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