Dec 13, 2008

OMFGrad School

Graduate school is a huge sacrifice. Am I ready to take it?

At 25, my career is going well, but in order to really get where I want to be I need something big. Either that's a lot of luck or a lot of education. I'm stuck. At least I think I am. My experience is rousing no ones interests and the economic situation in the country isn't helping.

I have a job at a company where I'm making 57k a year w/ no benefits, and I could get let go every third month because that's how long my contracts usually last. My skills don't merit a full time position. I work 40 hours a week. I've been with this company for over a year now.

One route I could go down in the management route. But as much as an MBA makes $ sense, it doesn't really work out in my head. My passion is and will always be design, and since I have a psychology-business bent I've found myself addicted to Interaction Design.

There are a lot of successful interaction designers without graduate degrees, but they often have technical experience that gets them jobs where they can also do ID. Not so when it comes to people like me... who just feel stabbing pains whenever I view poor UI.

So... grad school is an option. I'm completely at a loss over whether it is the right option or not. When I went home to visit the fam for Thanksgiving I visited two graduate programs in NYC. They were very, very different. One was the Technology & Design program at NYU. I visited this second. The program was housed in the school's art building, and that place was a fluttering with artists. The tech floor felt like I walked into some experimental art exhibit. Cool, but probably not for me. The program seems a little too techy. The good thing about that program is it's flexible in that there are few required courses and you basically design your own program. But that's what got me into trouble in undergrad. If anything, I need a grad program that will force me to focus. Few or no electives, just a structured curriculum with the flexibility existing only in my thesis / final project.

Plus, I just didn't get a good vibe from the NYU program. Sure, the students seemed happy, but I just didn't feel like I'd click there. Compared to SVA, which I visited earlier in the day, it was black and white to me. Of course, when I visited SVA there wasn't much of a "program" to visit. They're launching an MFA in Interaction Design in the fall. So right now there's an office, a head of the program, and an assistant. And floor plans. Which can be a good or bad thing. For a lot of reasons.

I'm attracted to the MFA at SVA for a lot of reasons. #1 is the professors they have lined up. The roster is rather impressive. Various interaction designers that are at the top of the field. Connections aplenty. That doesn't speak for whether they are good teachers, but ultimately graduate school is about meeting the right people, spending time to teach yourself about the field, and, oh yea, did I mention meeting the right people?

The awesome thing about my visit to SVA was how the head of the program took the time to have coffee with me and chat. I asked a zillion questions. I definitely felt like I was being courted to apply, whereas at NYU they didn't care if I applied or not. Granted, with a brand new program it makes sense that the chair is trying to court the right students. The success of this program seems to depend greatly on the students she choses. With only 15 students in the program, each one of those heads will make all the difference. Not only does she have to select people with potential, she also has to figure out if there is a good blend of people in such a small, collaborative program. It's a tough job, I don't envy her.

It's really hard to judge the program at this point. I'd be trading $65k for two years of education, plus losing about $110k in salary, minus room & board, etc, etc. Ouch. Just thinking about the numbers makes me wonder how anyone decides to go to grad school (unless they somehow get a free ride or major scholarship money.)

The good news is that the SVA program is mostly at night, so it leaves time to work during the days. By "work," I mean intern, since I'd probably want to build up my work experience in the field and not just continue working as a writer (though some writing might work well for me, at least to cover rent and things).

I'm also concerned that I just have this romanticized idea of graduate study. I know it's work, and a lot of work at that, but I also am upset at myself for not figuring out what I want to study sooner and missing out on a really great HCI (human computer interaction) program at my undergrad institution. Since I can't rewind time, I need to look ahead and think... grad school, or, at the least, taking classes in the field.

There are so many options outside of grad school that could possibly land me in the same spot. Self education. Courses at community college. A local State University that has an MA in multimedia studies that would cost me $20k for two years, and is a night program so day-time work is do-able. Trying my darndest to get an internship with an Interaction Design firm. Weeding my way in via a paid copywriter position and learning more on the job. Meeting the right people outside of school.

When all of those options exist, how can I take the plunge? Or, when all of those options exist in theory but don't quite pan out in reality, how can I not?


Fabulously Broke said...

Go to Living Almost Large's blog. She just did a short break down of how much her husband's MBA cost them.. it might help you.

Don't forget to factor in lost wages while you're in school if you aren't working FT.

Sallie's Niece said...

It's definitely a big commitment time and money wise so take your time and do your research as much as you can. The great thing about NYC is that there are a lot of schools and you can probably look into going part time. Good luck!

her every cent counts said...

Hey Fab Broke & Sallie's Niece,

This program is mostly night classes, so it sounds like I can work PT while attending. Which won't cover the cost of schooling, but may at least help me not go too far into debt. I'll definitely have to be extra frugal during my grad school years if I end up going.

J. Money said...

Yeah, def. a hard decision! I'm a big fan of grad school, so if it were me (and if you haven't already) I'd apply to all the schools you're interested in ASAP. Grad school is soooo much harder to get into, and this way you'd be leaving it up to the Grad Gods to determine where you get in and all that stuff :)

In the meantime you can continue working and/or looking for other jobs.

If you already know you got in and stuff, then i'd be tempted to say JUST DO IT! but alot easier said than done ;)

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