Talk to me about grad school

I am in a “considering grad school” mode and I would like to hear your experiences of grad school.

  1. did you go for your existing career, straight out of college, or to change careers? Did you go for professional, masters, or PHD?

  2. did you work full- or part-time when in grad school?

  3. how much did you save before grad school? Did you finance your education with student loans, pay cash, get scholarships, have your employer pay, or get another financing option?

  4. do you regret it? Was it a good decision? Did it pay off in your career, academically, or in cultural experience?

What I am contemplating

A little about what I am contemplating: my undergrad is in economics with a focus on Transport. I have been working in broadcast radio and multi-media for 3 years, but the job market is quite competitive. A masters in journalism is not at all required to get jobs, but does give you a leg up when looking for jobs. I have been working on my own show (OMD) and have had some journalism pieces syndicated but otherwise have struggled to even get a call back for radio/video producer jobs.

There are many journalism grad programs online or in-state which all would cost me about $30,000-40,000 in the US. For about $15,000, I could get a masters in multimedia journalism in the UK in 1 year, which would also give me an opportunity to live in London again (one of my fav cities on earth other than Moscow and Berlin). Being a student is one of the only ways for US passport holders to get UK visas.

Other options I could do: save that money and instead travel around the world doing journalism for a year without a degree because one doesn’t actually need it.

Get a masters in Germany (I speak german), France, The Netherlands, Denmark or South Africa where the programs are longer but are free or less than $1000 per year.

I could also choose a more competitive Masters degree since subject area expertise is always helpful - such as ms in transport economics, or ma in public policy. I am more competitive for applications for funding for these.

Or… save that money and quit my job and focus exclusively on my radio journalism work again for a year and pitch stories and make content instead of running away to London.

Or… try to get into a prestigious fellowship program with This American Life (paid) or another big name in media as a jumping off point. All would require relocating to an expensive city but most are paid. All are very competitive.


Hmm. I don’t know if my experience would be particularly helpful to you. My biggest piece of advice to anyone contemplating grad school – but especially those contemplating PhDs – is only go to grad school if you really want to immerse yourself in that field and devote yourself to it.

I went to grad school right out of college; I got an academic PhD in a pretty niche field. My original goal was to be a professor and live that academic life; by the end of the PhD, I realized that although I loved the work and everything about it, I couldn’t handle academic culture and I needed something much, much more balanced.

I worked as a TA and occasionally as an RA or teaching fellow throughout grad school. This was part-time work (no more than 20 hours a week) and it was got me tuition remission and health insurance and sustained me in, you know, eating and having a roof over my head. (And not much else, believe you me.) For anyone going for a purely academic PhD, if you can’t get full funding through TAships/fellowships/grants, don’t go. That means your department is either deeply underfunded (and therefore likely to be pretty crappy) or you are a very low priority for them. Neither of those bode well. Non-academic PhDs and masters are a different thing with funding and I have less advice there.

It absolutely paid off for me. Personally, it was extremely stressful and rough at a lot of times, but my abilities to think critically and be open to criticism were both massively developed by grad school. Although it left some scars, it also gave me some strengths. It introduced me to some really cool people (including my best friend) as well.

I also find the piece of paper pretty useful – that, combined with a fancy undergrad, can open certain doors for me that otherwise might be closed (especially as a woman from a rural background without any other connections – all my connections come from schooling). If I had continued on in academia, obviously it would have been helpful, but I think now that sometimes my clients take my advice more seriously because it comes from someone with “PhD” after their name. It’s certainly an advantage to my company to be able to advertise that they have PhDs on staff.


+1,000 to this. This is what I tell my students, because it would be malpractice to do otherwise.

I did a masters and then a PhD sequentially and right out of undergrad, both on full ride fellowships and/or assistantships that forbade moonlighting, so no other work if I didn’t want to loose my main income and tuition (no health insurance included or available for any price because I went in the dark ages). I got tuition and starvation wages. But it was enough, just.

ETA and I got lucky because back then going for a PhD meant ten years of no health insurance unless you were going to an Ivy.


Yea, this is what every prof in my department said about economics PHDs (and you can always master out if you want to get funded but don’t want to pay).

I would never, ever, go for an econ PHD. I’m a “pop” economist more than an academic,

University of Oregon grad students were unionized through the ALF-CIO (I believe) to fix this exact problem.


Along for the ride. Getting a masters from a top 5 school was the best thing I ever did. I go back and forth on getting a PhD, I have no real need for one, but I’d like to be Dr. Brutus. But I really am very interested in dedicating my life to a very narrow area of Artificial Intelligence. Buuuut… I dunno.

So yeah, I’m in here to hear about the pro, the cons, and continue thinking about going back to school but never actually doing it. Unless my workplace will do what the old one did, and pay me 75% salary to be a full time student. That could be cool.


Since I’ve been following this debate on your journal a bit, I’ll chime in with some thoughts that are slightly less common…

I went straight from undergrad to a PhD in the STEM field at a top 5 university. I am…very much not working in that field anymore and never really did. But I’d still say grad school was a great place to park for several years.

I graduated college in 2008 and many of my classmates who went straight into the market were laid off 3 months into their jobs, or never found jobs in the first place. So I was living on a super low income for 5 years and pursuing a degree that I’d never actually use, but it was a stimulating academic environment, everyone else was living on pennies so there was a great camaraderie and culture, and many of my grad school friends are still on the outer edge of my network. For example, a friend who started a company talked to me about joining in a role that’s more aligned with my current career…it can be done at any type of company so why not a STEM company?

So in my mind, your desire to live in London, spend your days with people who are passionate about the same topics you are, get some cool internships, and walk away with a fancy degree on top of it sounds like a great plan! I’d say the same thing even if you don’t end up getting a job in media afterwards (although I’m pretty sure that you will be working at least media-adjacent for the foreseeable future!!)


It definitely sounds like a rad life experience, which is like 50% of the appeal for me.

…If I end up having to take out like $6000 of student loans I’m trying to decide if that is worth it. Very easy to repay based on what I earn now, but as someone who has never has debt it’s tempting to not take any of it out. I can pay for most in cash, but I may need a little student loans so I don’t have to dip into emergency fund.


I went to grad school straight out of undergrad. I had gotten a full scholarship + stipend under the condition of working as a TA for one class a semester. This seemed like a good deal as I wanted to get my Master’s at minimum or my doctorate in order to teach and become a professor in Computer Science.

I was miserable and deeply depressed. I had passion for teaching but no longer had interest in the subject matter enough to want to learn more deeply. The school also had a sudden doubling of the number of grad attendees and my grad classes were bigger than my undergrad classes at the same University.

I dropped out. I might say I regret it, but it was honestly safer having that depressive episode while in school than in the workforce. Can just get away with “grad school wasn’t for me” and move on.


I honestly can’t wrap my head around doing grad school straight after undergrad. I was soooo burnt out after 4 years of very intense academics, I needed a break to just WORK before I could even consider more school. It seems like hell to me.

Actually, apparently I need a break between all schooling. Dropped out of high school in 2004, didn’t return to full-time schooling until 2009. Graduated college in 2013, didn’t think about it again until 2016, not considering actually returning until 2021…

But it was a good option for folks wanting to wait out the recession, hence on the edge of a new recession!! Why not!?!


Yeah, I actually kind of want to go back to grad school sometimes. Just for something I actually like. And never again for 4 consecutive years.


I graduated college in 2008. I wasn’t paying attention to the economy, but it definitely turned out to be easier in some ways going to grad school than getting a job.


I went to grad school twice.

Experience #1 was so long ago that most of the info would not be remotely relevant to you or anyone else. This month marks my 20th anniversary from graduating.

  1. This was for my primary career, 3 years of professional school straight from undergrad.

  2. I only worked during the “summer” breaks of grad school (roughly 16 weeks?). It was full-time, but since the jobs were recruitment ones, the work load was overwhelmingly low and easy for high pay. I was in a LTR with someone who worked high hour/FT job, so I took on domestic load for 2.

  3. Don’t recall how much I saved first. It was so long ago that $$$ aren’t equivalent. I took out $25,000 in loans in total - split between 2 years that have long since been paid back. I had no pre-existing debt when I started. Financed with prior savings, contribution from partner (more than paid back later on), pay from summer jobs, some intergenerational/parental contribution, and the loans.

  4. Excellent decision. Launched career that literally otherwise would not have been possible. No regrets. Turned down free ride at good school/program to go to an elite one at late 1990s tuition prices. Zero regrets on that either. My whole career happened because I finished in the top 5-10% at a top 5 program & was geographically well-positioned for one or two career-making opportunities.

That’s why this is useless advice for 99.9% of people. You basically need to be in this field, going to this type of program, performing this well based on their specific metrics, and with a time machine to graduate in 2000 (+/- 3 years) for any of this to be relevant.

Experience #2 - I did 2 years in a new interdisciplinary PhD program from 2014-2016. Left without finishing. Did not even obtain terminal masters (it was unclear if they could create the option at the time I left & I wasn’t interested in completing the project that would have earned it for me anyway).

  1. I was considering a career pivot or change in institution that it would have given me more versatility to obtain. I had been at the same academic career for 12+ years (split between 2 institutions). I was considering PhD and Masters programs of different types to be more geographically/job flexible. Also was looking to shore up specific gaps in knowledge and professional network.

  2. Year 1 of the program I was working maybe 10-15% of a job (I was officially on leave). Year 2 I worked full-time at my regular job. It was f-ing hard.

  3. This was a program designed for policy and clinical professionals with hybridized online and residential learning, so it wasn’t a funded program. I don’t remember exactly, but it cost the same ballpark you mention (about $30K/year with $5-10K in additional costs and fees). When I started the PhD program, I was still with former spouse & together we were “financially independent” without realizing it. We knew we had extensive savings and ability to cover the costs outright.

I had agreed to relocating for ex-spouse’s job at the expense of my own job/income at the time (we both wanted to make the geographic move for personal reasons). Ex-spouse - a high income tech worker - was 100% the advocate for spending $$$ for me to do the PhD program if I wanted to. Even though we split up during this time (part of the reason I went back to full-time work), ex-spouse jointly paid the costs for program with me. When I was deciding whether to continue in the program, I already knew that I could be lean-FIRE on my own without it, so that factored into my choice to quit. However, the decision to quit was 90% not about financial reasons.

  1. It feels weird to say that I have regrets about this experience because I learned a lot about myself, learning other interesting things, and made a few good friends. All in all, though, it was a costly mistake. I didn’t need this program or this degree for most of the things I wanted it for. They were all attainable with what I already had. The “soft” things I was hoping for - more rigorous training on a specific subject, a wider professional network - didn’t materialize and were things I could have obtained on my own anyway. I wanted a plug-n-play, and I wanted the PhD, and at the end of the day, that’s not enough.

I also realized that the subject matter I was most interested in wasn’t the core of the degree. The breaking point for me was when I was involved in a research project for a non-profit policy institute as part of a for-credit course/externship. I really wanted this to be an opportunity to build my network with that institute. I realized mid-project that I was the wrong person to be doing that research and writing, and that I was being brought in as an outsider to reflect on the policies and relationship between local law enforcement and marginalized groups. It caused me so much stress and turmoil, and I wish I noped out of there faster than I did. Eventually, I basically ghosted a research project/policy institute. So that was like the opposite of a good opportunity & I have even more context with several years of reflection and knowledge about the problems.

In hindsight, there were other programs and other pathways that would have been a better fit for me. I think I was short-cutting this and chose this PhD program because it was geographically what I wanted at the time. I also had hopes that it would make me more marketable for jobs that either: don’t actually exist, that I don’t actually want (due to poor labor conditions/treatment or other problematic politics like the aforementioned project), or that are insanely competitive no matter what you do & require hoop jumping/who you know stuff that’s part of a game that I’m not interested in playing. However, I was making this judgment and reflection as someone with the privilege to work or not in the future, so not having this specific degree really didn’t have any financial consequence for me.

My advice to you would be to honestly reflect on whether this specific program would genuinely be useful to you with the visa/work opportunities there compared to other things you can do in other locations with no program or a different one. Since you do want to live in London, I think that part matters. I also see a 1 year, $15,000 program as relatively low risk. I’d just interrogate whether this is really just an excuse to live in London, and how it fits your preferred career path at this point. For example, what happens when you graduate? Will you be able to get a work visa to use the professional connections and network you develop there? What if this doesn’t get you any more of the competitive/shrinking/non-existing media production jobs you want afterwards? If you’ll still be happy for how you spent the year, that’s worth considering.


This was super interesting @FIFoFum!

Well, one option is that the UK just reopened the option to stay and work in the UK after you finish your degree for 2 years now and there’s a lot of paid work schemes at the BBC that are specifically for graduates in my possible degree program.

But… the contracting media market is a real issue. I think I would be happy with how I spent the year even if it doesn’t lead to a better paying job in media but… it would really, really suck if this degree somehow makes me less employable in my fall back options (data jobs like I do now) due to time off. Or if this recession goes on for 3 years and there’s straight-up no jobs when I come back. But I struggle with if a master’s degree would make me less desirable in any role? But obviously, worst case would be sinking the money into the degree and not getting the degree OR a job in media.

I am talking to graduates in the program and hopefully that will help. It sounds like the network is quite global because there are so many international masters students and because London has a desk for literally every single international media corporation. So some people have even gotten employed by their work experience from the program (like the BBC or Skynews) to then work back in their home country once they graduate. So there’s potential. But also…media jobs? Do they really exist?


I did my master’s in an interdisciplinary field at age 22 and graduated just before the recession. I think that 28 year old me regretted it. 36 year old me would say fuck yes to any 22 year old doing a passion year at anything that doesn’t lose them money.

But to anyone 27-36… I’d ask them about their life plans. Not every step. But family and partner, or not. What happens if you become unable to work. How long do you predict being able to work x hours a week. When do you want to retire or go part time? What happens if this 1-4 year program takes you further from your dream life.

One of my smart, younger than me millenial friends talks about doing 2 things, and that they should balance out. So if OMD and a master’s are both passion…where’s the money? And aren’t they both creative energy sucking?

  1. I went Highschool => University (4 year degree, included honors) => Work. Swapped fields within my broader field 4 years in. Went back to uni for PhD at 8 years in. This is a research degree, in my field, to further my career but not my job. I am not going back to be a consultant engineer if I can help it. So it’s a change of direction in those terms.
  2. Did work + phd (both part-time) for 4 months and then resigned my job.
    {I only had half a week’s worth of childcare to cover this time, so I was trying to fit 2 part-time job equivalents into the time available for 1 of them… and obviously that didn’t work}
  3. One of the reasons for undergrad => work => postgrad was to save money and be settled financially before postgrad. We saved enough to buy a house here, but right now everything is paid by Ponder’s job + my stipend from the gov’t ($15k AUD).
  4. So far it has paid off hugely in mental health. It was exactly the right decision for me.

^ This is second review of what I wanted to say. This was always my plan but I thought I’d go back for my PhD because it would be a little more flexible while producing spawn. I didn’t expect my career to completely stall out and have that be the reason I’d go back and resign my job. I am growing in ways I don’t think it would be possible for me to grow if I had simply gotten another job. I have so much opportunity to reflect on current practices and be outside that system for a little while. I kind of regret not doing a coursework master’s instead of a research PhD, but I don’t think we could fund the master’s right now. I think you will get a lot out of whichever route you take into media, and living in London for this time.


My grad school experience was much like @Greyweld.

Went in right after an intense undergrad, fully paid tuition/stipend for TAing. Got into a major depressive episode, stopped going to classes/turning things in. Dropped out.

Looking back at it, going to grad school was such a mistake for me and where my head was at. My field was not much in demand and I finally got fed up writing papers no one was ever going to read to earn a masters that would not add to any work outside my field and was under-credentialed to really stay in the field. The friends I made during my program are all scattered, some trying to cobble together work from adjunct jobs, others fully exiting the field. I think a few have gone on to Phds.

I occasionally think about going back and getting a degree in nonprofit management since my work would cover the cost of 9 credits a semester and I could probably finish the degree for free. I’m just not sure it would be much of a value add to any future jobs and I know it would not equal an increase at my current job.

In your situation, I think you should go for it.

  1. I was working in my tech career for about 10 years before I went for my MBA.

  2. Full time… It was brutal!

  3. Cash… It was roughly $10,000. This was back in the UK in the early 90’s.

  4. I’m in two minds. Did it advance my career?.. Maybe a little but it certainly wasn’t the “golden ticket” to success. It certainly strengthened my case with US immigration and I learned a great deal about business and psychology. On balance I enjoyed the experience but it was a lot of work while also working 45 hours/week.



Yea I can’t imagine this, I don’t know how people do it! I just got off 7 months of working a full time job, running my business, and working 15+ hrs a week doing a high-level role on top of that and it was BRUTAL.

I worked 40 hours a week off-campus my first semester of undergrad (not my choice, my school would not let me go part time even after an appeal) that was terrible and never again.

Props to you for that! Was your work supportive since it was an MBA or was it too far afield of your work?



Yes work was supportive as they considered it part of a likely career path… I.e moving from a tech role into management which did eventually happen.

I clearly remember my academic supervisor getting all excited at the first draft of my dissertation. He said “Ooh, there are several areas where you could turn this into a PhD!”… Sorry dude but NFW!.. I was so done at that point I just needed it out of my life. It felt like when we doubled the size of our house with our own bare hands… The job just needed to be over…:).

I still look back (in my frail dotage) at the experience and reflect on the many things I learned and how I have applied the lessons since that time and thats a pretty cool thing honestly.


I do this too. Grad school was a hell pit at times but oh my goooood I learned and grew so much.