I love learning. So when I found a company in my job search that offered to pay for all of my tuition, I jumped on the opportunity. After I felt comfortable working with the company long-term, I applied to several different online and hybrid master’s programs. UT Austin seemed like the perfect program for me, and living in San Antonio, not too far either. I figured that since I was not paying tuition, I would love every minute of the program. What I found instead was two extremely stressful years.
Higher education can be a boon for your career, and you will learn a lot, but it is a decision that needs to be carefully taken under consideration. I can honestly say that knowing what I know now, if my company did not pay for the program, I would not have pursued the degree.
Deciding on whether or not to pursue higher education while working full-time is going to be different for everybody. In this article I am going to spell out reasons why not to pursue this route.
Reasons not to pursue a part-time degree
1. There is never enough time in the day
Remember the famous triangle from college?
For those who have not seen this chart, the moral of it is that there is not enough time in the day to get good grades, have a social life and get enough sleep. I have never met a single person in college that was able to do all three, and chances are you, have not either.
While you are doing one of these part-time programs, odds are you are doing it so that you can keep working. So now, you get to make that triangle into a square, with “Work” as the new corner. You can still only pick two. I have also had a lot of classmates start a family while in the program. So if that is on the road map for you, make that square a pentagon with “Kids” as yet another corner. You still can only pick two. Odds are, you are going to pick “Work” and “School”.
What all this results in is no sleep, no social life and very little downtime at all. You will probably be fine the first semester or two, but after two years, it gets very old. You are going to feel downtrodden by the end of it. Having support from friends and family during this time will be crucial, so ready to ask for and accept help from them.
This really hit me during my first semester. Fortunately the classes I was taking were both really fun, but the workload was too much. I was easily putting in 50 hours a week to school alone. I was getting about 4 hours of sleep everyday, and even less during the weekends. The final weekend when projects were due, I didn’t sleep at all. That’s right, I was awake for 72 hours. My wife had to drive an hour and a half to come pick me up at the end of that weekend.
Most classes were not like this. I have averaged a workload of 15-20 hours of schoolwork per week, excluding that first semester. It really all depends on the professor. Be ready for each semester to be the most difficult one you have taken.
2. Some of the classes have little impact on industry
There is nothing more frustrating than devoting so much time to school, only to spend your time learning about trivial topics and tools. A small handful of my classes were like this, and I am sure every program has them. I wished I could have dropped these classes, but the cancellation policy for my program was too strict. I just had to grit my teeth and get through it.
The other side of this coin is that you will learn new things that truly are useful, but are so esoteric that you will not be able to use them because your team doesn’t understand them. You will probably have to do things the hard way rather than use these tools because from a business perspective, the initial savings are not worth the risk of the bus factor. Prepare yourself for major frustration when this inevitably happens in your career.
3. Students often get really unhealthy
Personally, my stress levels were regularly very high while in my program. To make matters worse, I had no time to exercise. This resulted in a downward spiral of stress and health. If you are going to pursue one of these programs, do yourself a favor and block time to exercise everyday. Seriously, put it in your calendar and really commit to it.
Studies show that exercise increases focus, reduces anxiety, and increases your energy and memory. You will need all of these things during your studies.
It goes without saying to try to get enough sleep, but that just isn’t going to happen. You will have to use your time between semesters to catch up.
4. Financial obligations
It goes without saying that taking on studies will incur some sort of cost. Many companies offer some tuition reimbursement that will help. They often offer around $5200 per year because they can write that off for taxes. Sometimes, you find a rare gem that offers more. My company offered $15,000 per year in reimbursement which is absolutely unheard of, so I was particularly lucky. (Consider for a moment that despite this, I am still writing this article)
If you do decide to take the benefit from your company, keep in mind that it typically comes with some sort of service commitment. The standard is two years after graduation. In fact, I have not seen anywhere do it differently. This service commitment may change the relationship with you and your employer. You are, in essence, an now an indentured servant and you are potentially cutting your negotiation powers. Alternatively, if a really good offer comes up right after you graduate, you are probably locked in tight with your current employer. Be sure that you actually enjoy working at your company before accepting such a long-term benefit.
If your company does not offer any tuition benefits, you will, of course, be dealing with crippling student loans like the rest of the country. Chances are you still will even if you get tuition benefits.
5. It is a Risk
Most part-time degrees are completed within two or three years. Take a moment and think of all that has happened in your life in the last three years. Are you able to say that your life is steady enough to take on such a long-term commitment? I was unable to find any data on official graduation rates, but I know of a small handful people in my program that decided to drop out for various reasons, so it certainly is not 100%.
Remember that if you do not actually complete your degree, you get very little benefit from the time and money that you have spent on it thus far. Really think about whether or not you are going to have the same commitment in three years as you do now.
Am I Ready?
Hopefully this article can serve as a voice of reason while you are deciding whether or not to enroll to that great master’s program. While they can help your career, these programs are a huge commitment that will greatly impact the next few years of your life. Consider (and reconsider) these points until you are completely convinced that it is the right decision.
Looking to be convinced on higher education? That article is coming soon!
What do you think? How has your part-time master’s degree changed your life?