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grouchobarks

Is this The Right Thing?

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Hi everybody, I'd love your perspective on this. I graduated three years ago with my undergrad in political science, and had/have very little sense of what I wanted to actually do - only had a strong sense of what I cared about (which is a common and odious pattern and way to feel, I've noticed). The fall after I graduated, I was accepted to an Ivy League one-year international education program, with no funding, which thank heavens I was able to decide not to do, since 1) I didn't even know what I wanted, 2) the program was not that good or skills-driven, and 3) it would have financially crushed me.

After bouncing around the ideas of public policy, law, language, and journalism programs (and many more, trust me - I'm the worst), I decided to travel to and live in the region about which I had written my thesis and in which most of my interests were centered, and to study the language for a year. After that I did a research Fulbright in another nearby country, working in the humanitarian sector on roughly the same issues. Uncertain of what to do next (I kept thinking, at every step, that I would figure it out - but of course I didn't) - I put out a few options into the ether, including an application to a prestigious area studies MA concentrated on the region I had just left. Knowing full well that I was leaning more strongly toward eventual law school and that I felt very uncertain about my chances of getting in, let alone with financial aid, I didn't count on this option at all, and planned to find a job after I finished Fulbright and take it from there. But then, unexpectedly, I was accepted to this MA program, with a full scholarship, but in a big city with no living stipend.

Long story short: I accepted the offer, thinking it would help springboard me into law and/or my next thing, and also give me further good language and, crucially, a good network (since the area I work in is more about connections than skills). I felt so uncertain and sick and scared about this decision, and sometimes very confident, and then sometimes awful again, especially when it came time to face up to the idea of taking out $15000 to 20000 of loans just to LIVE in this place. But, terrified, I signed the papers, and here I am.

I'm about a month into my program, and I don't know how to feel. I'm not sure if this program is the dreaded cash cow exactly, especially for students in my position who are paid for (some international students also have stipends), but it seems clear that most of even the most prestigious schools have had to drastically up their numbers in the past few years just to continue their MA business model (fewer people are buying into the degrees, and/or able to pay for them, and the jig is up - a lot of people know by now that a Master's is not, in this day and age, often very worth it, especially if it comes with no practical or technical skills attached). My cohort is usually between 20 and 30 people, and we have 30 this year. We have language scholarships for any undergraduate language courses we want to take, which is nice, and my tuition is all covered for now, and funding for the second year is contingent upon my good performance this year.

But: the program leans heavily toward theory and academia. We have no statistical or analytical course requirements, and are able to declare one of four concentrations (i.e., politics, society, etc.) within the area studies topics. We have great networking opportunities, but the language training is weaker than it's been in past years, which is odd since it's touted on the program's materials as this really great and defining aspect of the program. Most of my cohort is younger than me, even some fresh out of undergrad, and it makes me so sad to see how hopeful and vague they are about tripping over themselves to do this program, when it seems murky at best as to whether or not the program prepares anyone for employment, or is more objectively worth it to have done compared with, say, a few years of work in the field.

There are days when I sincerely want to quit this whole thing, and just get a job on the bottom tier of the sector I care about. There are days when I want to add a new focus to my MA, something more technical, and apply for fellowships that lean more toward tech/data skill sets, and make myself competitive that way. There are days when I sincerely don't know.

So: is this The Right Thing? Should I stick it out? Will I be stuck with my already-spent loan money and tuition repayment (about $4000 worth, just for the first months of rent and health and living costs), and is that not worth it? How will I know if this is preparing me for anything? Should I talk to an adviser in my program, at the risk of damaging my reputation?

Sorry, I know this is long and complicated - thanks in advance. I guess the underlying question is: under which circumstances is it worth it to do a non-practical master's degree? (I.e., not one that comes with skills that prepare you for a particular technical sector).

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3 hours ago, grouchobarks said:

So: is this The Right Thing? Should I stick it out? Will I be stuck with my already-spent loan money and tuition repayment (about $4000 worth, just for the first months of rent and health and living costs), and is that not worth it? How will I know if this is preparing me for anything? Should I talk to an adviser in my program, at the risk of damaging my reputation?

Sorry, I know this is long and complicated - thanks in advance. I guess the underlying question is: under which circumstances is it worth it to do a non-practical master's degree? (I.e., not one that comes with skills that prepare you for a particular technical sector).

It is difficult to give you a concrete yes or no here, as ultimately it is you who should decide how your career path should go. Having said that, probably you could make a list of pros and cons for staying in and quitting the program. This may help you put things into perspectives, rather than thinking of staying in one day but quitting the other day. It is not a bad idea to talk to your graduate advisor, as they have seen students who are considering quitting. They may have suggestions on how you should proceed, or at least point you to some helpful resources. 

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On 9/29/2018 at 1:59 AM, Hope.for.the.best said:

It is difficult to give you a concrete yes or no here, as ultimately it is you who should decide how your career path should go. Having said that, probably you could make a list of pros and cons for staying in and quitting the program. This may help you put things into perspectives, rather than thinking of staying in one day but quitting the other day. It is not a bad idea to talk to your graduate advisor, as they have seen students who are considering quitting. They may have suggestions on how you should proceed, or at least point you to some helpful resources. 

Thank you!! This is a helpful suggestion.

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So it sounds like the program is not what you expected of it. This could either be because you're still in the first semester (maybe it gets better?) or because you may have not asked the right questions before starting (did you talk with any current students, have you asked about the emphasis on theory vs. practical skills, etc. before starting?). Are there any students you can talk to in the year above you? Are there any classes you can take outside your curriculum that may help you in your career path? You question if this is worth it to help your career - how do graduates perform on the job market? (sometimes just having that stupid M.A. title on your resume really helps) And do the skills really not help you (if so, then why is this program so prestigious?)?

You say you want to study law (maybe), but at the same time want to have more stats classes - how do you unite these two? 

I also wouldn't care about the people just straight out of undergrad, this is about you - not them. 

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Most schools have career counselors for their grad students. A lot of what they are there to do is to talk you through your options for when you leave the school--whether it is with or without a degree. I would make an appointment with one and see if they can give  you a better sense of what to expect if you leave school early. i would also talk to second year students in your program and see what they think of their time there--is it well-spent? Are their tactics for getting what you need out of the program? etc. 

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