Should This Guy Go Back to School?

It seems like I’ve been getting more of these kinds of emails lately:


I have been a big fan of your financial blog for quite some time, and I always check in every day to see what new topic has been posted.

Your July 8 post kind of touched on something in my life, somewhat. A little background: I graduated about seven years ago with a master’s degree in English. Since that time, I’ve been stuck in dead-end jobs that pay very little. It’s my fault, really. I pursued a degree in college that I knew would not lead to many professional opportunities, but I wasn’t thinking at the time.

For the past six-and-a-half years, I’ve been slaving away as a low-paid copywriter for a mid-size international company. My pay barely budges, despite the extra work that I take upon myself, coming in early every day, leaving late, working weekends, etc. As a result, it’s been difficult to put money aside for retirement (so far, I’ve only managed to save $30,000 in my 401(k), and I’m 37 years old) and savings.

After pondering my poor paycheck and job prospects, I’ve been contemplating a return to college, majoring in either business or engineering. The main problem is money. I plan on returning to college in January, 2009, but I’ll only have about $6000 in my savings and my 401(k) money. I have no debt right now, and no family to provide for, so that’s not a problem. However, it took me years to pay off debt that I incurred in college the first time around (mostly credit cards and an auto loan), so I’m terrified of any debt.

And this is the problem: for me to go back to college, I’ll either need to tap my 401(k) or take out loans. I do not want to tap my 401(k) at all, but the prospect of going back into debt kind of paralyzes me. I hope to work part-time while going to school full-time, but that would only cover rent and not tuition (that is, if I can find a job where I’ll be attending college).

Should I be so scared of student loan debt, considering that it’s not an auto loan or a credit card bill? Do you know if any of your readers have been in a similar quandary?

I’m essentially rebooting my professional career, and I don’t want to screw this help.

Thanks for your time!


Here’s my response:


Have you considered going to your superior and asking them what you can do to advance and earn more money? If you don’t get a straight answer or feel that your opportunities are limited, then consider moving on. Surely someone in your field is making a lot of money. I would find them and learn from them.

“If only I had this degree or that degree…”

Should you go back to college? Well, that’s a call only you can make. I do think too many people use the lack of a particular college degree as an excuse and I’m concerned you might be too. Why do I say that? Because I didn’t see a mention of what you would do with the degree. I’m not knocking a college degree and I realize that sometimes a drastic change is necessary. I think education is important. But, you already have a degree. I know lots of people working in fields that are different from their actual major. My dad met a women who was working at Charles Schwab. She had a history degree.

I think before I went back to college and spent all that money, I would begin a massive networking campaign. I would join every professional organization I could find and become an active member. I would volunteer to serve on boards and committees of those organizations. I would meet as many people in my industry as I could meet.

I would read every trade publication I could find. I would read books that are related to my field but are on aspects of the business that I don’t quite understand. I would start with business management and accounting. I would learn how to read and understand financial statements. I would keep up with what’s going on in the industry. Where’s it headed? What’s the future look like?

That said, all of this is moot if you’re entirely unhappy with your job. If you really don’t like what you’re doing, then maybe going back to school is the solution. I really think you need to ask yourself what you intend to gain by going back to college.

If college is still in the picture and you don’t have the money, then I would DEFINITELY GET A LOAN! Just make sure you don’t borrow any more than you need and make sure everything you borrow is going towards your education. DO NOT use your retirement money to fund your schooling.

Those are my thoughts. I hope you found them helpful. Now I would like to know what AFM readers think. What do you think V.M. should do?