It isn't a secret that I have my Master's degree... but the secret is that I may have gotten it for all the wrong reasons. That the extra twenty grand that was added to my federal loans may have been for one selfish reason... that I didn't exactly want to start paying back my undergrad loans just yet.
When I started college in the Fall of '04, I was at a community college. I didn't think it was the place for me, but while I was in HS, my plans were to go to a college three hours away with my boyfriend, and we would live at his mother's house. Needless to say, the relationship ended and I was stuck at home, working, and going to community college. Fast forward eight years, two other colleges, and countless majors later, I finally graduated with my Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice. Yes, I said that it took me eight years to finish my undergrad. And you don't want to know how much I had financed through the federal government and private loan entities. After graduating, I didn't know what I wanted to do. All I knew is that I had six months to figure everything out. And before I graduated with my undergrad, I had also gotten married and had a baby.
So there I was... trying to work part-time, trying to be a mom full time, and looking at a hellacious student loan payment... I had two options: either work full time and make payments, thus putting my child in day care that I couldn't afford, or go back to school for my master's.
Guess which one I choose.
But I can tell you that even thought getting my master's was a great accomplishment, I don't think I did it for the right reasons. And I really wish someone would have let me in on a few things before I did it.
1. Know why you are doing it.
Most people actually plan on going to grad school... for me, it was one of those why the hell not. No. I'm kidding. It was because I didn't want to pay my undergrad loans. And because I loved going to school. But grad school is expensive. And time consuming. And will break you in so many ways. So before committing to a program, you need to have an end game. Meaning are you considering grad school because:
- It will advance your position at work?
- It will expand your knowledge on a specific topic?
- The degree will provide more upward mobility at your current employer?
- It will close your achievement gap?
Basically, you need to have a plan, or rather at least an idea of what you want to do with a rather expensive piece of paper.
2. You only get one deferment period.
I learned this one the hard way. You know how when you graduate from undergrad, you get a six month deferment period, so you can find some type of employment. Well, once you finish grad school, you get the same deferment, but it's only for your grad school loans. The undergrad will go into immediate repayment, and there is no more deferment. Unless you are working under 30 hours a week or underemployed. The federal government has some rather great programs to help you not default. All you have to do is ask.
3. Research your program.
When I was looking at going to grad school, I had a few requirements: it had to be all online, didn't require the GRE, and had to have something to do with Criminal Justice. Unfortunately, I didn't really look into costs, length, or distance from where I was (for graduation purposes). Those are thing that really mattered. Sure, the fact that I didn't have to study or even take the GRE was a great thing (btw, the GRE is like the SAT to get into college. Some schools want it, some don't.), but in the end, researching the costs associated with the program would have been extremely helpful.
Basically, a few things that would be good to research:
- Cost of program
- Length of program
- Pre-reqs of program: ie. GRE requirement
- Distance of school from your house/living arrangement
- Type of program: online, face to face classes, combination of both
- If an internship is part of a graduation requirement
4. Prepare to commit.
Grad school ain't for the weak. Or the procrastinators. Think of undergrad. Now think of doing crack. That's what grad school is. College on crack. It's fast paced, hard, full of paper writing and reading, and all nighters. And that's why people usually take one to two classes a semester and go part time.
Granted I am glad that I did go to grad school, I mean, I'm happy that I can say that I'm awesome cause I conquered grad school, but if someone would have told me those four things... I may have actually rethought my decision to go. But then again, maybe not.