. Night and day.

I happen to be very driven and hands on, and I love building things, so that’s the direction I took and my personal bias. The point is that a degree is not always the best tools for a job, although it can be a “chicken and egg” thing. In some companies, without a degree you won’t get hired no matter how good or experienced you are at something (Eli Lilly in Indianapolis being one of those places).

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:16 PM

Jason, that’s definitely true!! I think it’s sad the number of fields in which the certification exams and the degrees pile up without added value – I’m thinking of actuarial science, which has its own incredibly tough exams, but then most companies want you to have or get posthaste an advanced degree as well – REALLY? I’d think you’d want me to spend my time doing the work! :)

I like your approach a lot – real-world experience is incredibly important!

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Danny-J December 5, 2012 at 12:08 PM

ugh! I wish I had been smarter and NOT gotten my masters… here I am 6 yrs later.. I still owe $14k and being an entrepreneur, it does NOT help my earning potential..
I’ll admit it does make me “sound” like more of an expert.. but I’d rather have $$ in my pocket

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:16 PM

Danny-J, I’m with you! I’d rather have the cash! :)

I’ll say this – I know you’re not alone – and I’m glad you are doing what you love regardless!

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Catherine December 5, 2012 at 12:10 PM

I agree with so many points from Joan and from the comments. First, I have an MBA. The only reason I have an MBA is because my employer at the time (mid to late ’90s) paid for it. If it wasn’t for that, I doubt that I would have one.

On that note, once I achieved my MBA, my employer didn’t acknowledge it at all. No change in position, salary, or anything. Which of course led me to seek employment elsewhere (Yo, Dude, thanks for the degree … I’m outa here).

But, at this time I really don’t think my MBA makes a whole lot of difference because so many things have changed. First, an undergraduate degree is ALMOST worthless because ANYBODY can get one. If you can cut a check, you can get a degree. This kinda makes the Master’s Degree the “new” undergrad degree. And quite a few of those classes are useless.

Add to all of that the online learning environment. Though, I have a tech background, I’m not sure that I’m crazy about online learning. First, I think that online degrees are BS. And on that note, a lot of the benefit to pursing a degree of any sort is the connections that you make and learning to relate to other people.

Finally, the cost of education has soared faster than the cost of healthcare. This is a disgrace and measures should be put in place to cap tuition costs. Considering I lived in a dorm made of concrete blocks with NOTHING in the room besides a bed, desk, and dresser … I’m sure that nobody is going die having to do the same thing today. Colleges have become hotels and it’s just stupid.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:20 PM

Catherine, you’ve definitely hit on a lot of the problems with the entire system! Are there parts with value? Well, sure. But you describe first-hand a lot of the parts that make COMPLETELY drop the value in so many situations!! I would not even have my B.S. degree if I were paying today’s prices for it – because I was committed to doing it without any debt after the first year out of school, and there’s no way I’d have been able to swing it, even working full-time like I did anyway!

Here’s to hoping that things will get better, huh??

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mercedes December 5, 2012 at 12:16 PM

I currently have an MBA and I am working in completing my PHD. My dream is to
teach at the collegiate level so the PHD is a must for me. It’s also something I have always wanted to do for myself so I found a way to do it debt free. My employer is paying for 75% and I am paying for the other 25%. They paid for my entire MBA and I am making 30% more money now too. For me it was an obvious choice.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:22 PM

Mercedes, it sounds like that was a great choice for you – and it’s AWESOME that you’re doing it in the debt-free way! Way to go!

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Mustafa Wahid December 5, 2012 at 12:21 PM

This was a horrible post. For those who believe in formal education :) Since, this post really questions the fundamental idea “Is higher education really worth it?” Does it have a higher rate of return on investment?

Maybe it is cheaper to just learn on your own!

-Mustafa

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:21 PM

Mustafa, your comment made me smile! That’s exactly it – what is the return on your investment?! If in either dollars or happiness, it pays off, then I say go ahead – but if not, I just beg people not to “do it just to do it!!” :)

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Matt December 5, 2012 at 12:25 PM

This is really a tough call. I have a BA in International Studies and landed a job with an IT company out of school. After first year of working I went to law school at night. Graduated in 2001. Passed the bar, started a title company and law farm. All of which helped me learn a lot and made extra money so my wife could stay at home with the kids. I am still with the same IT company and they really don’t care that I have the law degree other than they may think I could bail on them at any moment. .I closed down the title company, and still practice law on a case by case basis. I learned a ton, am glad I completed the law degree for what I learned and the few big cases I have been blessed to have. It all depends on what you want to do. The MBA’s here can make a solid business case for us one way other, but I might be tempted to skip the $120,000 investment in the IVY League schools, invest that money, work (at something you really like), save, and retire at 40-45.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:23 PM

Matt, that is certainly the route I’m hoping to go as well! I love your story, by the way, because I have a friend who has what he calls a “when he feels like it law degree.” You might be the only two people I know to practice law as a hobby (though a profitable one)/side job – and I think it’s great!

I also appreciate your variety of experience – international studies, law, IT – that’s the kind of well-rounded background I found awesome as a hiring manager; much more so than someone who could only do one thing, you know?

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MitziW December 5, 2012 at 12:38 PM

I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with honors, received in 1990. I loved school, but it took 6 years to get a 4-year degree because I worked my way through. After graduation, when I was looking for a ‘real’ job, employers wanted to see degrees listed on resumes, even though the work did not require it. So, I think it was a definite advantage to have the degree, to get my foot in the door. After working in the accounting and analyst fields full-time for 10 years, I became a full-time mom. Now I’m a homeschooler of my two daughters and find that learning this way is more fun, and I’m actually learning more beside my girls than I did sitting in a desk in a classroom. I don’t think the knowledge gained in college really prepared me for a career or life; that has all been gained by experience.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:24 PM

I think we’re VERY much in the same boat! I can’t believe what I learn alongside my daughter some days. (And it makes me wonder, because I was a “good” student – good grades and all that – yet there is so much I didn’t remember or didn’t learn about the real world!)

Good for you for working your way through your degree, and for recognizing the real value of it (foot in the door!)

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Breanne Dyck December 5, 2012 at 1:19 PM

Great timing for this: as of yesterday, I withdrew from my grad school program. Only 2 months in, but I still did it.

The reasons were many (and I explained many of them on my blog), but what it came down to, for me, was:

Going to grad school was not going to get me closer to where I wanted to be in my life.

Much like Joan, I’m a self-directed learner – both in that I like to learn on my own, and in that I like to learn in an exploratory manner – a bit of this, a bit of that, some over here… it’s not terribly structured, and it’s usually not all in one direction.

I didn’t NEED to take a higher degree (when I started the program, it was a condition of employment – but I left the employment, and the condition went with it). I stayed registered because I thought I’d like it. After all, it looked interesting enough for me to want to take it in the first place, right? But after two months, it was clear to me that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t going to be fun for me, and it wasn’t going to help me move forward with becoming who I want to be. So I quit. It was hard, and I agonized over it probably longer than I “should have”…. but I did it. And now, I can spend my time on things that really matter, and will really get me to where I want to be.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:25 PM

Breanne, GOOD FOR YOU. You get a major round of applause for really considering your options and being brave enough to let it go.

I hope the next phase of your life is WAY more awesome than grad school would’ve been! :)

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Joanne December 5, 2012 at 1:26 PM

Been having this discussion a lot lately. I have double major History and Education with 5 minors attached (yep, such a nerd I took summer classes to do it all in 4 years). Failed as a teacher because of the administration politics game I refused to play and bounced around through a few jobs for a long time. Now I’ve been a technology business analyst, a job I wouldn’t have gotten without a degree (didn’t matter what the degree was in… and a lot of former teachers around here) and I don’t specifically use any of it. After 10 years it’s a decent stable job though not my dream. Then again, I have lots of dreams to pursue. :-)

Anyway, over the years I’ve contemplated several masters programs but never followed through mostly because of the debt. None would have gotten me more money except maybe an MBA and I’m not a networking sort of personality. Yeah, I could have had some cool experiences but they weren’t enough to offset when I can at least get most of the info online for free.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:31 PM

Joanne, that sounds like my situation; it would have been a “cool experience,” but nothing more for me! And I kind of wanted to major in everything – our school only would issue two minors, but I think I probably could have had a handful! (What good they do, who knows, but isn’t that the whole issue?!)

I think you sound like someone who will very much be able to pursue your dreams – without having to narrow them unfairly! :)

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Heather December 5, 2012 at 1:29 PM

Well, I’ll gladly be the odd one out here: I have my G.E.D.

My parents pulled me out of high school to “home school” me because they felt it was the best thing for me. (I now disagree, but if you tell a 15 year old that they don’t have to go to school anymore, they will more than likely be on board).

College wasn’t an option at 18 because my parents weren’t going to pay for it and I was scared to death of student loans. Then I was too busy enjoying life, learning what I wanted to learn when I wanted to learn it to bother with going to college. Like you Joan, I love to learn. So I spend a lot of time educating myself on things that interest me.

I now work in the internet/technology industry in HR at the professional level and earn a decent wage. I am well connected, am at the point where recruiters contact me about positions and I haven’t formally applied to a job in the past 5 years.

I run into a lot of companies that “require” a degree, but in my line of work experience speaks loader than a degree so I really don’t think I’ll ever pursue a degree.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:33 PM

Heather, I appreciate that immensely! I actually almost dropped out of public high school (I had the opposite problem – I was homeschooled and had to go back to public school, and hated it!) Anyway, I stayed only because of the music program, and that’s what eventually made me decide to go to college too, though ironically I didn’t pursue music after my first semester!

I put a HIGH value on industries that recognize experience and not just degrees. Like you, I’ve had the experience and not always the “requirement,” but it’s never hurt my chances and I am proud to say that I get contacted for a lot of jobs that I’m probably not qualified for in by-the-rules terms! :) Good for you!

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Daryl (JumpToConsulting Blog) December 5, 2012 at 1:39 PM

An advanced degree can be seductive, but will it really lead where you want to go?

I faced this question about 30 years ago regarding an MBA. As a mid-career engineer, it looked attractive.My boss had an MBA and encouraged me. My company would reimburse me. Looked like a good career move. So why not do this?

But I had the itch to go out on my own, and had already started a part time engineering consulting firm. The real question was — do I want to spend the next several years learning stuff that would help me climb the corporate ladder, or do I want to spend that time building a consulting practice?

Didn’t resolve this right away, but after a couple of classes it became apparent that consulting was the right way for me. Enjoyed the classes, but determined the the program just wasn’t going to meet my long term goals (or itches). Dropped the MBA program.

The end result? Went full time with the engineering consulting firm in 1987. Just celebrated 25 years in business, and it has been great! Gave me the creative independence I craved, and eventually gave me financial independence too.

Thank you for posting this. It is a lifestyle question that deserves serious consideration, particularly early in your career. Hope my perspective from the other end of the career journey is a help to someone.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:35 PM

Daryl, congrats on 25 years in business – and on asking yourself the right questions!! That is exactly the point – not that it’s bad or good, but that you have to decide based on where YOU personally want to go. You’re awesome – and I am just thrilled to hear that I might be cheering someone on in 25 years myself; that makes me feel good about my choice! :)

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Honolulu Aunty December 5, 2012 at 1:47 PM

As a mother of 3 college graduates (2 with masters degrees), I would say it depends. Some careers have more benefits with a MBA – such as teaching (because of the pay and standing out from the crowd to get hired). Some are just a piece of paper (my son’s techie MBA) that is a bit easier to get just because you love what you are doing. Both of these kids had their MBAs fully sponsored with stipends, so the decision to attend was a no-brainer.

My youngest wants to go back to school to get her MBA in Business Management, and I really don’t see a good reason for that. If it is for education and learning, the best school for business is the school of hard knocks – starting your own business.

With our current chaotic economy, paying big bucks getting a degree in order to get a job is a risky proposition. Getting a financial education is a better path, imo. It can be done for free if you are willing to search for the lessons. Reading the CashFlow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki is a real eye-opener. Getting out of debt by increasing your income (not necessarily with your typical job), learning to invest, using other people’s money to make money, starting your own business, filling a niche that you are good at – these are just a few that I can think of right now.

Getting out of debt is one part of the wealth equation. The other part is making more income – with passive income that works for you.

(It would be nice if my kids actually listened to what I advise!)

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:36 PM

They might not, but I sure do!! :) I think the stipends point is a good one too – and if I weren’t paying out of pocket for as much of mine as I would have been, maybe I’d have felt differently, I don’t know!

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Honolulu Aunty December 10, 2012 at 7:52 PM

I forget who said this: If my high school or college offered courses titled Wealth 101 and Wealth 102, I would definitely have taken it!

Very sad how our current education system does not teach our young people about basic money skills – and it is in the School of Hard Knocks that we learn by getting into mountains of debt and being stuck in the rat race of finding and keeping a job (that you might even dislike) in order to pay for bills that you can’t get away from.

You’re young! and time is on your side, as well as having a great head on your shoulders. It took me decades to realize that there is more to life and wealth than a paycheck that someone else writes.

Also, when I was young, I thought I was invincible and I never paid attention to retirement needs. Well, time flew- they say your life passes by at the speed of your age, and I think it is true – I am going at the speed of 60 – and that is fast! Take care of your retirement when you are young – it will be one of the best investments that you make today, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Okay, sorry for the long rambling. Heck – that’s what older folks do anyway!

Keep up the good writing and the fight against debt!

Aunty

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Christina @ Northern Cheapskate December 5, 2012 at 1:57 PM

I have my bachelor’s degree and have considered a master’s degree at times. In the end, I realized that I would be going to grad school just to go – usually because I was unhappy in the job I was in at the time. I’m fortunate in that I don’t need a master’s degree to make a living, and I’ve come to find happiness and job satisfaction in ways that don’t require me to spend tens of thousands of dollars on higher education.

That said, my husband did go back to get his master’s, and it was the best decision he ever made. He was stuck in a job he didn’t enjoy that didn’t pay well. He began grad school with very defined career goals and was able to line up a new, better paying, more enjoyable job before he even completed his program.

You’re right, a master’s degree is just like any other major purchase. You need to evaluate all the angles and determine what’s best for you and your long-term goals.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:37 PM

Christina, you and you husband have exactly the right idea! Don’t ever do it “just to do it,” but as a means to a better end, then sure! I am glad for both of you, that you’ve found ways to enjoy what you’re doing and to use education as a tool and not a “well, maybe it’ll be better if…” crutch like so many people get trapped in! You rock!

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Tom Owens December 5, 2012 at 2:20 PM

Hurray for Joan! I have a bachelor’s in journalism from a state university. Not worth it. Why pay to have someone else give you permission to learn? Teach yourself. Be like Joan. Learn by doing. Yea!

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:38 PM

Hey, my husband has one of those too! I don’t… yet at the newspaper we both worked at for more than a decade, we had essentially the same position. That is VERY much a field where experience makes much more difference! :)

Thanks for the kinds words! :)

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Lilypad December 5, 2012 at 2:27 PM

I have a BA in German, graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa twenty some years ago. I wanted to get a Master’s because that sounded cool and no one else in my family ever went that far :-) but was scared more of doing all that writing than of the costs involved. Luckily, I kept working instead of signing up. ( I worked my way through school and never had any student loans. Lest you think I was fiscally perfect, 15 years later I made a truly awful real estate decision and messed myself up good that way instead.) I’ve never really used the degree other than traveling to Germany and Austria a lot and muttering to myself in German to this day. Now, I am an exhausted mom homeschooling a son with special needs and sometimes struggling to remind myself that I used to be so smart! (And getting no respect from the world at large—but that’s another story.)

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 6:41 PM

Oh, do I ever feel you!!! I tell myself that too… “I used to be so smart, what happened???!” Everyone has their own ways of messing themselves up financially and educationally, sounds like ours were similar; in my case, the bulk of my debt is from medical expenses, which is yet a third way to damage yourself financially almost beyond repair, huh?!

I love the muttering in German, too. I think there should be a special certification, degree, credential or something for homeschooling mamas, especially of special-needs kids – we deserve a RAISE!! :)

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Lilypad January 7, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Genau! :-)

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Amanda December 5, 2012 at 2:37 PM

As a teacher, my jobs all have salary schedules. My graduate degree cost about $14000 total, and in the nine years I’ve had that degree, I’ve earned far, far more than that. In fact, it paid for itself in under 3 years.

So yes, for me, it made complete sense to go above a BA.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:20 PM

Amanda, teaching DEFINITELY is one of those professions where it matters – I think you have done exactly the right thing in your case! Good for you!

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Amanda December 18, 2012 at 10:29 PM

Well, I went past the MEd and paid under $4000 total to earn my GT (gifted and talented) endorsement, too. It doesn’t come with any pay increase, but teaching GT kids is where my heart is, so it was worth it.

Because of that and random other mandated classes (most of which only count in my county and don’t transfer), I’m close to the next salary increase because I’ve got almost 30 credits beyond a Masters. Since salaries have been frozen, that seems to be the only way to get a raise now…

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Darlene December 5, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Thank you for writing this! I spent three years working towards an MBA which thankfully was paid by my employer 100% with no strings attached. However, the program was a terrible fit for me (ultra conservative and money driven whereas I’m a people-loving nonprofit person) I powered through learning nothing new and struggling in the boring and in my opinion unethical finance classes. It was a complete waste of time and I wish I had spent that time working on developing my passions and meeting like-minded people who want to make a difference instead of excel sheets of linear programming and yawn worthy papers. Moving forward, I’m currently learning how to make what I love into my career.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:22 PM

Darlene, GOOD FOR YOU for recognizing it for what it was, and pursuing what you love now! I know exactly what you mean and I cringe sometimes at the things I have seen first-hand being “taught” in the realm of finance!

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Kathleen, Frugal Portland December 5, 2012 at 4:05 PM

I loved the little video — and I bet you are so, so happy to have skipped out on that investment! Do you ever in what ways your life would be different had you gotten that MBA?

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:21 PM

You know what’s funny, Kathleen? I don’t think it would be AT ALL different, except for my debt amount! And isn’t that sad in a way??

I’m glad you liked the video!

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Travis Scott December 5, 2012 at 4:17 PM

I have an undergraduate degree in Finance and an MBA. Personally I don’t think the “degrees” or pieces of paper were worthwhile, BUT I do believe the experience I had, the people I met, and the work I did was worth every penny.

I believe that people go to college for the wrong reasons. Society has taught us that if you get a degree, then life will be all butterfiles and rainbows. Many of us have learned this is not entirely true! This is a subject I could elaborate on for days.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:28 PM

Travis, I could too! In fact, I was really worried I was going to write a Man Vs. Debt epic. :) Expectation is a big part of it – I cringe when I hear stories of people who feel like they have been personally wronged because they couldn’t get a job after graduation, when in fact the problem was that they thought the degree was the deciding factor!

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Katrina Silva December 5, 2012 at 5:07 PM

I have a MA in English-rhetoric and composition. I work as a high school English teacher and the MA put me all the way over on the salary step & column for my district. It also means I can supplement my income by teaching night classes at the JC or online classes. I may still be paying it off, but the flexibility it gives me is priceless. I’m teaching higher level writing courses at my school now because I have the knowledge from my master’s classes.

It’s true that not everyone has to go to college. I think you need to find what makes you passionate about getting up every day and going to work. I found that, and to keep myself challenged, I try to further my education. I appreciate the links to learning sites- I’ll be using them for myself as well as passing them on to my students.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:29 PM

Teaching is definitely a key area for “degrees will pay off,” I think! And you are so right about flexibility – that is a huge payoff.

I hope you and your students like those sites!

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Katie December 5, 2012 at 5:21 PM

For my career, yes, I had to have a Master’s Degree. I could have worked in the same field but made significantly less and not been given the same opportunities that I am afforded because I have my Master’s.

I also had my Master’s (minus fees and books) paid for by the University where I went. They also gave me an assistantship to help pay the other bills, not everyone has that. Because of the assistantship I did have, I was able to make connections and network with those in my chosen career path which made finding a job much easier…I even found a job for the summer inbetween my Master’s and starting my ‘real’ job because of my connections.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Katie, that’s great! I think it speaks very much to the value of networking and making use of all opportunities – that assistantship is an excellent testament to that! :) Good for you!

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Mary December 5, 2012 at 6:16 PM

I made the decision to get my MBA when a friend got hers. My company agreed to pay 75% if I stuck around for two years. My commitment has been fulfilled to the company and I am still there. I had an opportunity for a new job when I received my degree and a 20% pay raise. The MBA degree paid for itself in about three months. I think it is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

On a side note, one of my professors said that it is very common for people who complete a Masters degree to spend at least a portion of their career as a college professor. If I could find a part time job as a professor in my field. That is what I would be doing.

I love to learn and teach.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:31 PM

Mary, it sounds like that tradeoff for you (company paying for a large part in exchange for your continued work) is awesome! And clearly you are a valued employee to them beyond just the degree too!

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Kathy December 5, 2012 at 7:12 PM

My husband and I both have graduate degrees. They have paid for themselves many times over and we would not be where we are today without our advanced degrees.

That being said, the most important thing this article brought up for me is to tell everyone to stay away from for-profit schools. I went to work for a non-profit university that changed to for-profit right after I came on board. Total nightmare. For-profits are a scam–I don’t care how big a name they have–they are scams. I was behind the scenes and it was the most shocking experience I have ever had.

If you can sign your name on a loan form, you will be admitted (found out they were admitting people that didn’t even have a high school diploma or GED). They demand that the teachers pass anyone who submits work. Pass them or get fired. Part of my job was to fire the teachers who had the nerve to actually grade the students’ work honestly. The CEO likes to brag that people who can’t earn a degree at other schools can and will earn one there.

I ran into a woman whose husband attends that university. “He’s getting straight A’s! I’m so proud of him!” Ouch. I couldn’t tell her they are all getting straight A’s.

Needless to say, I’m long gone from that hell hole and I work for a state school. Someday the truth about for-profit schools is going to come out and all those degrees they sold are not going to be worth the paper upon which they are printed. So sad for good, decent people who had no idea what they were getting into.

Graduate degree? Yes, absolutely worth it. Just make sure you go to a regionally accredited non-profit university.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:33 PM

Kathy, I think even non-profits have some of those challenges – I have some friends working at one now and they tell some pretty scary stories about having to finagle things as well in what I consider ugly ways.

Isn’t it a shame?? I truly feel for you for being stuck right in the middle of that – but I’m so glad you’re out of there!

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psumba December 6, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Joan, (there is no scrapple in this answer LOL)

The answer is simple … it depends! Here are two places where I can speak with authority on the issue:

If you are a teacher, a Master’s degree & beyond is a no-brainer. In order to get your permanent certification, you need to get almost as many credits as a M.Ed. In addition, the pay scale is tied to Educational Attainment & longevity, so more education = more pay! Most school districts seem to subsidize their teachers’ graduate education these days.

For an MBA, the issue is more complex. My personal background includes simultaneous Bachelor degrees in Computer Science and Business (Management Science), work for several years in a professional position, and then earned the MBA “for free” as a graduate assistant for Penn State University. For me personally, the MBA was beneficial because:

- My undergraduate program didn’t allow me to focus on my business courses as much as I would have liked … the MBA gave me the ability to cement the theory in my brain … that was reinforced by my previous work experiences!
- My Penn State (Smeal) MBA is a well respected credential that is useful when I have to deal with people in large companies
- The interaction with my fellow MBA candidates served as a “finishing school” for me (in terms of issues like corporate culture, politics, & dressing for success). This is one of the BIG “missing elements” in too many MBA programs … where you just take the courses and get your degree!

Of course, after receiving my MBA, I made choices that didn’t require the credential of the degree:

- I took a job with IBM at a time that MBA degrees were NOT valued there (it was an “advance from the bottom” culture where everyone else my age was 5 years ahead of me in their career progression)
- After that, I started a small company that did most of its business with other small companies (who were not impressed with the credential)

You should NEVER go from an undergraduate program directly to an MBA program. One of the keys to receiving the value of the MBA is to be able to build on your work experiences to date!

MBA Degrees have different value depending on where you obtain them. Here are three tiers, in decreasing sequence by value:

- Harvard or Stanford MBA’s
- “Well regarded” (Top 50) MBA Programs, including Penn State’s Smeal College of Business MBA (not to be confused with the “Penn State MBA” that you can receive through the Penn State “World Campus”)
- the rest of the bunch (including your example of York College of PA)

If you don’t have an undergraduate business degree, then any MBA is probably better than none. If you want an MBA that matters, you should choose one of the top two tiers.

I could write a book on this … and will start that when I start my first blog site!

One last thought … in the 29 years that I have been in my own business, there have been two times when we have not been fully paid for our work. Both of these ventures had Harvard MBA’s in key leadership positions!

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:34 PM

I’ll be very interested to see you write a book via blog!! You know I’d read it!

And I sure do find that last point of yours VERY interesting… makes you wonder about some of what’s “taught” and accepted, does it not?!

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psumba December 11, 2012 at 12:56 PM

There is a level of arrogance from top tier MBA candidates. Some of this is good because they shoot high. The problem is that it is also a form of blindness.

Both my wife and I have earned our graduate educations through “sweat equity”. I met her on the first day of MBA orientation at Penn State. We both had graduate assistantships that paid for our education and gave us enough money to live on. She and I come from humble roots … and probably could have aimed higher with our lives. At the same time, since my wife and I didn’t have any family money (trust fund, etc.) to fall back on and we were in the small kids / big mortgage time of life, we had to make sure that we didn’t fail. Less risk, less potential gain. My wife still has problems with business uncertainty … but these days, I can’t blame her!

If I ever get the time to learn WordPress & more time to write, I might need a community manager for http://www.business-common-sense.com or one of the 20+ other domains that I own. I maintain a growing list of topics … as content is a constant issue for any journalist!

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Joan December 12, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Well, you know I will ALWAYS help you out!! :)

I had no idea you guys met at PSU. That’s cool!

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psumba December 12, 2012 at 5:19 PM

Hey, that’s as cool as meeting in the Newsroom!

Bilgefisher December 6, 2012 at 10:55 AM

BSAST Nuclear Engineering. I have found very little use for my degree. It helped me qualify for my current job, but little more. It cost $5,000 and 6 years of military service. As I progress in my financial and and investing experience, I see little need for a degree. Ive heard the average debt is over 80k from college. To earn 60k per year? Makes very little sense to me. I work with folks who right out of high school make 80k per year. Invest wisely and the degree and job are not necessary.

Jason

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:35 PM

Now, that’s a cool degree, too, Jason. But I think you’re right – the thing I will never understand is people going into huge debts for jobs that AREN’T great-paying and that they don’t love. Now I’m all for doing what you love even if it doesn’t pay well – but why on earth get a degree that takes you longer to pay back – than it did to complete the study? That seems weird.

I am with you, too – I know PLENTY of people doing quite well just out of high school, and I admit that I have pretty strong feelings on even undergrad at this point myself!

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Orange County Budget Living December 6, 2012 at 12:55 PM

I’m currently looking at a $30,000 cost for my master’s in environmental management. I don’t currently need the master’s degree at my current job but I am wondering if i should obtain it in the case of losing this current job. $30,000 is quite alot for me especially when i am managed to yet again accumulate more debt from thoughtless spending. It’s quite a challenging journey for me and i’m thinking maybe i should have just done the master’s program so that at least the money went to something somewhat useful and tangible like a piece of diploma.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:37 PM

That’s a tough question – it really depends on how you view the diploma! To me, it was exactly the opposite – not useful or tangible – but it really is a matter of opinion!!

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Valerie Vierengel December 6, 2012 at 2:47 PM

I love this post. I’ve always said I’d get a masters if I could just fine ONE area that I wanted to study THAT much. I have so many interests that I’m pursuing and Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Masters Degree is about as formal a degree as I’m looking for right now (and having a blast with Chris’s program).
My undergrad degree is in Theology. I took the path of least resistance.
Thanks Joan!

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:36 PM

That is a cool program, Valerie – and I think the sentiment matches up exactly, why pick just one thing??! :)

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Karyn S December 6, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Nowadays it’s more about experience than having a certain level degree. I know of a person who’s running a successful business, is getting his masters in something TOTALLY different, but decided to finish it so he can have something as insurance. I see a Master’s degree as something to use for bragging rights. What you learn in the class is different than what you learn at work. I can say I personally haven’t used anything I learned as an Undergrad at my work.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:37 PM

Me either, Karyn, that’s for sure!!!

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Cubby December 6, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Excellent post, Joan! I completely agree with you on your point that “higher education is a BUSINESS, designed to make a profit.” Higher education is a machine and it’s a profit-making machine whether the institution is private, public or non-profit.

I worked in higher education for over 10 years as a career counselor and academic adviser and I always told my students to go out and work at a job if they are on the fence about going to graduate school. I always told them, “Don’t pay while you’re trying to find yourself; get PAID while you’re finding yourself.”

For me, I’m glad I went to graduate school to get my Master of Public Administration. It was two full-time years of studying policy and that is what I wanted to do. My peers were smart, motivated, interesting people. I loved it and learned a lot. It was what I wish my undergraduate degree had been like. My MPA helped me to get various jobs too.

But, like you wrote, a graduate degree isn’t for everyone, and research–a lot of research–is needed before anyone should decide to make the investment of going back to school.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:38 PM

Cubby, that is a great point – I think that even when the degree is the right thing to do (advanced or undergrad alike), it often is the timing that’s as key as anything!! I love your saying to your students!

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Martha December 6, 2012 at 8:45 PM

When I graduated High School @ age 16 I wanted to take some time off & not go directly to college. I had no idea what I wanted to do – but my parents insisted, and I gave in. Luckily I had scholarships & work-study grants plus started my own little business, so I graduated with very little debt & was able to pay it off in 2 years. Also I luckily skated thru, because I had no interest in a Liberal Arts degree. I ended up with a BA (Cum Laude, mind you) in Near Eastern Studies & Anthropology. Totally useless, except for the Junior year that I got to study abroad.

I ended up working in the Hotel industry in Israel and doing a 2 yr non-degree program in Hotel Management. The only thing I really learned from it was when we had to learn bartending – and some of the accounting & legal stuff. Most of the other parts I had already learned from on-the-job hands-on experience. But I needed the diploma if I ever wanted to become a top level manager… The Israeli Ministry of Tourism actually licenses Hotel Managers. So it did help me at the time.

Today I have 2 home-based businesses that have nothing to do with tourism at all, but I do find myself drawing on alot of the experience that I gained from work in, and managing hotels, and even from some of the many varied side jobs that I took when putting myself through college. My own experience has turned out to be the best teacher – and continues to be as I learn more about the areas I’ve chosen to work in.

Would I ever go back and do a graduate degree? NO WAY!! That seems like a waste of both money and time to me!

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:39 PM

Martha, I love your eclectic mix of experiences – and I love that you got to travel as part of it; I admit that would probably be a draw for me as well!

Good for you for making the most of your experiences, too!

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Travis December 7, 2012 at 2:09 PM

I think the bigger problem is how colleges are run. Just about anyone can get into college and there is virtually NO help to these vulnerable 18 year old kids. Basically they get accepted, they sign their names to loans they don’t understand, and they typically randomly pick a major w/out much thought. Then four years later they get a piece of paper, thousands of dollars in debt, and NO help from their college to get a job!

Currently 80% of graduates are not in the field they majored in 10 years after they leave college! Personally, I believe the educational system needs revamped or the way we teach students needs to be changed. Here are just a few ideas:

1) Each incoming freshman should have a coach to help them understand debt and assist them with what they really want to do in life. Let them know the options.

2) Students should spend one semester in their first two years in the “trenches” for their chosen career to see if they like it.

3) Students should be taught real world skills (i.e. work hard, interviewing, how to deal w/ real problems in life, how to deal with people,ect).

4) Do we really need two years of elective course work? I know I did not need to take a basketball course or The Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe.

5) Student Loans should not be so easy to get or the cost of college needs to come down. I think this will be the next bubble to burst. Students get more $$$ for school every year…schools charge more every year….and professors make $120k/year for working three days a week. It is a wicked set up.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:40 PM

Whew, IF ONLY, huh, Travis? I sure wish – especially #2 and #3. I used to dread the first time one of my “top student” new hires would have an angry reader or customer at the newspaper; it was as if they truly had no idea that Sometimes People Get Mad At You At Work. (Gasp.) It was painful to watch – and I truly wish that sort of skill was “taught” or at least modeled earlier!!!

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BC December 7, 2012 at 3:44 PM

I took as many community college credits as I could transfer and waited tables and lived at home and so my undergrad came in under what my single mom had saved for me. I knew that I’d never pay for my own master’s degree and so through my second employer after college, I spent 5 years getting my MLA for free through the tuition assistance benefit. My husband had a small student loan from his BS ($8k) but it turned out that he was an amazing student and got both his MS and PhD paid for through TAships. Now he is a professor so he definitely needed the education to land his dream job.

I grew up with a single mom and so as a young woman I always saw my college education as a way to protect myself and my future kids. That said, although I couldn’t afford much out of pocket I never considered taking on debt for my education. The hard part on going this frugal route though is that I did miss out on the college experience, BUT I’ve got no debt and I’ve got my papers (which no one can take away from me) and they definitely qualify me for higher paying work, so yes, I think it was worth it in the end.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:46 PM

BC, I’m so glad you used the no-debt method!!

I think it’s interesting to think about education as protection. I think my mom would agree with you (she’s why I stayed in college at all; I didn’t even want to finish undergrad, as I was working at a lucrative full-time job that wasn’t in the field I was studying) – in my case, I think my experience is by far the thing I could rely on in an emergency, like when I was a single mom for a while, but it’s really hard to say – what if I’d picked a different field of study, for instance? Would I feel differently?

Those are great questions! And I’m so glad you did what worked for you!

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Andrew @ She Thinks I'm Cheap December 8, 2012 at 5:35 PM

I think the most important thing to getting ahead in your career is to just do something you really enjoy. Degrees are great but they don’t make up for drive and determination. A fancy degree might get your foot in the door but it won’t get you the job.

There may be times when getting a certain degree will make you more attractive for a certain postion, like senior management, but it’s certainly not necessary. Spending 1-2 years out of the workforce plus the added student debt may not actually be worth it in the end if you’re not careful!

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:46 PM

Andrew, I think that’s the key – being CAREFUL about what you do. DECIDING, not just assuming. You nailed it!

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Diane December 9, 2012 at 12:38 AM

Love this post Joan – thank you for it.
To add my few pennies: the value of the college experience and any type of degree is whatever you assign to it. Was the goal of the degree to earn more money or become more marketable for a different career or a higher position within your current career?

Yes, colleges & universities are big businesses. They would essentially sink if they did not act like it. Incoming students, parents, and families have huge expectations and schools are trying their best to meet them. Very few schools today are actually running in the black. Competition among schools for the best instructors, labs, technology, and organized experiences is one of the main culprits of the increasing costs. Schools also want and need to attract the best and the brightest students, which means they need to offer some sort of package deal to sweeten the offer.

Now mascots ….. that is the college rip-off. Have you seen what costume designers charge for those things? It it is monopoly I tell ya!!

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:47 PM

I admit I never thought much about the mascots, Diane!?! And I think you’re very, very right about the goal of the degree determining its value. Did it help YOU meet your goals? Then it’s worth it!

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Chuckie December 9, 2012 at 3:28 PM

Bailed on my MBA after one semester.

I pursued the MBA for the sole purpose of increasing my income. After watching hours of my life get sucked into my school work I decided my priorities were hosed. Time is my most precious resource, not dollars. I was ultimately not willing to cash in that time and miss those life experiences for “earning potential.” You don’t get that time back and as many of the comments show, you need to be somewhat lucky to even a meaningful monetary return.

One year later, I’m happy with this choice and would encourage anyone else contemplating any degree to decide if the cost in time and missed life experiences are worth it.

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Joan December 10, 2012 at 7:48 PM

Chuckie, I hear you all the way!! I would NOT have liked giving up my time for the degree in my case, for sure!

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psumba December 12, 2012 at 5:21 PM

Trying to get an MBA at night is the pits! I would not have done it if I had to do it that way.

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NateDogg December 12, 2012 at 11:11 PM

Great post, 10 years ago (in a better economy) a Grad degree was worth more than it is today. Because business degrees are a dime a dozen, an MBA can help in the business field.
I am just finishing my MBA (last two days!) but that was only because my employer paid for 100% of it. Heck no way I would ever, ever advise taking out a loan for it – most cant recoup their undergraduate investment. Why should they expect another investment to be any different?
Great post though. I love you guys.

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Joan December 13, 2012 at 10:13 AM

Thanks, man! I very much agree – if you can get it paid for and it’s helpful in your field, that rocks!! :)

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Abby December 19, 2012 at 4:03 PM

Interesting post. I went to get my Masters in Speech Language Pathology. It was a very good move and I had a full scholarship and work stipend. So, it was worth it. However, my sweet husband got a dual Masters degree in Business and Healthcare administration. He didn’t need to get his MBA. Others in his class that just got a masters in health administration are doing better than he is without the debt. It can be frustrating. 50% of our salary going towards paying off his student loans. It is hard on our family. It was totally a leap towards the ‘american dream’ like you stated. If I do this, I will get more. It will be worth it.

Well, it is definitely something to consider. Will it be good for him in the long run? Hopefully, but now, he is still putting his hours in to move up. The MBA didn’t change that.

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Joan December 31, 2012 at 2:09 PM

Abby, it sounds like you guys have a solid plan in place – I hope it DOES pay off for your husband in the future! :)

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mercdude February 6, 2014 at 7:48 PM

Abby, I feel for your husband. I’ve done the same thing and I keep hoping / wishing / praying that in the next 2, 5, 10 years it’ll all pan-out. I suspect that when / if the economy returns that the experience gained now will pay dividends when higher-level positions open up. One thing is for sure, education can’t find traction in the workplace without experience.

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Steph R December 30, 2012 at 8:07 PM

I’ve had a MS in Counseling Psychology for 3 1/2 years. During that time I’ve been a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern and an adjunct professor. Since I started grad school in 2007 I have never made as much money as I made before grad school when I worked in banking and insurance, however; I’m hopeful that once I get licensed I will make a descent living working less than full time. Plus, I enjoy what I do much more today than what I did before grad school. I’m with you in a lot of what you’ve written though, and as a professor at a pirvate university I sometimes struggle with the idea that my students are incurring so much debt and it may not pay off.

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Joan December 31, 2012 at 2:10 PM

Steph, that would be hard for me as a professor too. I did consider teaching at the college level for a while, but I admit that part of it was a bit of a struggle!

I hope your licensing will put you in the position you really want – and I hope more than anything that you’re loving what you do!

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Michelle December 31, 2012 at 12:45 AM

I have an AA and BA in Liberal Arts, a Masters of Arts in Education and a Masters of Secondary Education. I am a teacher, so getting the first Masters Degree was something to do because I had the extra credits and was half way there. The second Masters came with Pa certification which I needed to get a teaching job. I could have saved a lot of money and time if I had taken the traditional route to getting a regular certificate with the bachelors degree, however life circumstances didn’t work out that way. Yes, it was a lot of money, yes it was a lot if time, was it worth it? I’ll have to get back to you when I can get a full time regular teaching job!

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Joan December 31, 2012 at 2:11 PM

Michelle, you definitely will have to let us all know! I think you make a good point – sometimes, circumstances simply are what they are and you do the best you can WITH THE KNOWLEDGE AND CHOICES YOU HAVE AT THE TIME. Chris and I were just talking about that this weekend in another situation, but it applies here to. You do what you can, right?!

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Simon January 31, 2013 at 9:56 AM

Hi Joan!

Well I was just researching this topic on http://www.postgrad.com/ (I live in the UK and they are the biggest here) and let me tell you I really like your analytic, unbiased approach and your focus on value rather than degrees; status quo. Good read I just bookmarked the site and actually inspired me to write about this on my own Blog(I was a postgraduate myself too).

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Joan February 27, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Thanks, Simon!

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Cherron March 6, 2013 at 1:29 AM

I have a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and currently work for an organization that pays a crappy salary. I’m still there because I have not had better job offers. I’ve had few job offers period. My Bachelor’s is in Science but in my Junior year of undergrad I knew the lab wasn’t for me so I went for something that I do naturally. I wonder if the commenters below got their jobs through networking or the good ole fashioned, complete an application way. My pay is so poor I can’t repay my students loans right now and the last couple of Christmas’s I’ve had to work a second job. Sucks!!! Totally disappointed and discouraged!

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karan March 26, 2013 at 3:48 AM

“The point is that higher education is a BUSINESS, designed to make a profit.”
you are spot on…
absolutely correct.. I have been feeling this for a long time now..

But its ok for you to do it… its fun living in a Ist world country…
Unfortunately for me, I live in a 3rd world country and I want to get out.. so these degrees for me is the only way…

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Tee April 24, 2013 at 3:10 AM

It’s my final year in my Bachelor of Business (HR) and I have been contemplating whether I wanna do a Masters in Entrepreneurship, I would love to learn about it and I guess because I would be the first to accomplish a Masters in my family as well, it would seem like the legit path…. I’m in Australia so degrees here as easy to get into as we have a system called Hex which defers all our fees until we get a job that pays the threshold amount to pay it off automatically, However I would rather just complete a degree in Entrepreneurship rather than a MBA but I have had a few tell me wouldn’t it make more sense to move up a level rather than stay on the same level?, Thank you for this article! Anyone reading this and has advice, fire away!

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psumba April 24, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Tee,

One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is to go directly from an undergraduate business degree to a master’s degree program! There are two reasons for this:

Any business program WORTH THE INVESTMENT will require that you have several years of work experience before you enter the program. The reason for this is that your work experiences will provide you with practical perspectives to the theory being taught.

I’d be careful about making an investment in a Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship. I’ve started multiple companies over the past 30 years and the first lesson that I learned was to forget much of my MBA background. Does your school have one course in basic Entrepreneurship that you can take? I’d start there. Entrepreneurship is primarily an issue of perspective. You don’t need an entire degree to acquire those perspectives!

If you are really interested in being an entrepreneur, take a first job in an area that is related to your best idea for a startup. You will be able to learn a lot on someone else’s nickel! For example, if you want to provide contracted personnel services, try to work for a firm that does that. Just make sure that you will not have any restrictions on your future venture as a result of an employee agreement!

At the same time, don’t wait until you are totally ready to take that step … because if you think like that, you never will!

HTH …

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Tee April 24, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Thank you for that, I actually never considered that, I have been back and fourth on the concept of a Master’s but I would definitely enjoy doing an intro degree to Entrepreneurship, so Thank you for that Psumba too many choices in university and not enough guidance in fees, paths that actually benefit students rather than drain money from them and a lot of pressure *sighs. I have a bad habit of planning ahead, way ahead so it adds more pressure to the list. I will definitely look at my options of a job in a field relating to entrepreneurship! Thank you again

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psumba April 24, 2013 at 11:09 AM

Tee,

When I was young, I was also a “planner”. Here are the problems with that (from my USA-based experience):

#1 – we face enormous economic uncertainty today … more than in many decades. Trying to plan too far in the future is dangerous and counterproductive!
#2 – planners are often too slow in pulling the trigger to DO SOMETHING!
#3 – planning for events that are beyond your control can drive you crazy!

Good luck … here’s an example of what I was referring to above. 30 years ago, I was interested in starting my own computer software company. Rather than jumping right into it, I took a technical sales job with IBM selling computer hardware. That job allowed me to learn how to sell technology and develop a network of “friends”. Since IBM was not in the software business at that time, my departure was not considered to be competitive with them … and they were helpful in many ways over the years!

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lee May 27, 2013 at 10:53 AM

im kind of late to the game, but in my search for “is a master’s degree worth it” information, i stumbled upon this wonderful post. i hold undergraduate degrees in psychology and criminal justice. the first job i took out of college was as a security guard for a local community college. i was then offered a job as a 911 dispatcher. once i took up that job, all i could think was, “oh nelly! ive made it!” and i felt like that was the job that i could have for the rest of my life. it all seemed so interesting and complex. but…the more i learned, and became more acquainted with the job, the more i started to despise it. i get made fun of daily about my college degrees. i am 1 of 4 people that have college degrees…im 1 of 2 with a bachelor’s degree….and the soul person to possess two bachelor’s degrees. and i dont use anything i learned in college in my job. what was the purpose of learning why prisons were round during a certain time period, or who the first person to organize a law enforcement dpt was, and why should i have learned anything about case law, if the only thing im going to do with my life is: (begin scene) *phone rings…picks up phone* “911, where is your emergency?” only to be met with “oh, my daughter stuck my iphone in her mouth, we aint got no mergencies or nuttin like that…” (end scene).

i want to do something meaningful with my life. and every once in a while, i do get a phone call that changes my outlook on my job….for about 2 weeks….then its back to “what the fuck am i doing with my life?!” i constantly talk about wanting to get a masters degree….but what would i do after that? sit in dispatch with 2 bachelor’s degrees and a masters degree, because i have learned what i needed to learn, but have no direction on what to do next…? there are days when i want to be a photographer, a writer, something creative…but, a realization hits me that i cannot make my life on that…not in small town midwest…the most i could wish to do is sell a few prints at the flea market to tourists.

so, i decide “im going to be a professional”–a lawyer, a counselor, something along the lines of a social worker. i have always been the go-to-gal for advice, or if someone just needs a shoulder to lean on / ear to listen. but, how does a daughter of two factory workers become something “that fancy.”

im in a constant struggle with myself….i want to make my family proud, and do something that will just solidify in my parents’ minds that they raised someone who is going to give back to the world, not just be another mindless leech on society….i want to be worth something to the world myself…and i keep telling myself that in order to “be something,” i need a masters degree. but i cannot decide what i want to major in because one source says “best decision ever!” and another source says “worst decision ever!”….

im in this tug-o-war of….do i stay in dispatch, and spend my free-time trying to be creative person that cant sleep more than 3 hours a day because my time at work on 12 hour swing shifts in dispatch, are spent speaking with the “underbelly” of the community? or do i try to polish myself up for a more professional, 9-5 job where i can help and influence my community?

do i become the writer / photographer / artist type and just use my income as a dispatcher to try and hone my creative skills on my personal time?

do i become the lawyer / the social worker / the counselor and spend all of my income as a “professional whatever-i-decide-to-be,” paying off massive student loans?

my co-worker/friend tells me “that grass is always greener!”

but, i love my job and loathe my job at the same time. im annoyed with my community on a constant basis…but i cant imagine doing anything else, either. when i imagine leaving my position as a 911 dispatcher, i also imagine missing it. sometimes, i will be in a conversation with my brother (a local firefighter / emt) and we just speak back in forth in 10-codes/signal codes about normal shit….we carry on, while our family members just look at us like weirdos, because our lives in law/fire/ems have completely consumed our brains.

i can tell you without looking what emergency vehicle is driving by our apartment complex just by the sound. something i feel proud of…only to have a feeling of “are you fucking kidding me?! summa cum laude in psychology and criminology, and youre deciphering sirens, and speaking in codes about mundane things?!” creeps in.

your 10-51 is 10-76 in reference to your 10-50pi. also the 10-52 is going to sig8 at non-signal10 due to 10-0 status of occupant and 10-4 status of driver. copy 10-2 before youre 10-24/10-8 from 10-23 at k1 and signal6 L1 before your signal8 L14!

a year ago, that woulda been goobildy gook…now i talk like that in the grocery store, and that depresses me and excites me. okay, im better at my job…but im still not great at it…and i want more out of life than being considered the “smart retard” in dispatch….the one with the degrees, when others just have high school diplomas…the one everyone makes fun of….

so, since im so far into my education…and im so good at learning and “making the grade,” why not continue on and try to go for the next “better” thing….that thing that will somehow validate all that i have done so far, and all that i am currently wading through?

this post is much like my life…confusing…all of the place…and i have no idear where its going. *sigh*

any advice…anyone?! i feel like i should be doing so much more at 24 years old…i have peers that are in the end phases of med school and law school for crying out loud….and im just answering phones and relaying messages with my two college degrees *sigh*….what to do…what to do…. :(

so yes…anyone…advice…please give it up! ive been looking into different educational oppurtunities that arent masters degrees….non-credit online courses in writing and legal studies through schmancy colleges for certificates of completion….but part of me thinks thats just another BS way for colleges to collect money for an unaccredited accomplishment by students.

im just so confused and lost. i have no idea what to do…and it brings me to tears nearly everyday because i hate this feeling of being lost, and so unsure. and sadly, i dont think im the only one.

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Jenny May 28, 2013 at 1:41 AM

No honey, you’re not the only one. I’m 27 now, and I remember that feeling at 24. And 25, 26, and today. I have two bachelor’s degrees and a teacher’s license; took two graduate courses online to renew/upgrade my teacher’s license. And I have been fighting, struggling fighting my way up. When I couldn’t find a full time teaching job; I was lucky to work as an assistant for a year. When I thought that was going away in budget cuts, I moved abroad teaching English instead of my subject. And now I’m finally teaching art; and next year I’m even moving up to a school with better support, still half way around the world.
So many people tell me “just come home we miss you,” they tell me I could be a nanny, or I could go to grad school, or a million things – just come home. But that’s not the path I’ve chosen – I’ve found a way to move my career forward, it just wasn’t the ‘traditional’ path. And I am working on saving for graduate school – and trying to figure out what I want to study when I do. But it hasn’t been the straight and narrow path, and really – you have to keep walking even once you pick a direction.
No one can give you the answer, but it sounds like you need to find a way to make a change somehow. You will have to leave behind the pride you feel in being a 911 operator; not that you cannot take pride in what you’ve done, but that, you will move on and you will find new strengths and things to be good at and you will shed that identity to make room for a new one. Or you won’t have a career identity, but you’re still you.
You sound very much like me; and so many others I’ve known – we want to excel, and we learn to identify with our occupation because of it. It is a double edged sword, because we do well and take pride, but we also fear giving it up (or being forced out of it, as so many of my fellow teachers have been with budget cuts).
I can’t tell you what to do, but I can say – you are right that you have to find some way to change some aspect of things. It won’t be easy, and no one else will have the answer until you decide what you want that answer to be. It will be hard, you may keep doubting. But you have to find some way to underpin your belief in yourself. To be honest, I’m still working on that myself – but I’ve been pushing forward and challenging traditional beliefs (like, you have to stay in the US to work).
Maybe you could think about being an entrepreneur? I say that knowing I haven’t found my niche in that arena, but it’s something to think about; and something I haven’t ruled out but – like you I still see grad school ahead of that; though you’re also correct, to think financially first.
I wish you luck, and I’d be a sounding board for ideas if you wish.
A fellow frustrated artist, educator, millenial.

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LEE May 28, 2013 at 2:14 AM

my job as a 911 dispatcher has made me question everything i have ever done. getting made of for having a degree and being a dispatcher makes me feel as if i wasted time and money on my education.

but i am proud of what i have accomplished…out of both my immediate and extended families, i was the first and still am the only person to have graduated college. it makes me proud, and my family seems to be pretty proud too.

i am not content just sitting behind a desk and collecting pay checks. i love to interact and be apart of something. i want to effect my community for the better, and somehow change the bad to the good.

my job is so ingrained into me, that i cannot imagine leaving it. but i know that at some point, i will need to do just that–leave it behind. im just so lost as how to go about preparing myself for that moment when i do have to step up to the next level in life. most of my coworkers (fellow dispatchers, road officers, jail officers) have worked 10, 15, 20….even up to 30 years in the same position…either because they liked where they were at….or there just wasnt the opportunity to move upward and onward. i have the lowest seniority…so, i have about 10 people in front of me before any sort of title / promotion / what-have-you, comes floating my way. very few things are earned here…it just goes by who is next in line / who will take it….and being low man on the totem pole, i will have very few opportunities to grab at a title / new position. most of the other dispatchers have at least 5 years on the job more than me…if that puts things into perspective…others have about 20….and i refuse to wait 20 years to move an inch up in the world….im not trying to say that the world owes me anything…i just need to find something that will allow me the opportunity to move upward in the world and try new/interesting things….

i feel like i almost know what i want to do with my life…its like a word on the tip of my tongue…its there…i just cant quite spit it out.

im thinking about getting an Generalist MSW degree….sure, its super expensive, and is a 60 credit hour degree….but, at least i can try to gain some good job history while i work towards my future….the kid in me just wants to be an artist or a writer…i think for midwest america, i need to be a bit more realistic, and just keep that a hobby…for now, anyway…if i get a masters in creative writing, i feel like im just throwing money onto a burn pile. i need to work at a job that i value intrinsically, and just spend my free time having fun, and writing when i can find the time.

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Melody July 16, 2013 at 7:40 PM

Hi Lee! My name is Melody. I am 27 years old and just finishing a Masters of Science in Speech Language Pathology. PROUD OF IT!!! Yes, I do have substantial student loans, but I also have a guaranteed job due to the No Child Left Behind Act and the ability to work with newborns all the way to the 99 year old grandma.

I completed my bachelors and continued straight on, as it is required. I have worked at a fast food taco joint, a supermarket bagging groceries in the midwest, and also at a retail home improvement store. Who cares what the others around you have accomplished? They may make fun of you because they are jealous and envious of your knowledge. You don’t have to have a high degree to be considered smart, but if you are bored and despondent by sitting and answering calls from the community, well then challenge yourself for that next goal!!

My dad runs his own heating/air conditioning business. Just him. He’s considered blue collar. My mom was a teacher, but then pursued her Master’s in Social Work and is a full-time family counselor!! It only took 3 years. She ALSO had her loans forgiven as our state is considered rural.

My tip: pursue your dreams, don’t compare yourself to others, and do what you love! Not everyone requires a degree to be successful, but some jobs do to be able to help people. I will be playing with play-doh while teaching children how to speak more clearly, so their parents can understand them and lessen the frustrations at home. I hope to help that child with Autism find a way to communicate to his parents for the very first time, so they know what is going on in his complex mind. I may help the child whose cochlear implant is turned on for the first time, and they hear their mother’s voice for the first time. AMAZING!!!!

How can you put a price tag on that? Go for it! There are ways to pay off your debt, or loan forgiveness for many occupations that help people. Don’t let others keep you down!!

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mercdude February 6, 2014 at 7:20 PM

I’d like to hear a 1 year follow-up to this chipper post because I’ll bet that the job market isn’t nearly as bright or welcoming as Melody thinks… no one thinks they won’t find a job when they are in, or just finishing, graduate school.

mercdude February 6, 2014 at 7:26 PM

Hey Lee,
If you do decide to go after the creative writing graduate degree, you are almost (literally) throwing your money and more importantly time and career away. My suggestion is to do a lot of research on the MSW route. Here’s my take: right out of college I worked in a very similar capacity as a MSW and it was… soul-crushing. We had some MSW’s that said they switched to this (easier) public sector job because they couldn’t handle the stress of being a true MSW, so I can’t imagine what a true MSW job would be like. Last thought: consider the financial outcome of being a MSW vs. financial input. It MAY be worth it, if you can’t stand your job, can’t find anything better with your credentials and experience, and you need to make a switch.

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Joe Russell August 29, 2013 at 5:26 AM

Some professions actually do require grad school, though. I’m in education, for example, and according to the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (in my state, anyway) you need a master’s for certain positions or to retain certain positions.

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SusanB November 16, 2013 at 1:02 PM

I have two college degrees, one A.S. and one B.S. degree. Like many other people, I am the first and/or only person in my immediate family to have a college degree. I dropped out of college 12 credits shy of earning a second bachelors degree, because I started to run short on money to continue my education as planned. I considered going on to law school, but dropped that idea, due to the amount of debt that I would’ve incurred to earn a law degree. It’s a peculiar thing that I received more financial benefit through earning the lower cost A.S. degree. I was never able to find a job related to the B.S. degree, that would pay well enough to even justify earning the B.S. degree. In the same breath, I don’t regret going to school, because of all the wonderful knowledge and experiences that I gained. The people contemplating going to an institution of higher learning should try to avoid student loans.

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Dawn M. Goodman November 30, 2013 at 2:47 PM

Hi everyone;

I have a BA in history which has not led to better employment. I am in debt and holding the same type of work I had as a high school graduate driving a bus. I didn’t take education courses in my degree program because I didn’t know if I wanted to teach and I needed to finish and work full time to care for my daughter. I tried twice to acquire an MA/ secondary teacher degree at two online schools. I thought all schools were interested in some type of profit they all charge tuition and other fees. I didn’t understand the difference between a for profit school and a not for profit school.
I became suspicious of my financial aid officers intentions when asked me to send back to the school any portion of my financial aid I didn’t use. I said No I am keeping what Uncle Sam said I was entitled to in my possession because I still have to pay it back. Both schools allowed me to pass a few courses and earn credit hours before it seemed that I couldn’t do much right in the eyes of the teachers. If I received a failing grade on one assignment I wasn’t given the opportunity to re do the assignment. I was expected to repeat and pay for the entire course again. The good grades I earned on other assignments within the course meant nothing.
I lost points for stupid reasons like using Wikipedia as one reference, and not using the right format for the document although. I used the format provided by the teacher in the example.My financial aid advisor asked for my credit card number when I said I am not going to be paying for the same course over and over again. I said no to that request too. Between both schools the University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University I have accumulated 38 credit hours which is enough to have a Master’s degree. I am not paying them for attempting to run a scam on me.

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stykerforce January 5, 2014 at 8:59 AM

The only reason that I got a Bachelor degree was because it was required in order to be approved for a resident permit in China. The part that really got under my skin was that it could be a degree in anything, but if you didn’t have it than you were denied. I teach oral English to kindergarten children, ha ha! I am thankful for my TESOL diploma, but I feel that my Bachelor degree was not worth the time.

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mercdude February 6, 2014 at 6:39 PM

This is an interesting article: I usually toat the same party line as the author to anyone and everyone that asks me about graduate school. I do this because I’m the most over-educated under-employed person I know. I hold a BA in Org. Development, a Masters of Public Admin (MPA) and a Masters of Architecture (MLA). Have gone into about $50k of debt over the last 9 years of college and I am literally no better off than I was when I started right out of college. In fact, I would say that I have stagnated since going back to graduate school (twice) and that I suspect my graduate degrees have hurt my chances of getting more substantial work with most employers. There are some (government) jobs that see education as valuable in a directly related position, but those are usually federal jobs. Any public emmployer other than federal and you have about the same (if not worse) employment chances with higher education as you would in the private sector. Why??? Because your manager probably got their job because they’re good at kissing-@ss more than doing their job and they don’t need you to get bored, or (worse) make them look bad. Reality is, graduate school education delivers on almost all of the promises it makes, except the most important one: getting substantial, gainful work afterwards. And you only get these promises fullfilled IF you go to a professional–key term–graduate program. So, if you want to get really good skills, expand your understanding of a narrow subject, and learn how to do something valuable you should go to grad school. Keep in mind that one bi-product of molding the lump of clay you were in college into a knowledgable graduate student with a good skillset is higher employment expectations. You will be burdened with the employment condition that you can do X but no one cares. This translates into: I’ve almost never seen graduate school deliver a good job, ever. Maybe that’s because the depression / recession crushed fledgling careers, maybe that’s because the employment sector has significantly changed; I can’t really say for certain. I can say, however, that experience and definable skillsets reign supreme. So if you are like me and want a better job, and that’s why you want to go to graduate school, do this: 1. pick your undergraduate carefully 2. obtain professional certifications / licenses 3. get experience, get experience, get experience!

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Cynthia February 19, 2014 at 2:20 PM

Ugh.
I have always wanted to finish my Bachelor’s for my own sake of knowing I accomplished it. Life got in the way several times, and I have found that I always wanted to finish my degree for my own sake.
The problem is that I can only do online due to my schedule, and I opted for a for-profit school. I don’t understand how it can be an accredited institute if it is a scam. And, honestly, if it is a scam, then why aren’t they shut down? Could you elaborate on what you mean by scam; as I often ‘hear’ opinions that aren’t really based on actual facts. At any rate, I am nearly done with my education, over half of which took place at U of W Madison and Hamline University. Unfortunately, my degree will not have either of those names attached to it. If I choose to go on to grad school, will the degree from a for-profit University adversely affect my acceptance, or would my GRE be acceptable?

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lee February 24, 2014 at 9:54 AM

For-profit schools are 99% of the time a scam if not only for their extremely high tuition rates. Sometimes the school is accredited, but the degree program is not, and a lot of admissions workers will lie or speak around that fact. There is a focumentary about fot profit dchools that is eye opening….cant remember the name, though. I urge you to watch it if you find it. Your program may be one of the few that is legit, but i encourage you to do research about itand to not look at thr schools site when looking up the info. As for the grad school aspect of your question, i honestly dont know. Hope this helps. Good luck!

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