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Attending Ph.D. program vs. paying down student loans

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Hello Everyone,

I am in a bit of a quandery, and I was hoping that their might be someone on this forum who can offer me some advice. I was accepted into Florida International University's history Ph.D. program last month and was nominated for funding - I won't find out the results until sometime in April, and only after I accept their offer of admittance. There were the only program to admit me this cycle (1st time applying for doctoral programs). However, I am currently on the fence as to whether or not I should accept the offer and attend (if I receive funding), or return to my home in southwest Michigan and get a job (either full-time or part-time) to pay down part of my student loan debt. I currently have about 75k to 85k in debts, the majority paying for my M.A. degree. I figure that I would work for 2-5 years, reapplying every so often, and then continue on course for a history Ph.D.

Can anyone offer some advice about this? Personal experiences, or similar situations?

P.S. I am hoping to work in academia after completing the Ph.D. by the way.

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My instinct would be to go into the PhD program, but my situation differs from yours. I have much less debt and even some savings, as well as my funding options stated up front. Perhaps most important is that I can't see myself postponing my studies any longer than this year I've taken off, which feeds my drive to get back in. (I've heard that PhD completion rates are about 50%, so having this drive gives me more than average hope, hopefully.) If working for a year or so doesn't sound so bad to you, and if you'd benefit by paying the loans down, then that could be the more profitable route to go in the long run unless you're itching to get started in the program you've been offered.

Consider, too, your job prospects after earning your PhD. I understand the academic job market to be in general quite bad (and worsening) for most disciplines, and earning a PhD in no way guarantees a subsequent paying job. (Nonetheless, I'm aiming for an academic career in the humanitites, too; gods help us.) Those loan payments are, however, guaranteed to be there.

It doesn't seem to me exactly fair that your school wants you to commit to their program while stating no funding up front. I wonder if there might be better programs for you out there, this season or a later, which would state funding up front, as well as give you the best job prospects possible later on.

Hope this advice is worth factoring into the rest. Good luck.

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The most important thing would be, I think, whether you feel you could be happy in the program, and finish it. If not then working might be an option. Though there might be limits to how many more letters of recommendation you can get if you would apply more than one or two more seasons...

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I'm having similar concerns, though with much less debt, but I've been debating the need to it pay down before going into this. On top of that issue, my signifigant other is in a position where she needs to work and make good money to pay down debt, and the city for my potential phd is not one that will be great for her career at all.

I think the question really lies in knowing how bad you want the phd and whether or not you really feel you're determined enough to get one. What kind of student were you for your undergrad (disciplined or sluggish)? Are you just coming out of your undergrad studies now? How old are you? How is the job market in Michigan? How much do you expect to be making per year in Michigan with your exisiting education? Will you need to do more research or work while you're working your 9-5 to be able to, or to better prepared to, reapply in 2-5 years? How much do you think you'd be able to pay down on your debt? 15k? 20k? All things to take into consideration.

If you are truly comitted to getting the phd, you can always reapply, perhaps with a better result and more than one acceptance and with more experience, be it life or work related. And it would be nice to emerge from the phd with less debt, especially considering how much you have. You know yourself best and what you are capable of.

Maybe some questions to ask yourself are whether or not you suspect it would be easier for you to get a job after your p.h.d. and most importantly, how much you could pay off in those 2-5 years, etc. I would map out some estimated financial scenarios based on what you'd expect to be making in S. Michigan. Btw, I mention how easily you could find work because that's a pretty signifigant amount of debt to have if you're not employed, and the while economy is getting better now, but who knows where we'll be in 2-5 years. If your scenarios result in not paying off a signifigant amount of debt, I would probably go forward with the phd.

The one thing I know is that people without a plan and priorities probabaly account for most of that 50% phd retention rate. If you can keep those priorities in order, make a monthly plan for paying down your debt, and clearly map out your repayment goals and how you will make that happen on a monthly basis, you can make the most of that time off and it may be worth the deferment of your education. If not, you may otherwise get stuck in the habit and routine of working and not find the motivation to reach your goals of reapplying and returning.

Edited by SixFender
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I agree with SixFender above and think you need to weigh job prospects. While in this economy, nothing is certain, figure out what types of jobs and their salaries are available to you right now (and how happy you would be with those types of jobs) and figure out the salary difference between the MA and the PhD in those job opportunies. If the PhD offers you a job in the future with a significantly higher salary or a job you would be significantly happier in, defer the loans and enjoy the next few years!

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