Going Back to School

Ready, set, grad school: here’s what to expect

Thinking about going back to school or continuing on to grad school? Get some tips for making the most of your time—and keeping your bank balance in the black.

Podcast transcript


PETE: You’re listening to How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents. You’re on the IU Money Smarts Radio Network. I’m Pete the Planner. Alex joins me as always. Hello.

ALEX: Hello.

PETE: How you doing today?

ALEX: I’m doing well.

PETE: Seem like it.

ALEX: A little cloudy, but we’re all right.

PETE: Sure.

PETE: So, we’re joined today by Morgan McMillan, who’s a coordinator for Financial Literacy at IU’s Department of Financial Literacy, joins us now. Morgan, hello.


PETE: Welcome to the podcast.

MORGAN: Thank you.

PETE: All right, so today’s topic, going back to grad school, how to make that work in your financial life. Alex, any aspirations to go to grad school upon graduation?

ALEX: Upon graduation, no.

PETE: Okay, and why?

ALEX: I don’t know, I don’t see it. I guess for me, personally, a reason for me to go back right away. I personally wanna dive back into the workforce and just kind of get my hands dirty, I guess.

PETE: I love the fact you said, dive back into the workforce because to me that means you’ve taken your internships very seriously.

ALEX: Yeah, I mean I guess you can say I considered myself part of the work force during the summers.

PETE: Yeah.

ALEX: So diving back in more on a permanent basis.

PETE: That’s something interesting about you. Morgan, you went to grad school, correct?

MORGAN: I did go to grad school.

PETE: What was your degree in?

MORGAN: In grad school?

PETE: Yes.

MORGAN: Student Affairs.

PETE: Student Affairs, okay, what does that mean?


PETE: I have no idea. You know what, here’s the thing to learn about me. When people give me their job titles, I have no idea what they do. And like degrees and things, I still don’t know what political science is but I vote every once and a while. What is student affairs?

MORGAN: So, student affairs, at least my degree was sort of a combination of counseling and just working with college students.

PETE: Okay, so it’s for college students.

MORGAN: Yes, College Student Personnel is another name for it.

PETE: So you are doing what you were trained to do, in some regard, cuz you work with college students everyday.

MORGAN: Absolutely.

PETE: Fantastic, that’s your undergrad?

MORGAN: That is my grad.

PETE: That’s your grad degree.


PETE: So do you have a master’s in student affairs?

MORGAN: Yes, I do.

PETE: Is it called an MSA?

MORGAN: No, I have an MED.

PETE: What’s that?

MORGAN: A masters of education.

PETE: What’s your undergrad?

MORGAN: [LAUGH] Journalism.

PETE: Excellent, so then you can write about your experiences with students.

MORGAN: Exactly.

ALEX: I think that brings up a point though. So, for your job specifically, do you need graduate experience to get that type of a job right away?

MORGAN: I think for a lot of the jobs in this field, absolutely. But I think because there is a lot of transferable skills, that are associated with things like journalism. And even when you get into fields like counseling, it’s helping skills. So just dealing, working with people, and relating to and communicating with people.

PETE: So I gotta think, you’re in higher ed.


PETE: Higher ed values, I don’t know, higher ed.


PETE: Right, so the idea of having an additional degree, a grad degree, has had to have been very important in your ability to have the job you have now I think.

MORGAN: Absolutely, yes.

PETE: So you may have answered this. I may have asked this. I have a terrible memory. Did you go to grad school right after graduation?

MORGAN: I did not, I was in the same boat that Alex was in. I said, no, no, not right now. I’m getting straight into the workforce.

PETE: All right, so what did you go do?

MORGAN: I worked for the State of Illinois for a couple of years.

PETE: All right.

MORGAN: I worked in financial aid. I actually worked with high school students. So that’s kinda how I started working with students coming from journalism.

PETE: And then so, Alex, I’ve got to think for a lot of people in that situation and even maybe the one you described about yourself, something changes. You’re watching an infomercial, I don’t know what changes, and you’re like, you know what, I need to go back and get another degree. Can you even put yourself mentally to a place where that seems like something you’ll do? Cuz I’ll be honest, I have never even considered that for myself.

ALEX: Yeah, for me, the biggest thing on my mind right now would be get a company to pay for it for me.

PETE: See, I like you so much.

ALEX: That’s my number one thing because, well personally, I’m gonna have student loans right after school.

PETE: Sure.

ALEX: I’m gonna be trying to pay those off. I will not wanna bring on any other debt on top of those student loans at least until those are paid off.

PETE: A lot of progressive companies will help pay for your education, especially graduate education. And if you’re ever on the fence about going back to school and that can get you off the fence, by all means do it. But just make sure you don’t make a cardinal sin there, which is to then leave the company and either a, forfeit the ability for them to pay for it or get saddled with the future debt because you committed to a program. Morgan, what moved you to go back to school?

MORGAN: Again, I was in the same boat looking for some way to pay for school because there was no way that I was gonna try to pay for it. But what moved me was the work I was doing. I was working with a lot of students who needed resources and I felt like I was not qualified to really help them to where they needed it.

PETE: Can I ask a dumb question?

MORGAN: Absolutely.

PETE: It’s kind of what I do.

MORGAN: Is that right? [LAUGH]

PETE: Going back to school with that thought, did you think, you know what, I wanna go back because to get a job maybe that I’d want, I will need an additional degree? Or did you think I wanna learn more stuff about this, I need to actually more information, and the way to do is to educate myself? What did you do?

MORGAN: I would say the second one.

PETE: Really?


PETE: I always hope that’s what people would say.


PETE: That people don’t go back to school, so they can make more money.


PETE: Cuz although this is a financial podcast, I think saddling yourself with debt to go make more money is a kind of a strange thing.

ALEX: Yeah, and I think it’s definitely a more business industry related-

PETE: Yeah.

ALEX: Issue. For business, it’s my career has stagnated a little bit. Let’s go back to school, I can get a better job, make more money, because I’ll have this graduate degree.

PETE: There was a time during the recession, the Great Recession ’08, ’09, that a number of students who, I guess working people that were laid off took the opportunity during their layoff to go back to school to get another degree. Now, here’s what’s strange. Statistics have shown that a number of people did it, so they could actually get students loans so they could live and survive. And the education was maybe even tertiary and in the purpose of, I guess I got an education but here’s the thing, I just need money to live on. Which is a terrible idea, right? You’re going back to grad school so you can get student loans to live on. Obviously, not a very common thing, but in hard economic times, we saw people do it. And I love that, Morgan, your reason for going back is I gotta learn more stuff if I wanna do what I wanna do.

MORGAN: I knew from the beginning I was never going into a field that was gonna be about making a whole lot of money, so.

PETE: And so with that though, that means you, thank you for saying it because that means you’ve had to make decisions hopefully that take that into account and say, look, if that’s how I feel, I can saddle myself with debt. Were you able to fund your own grad school? How did you do that?

MORGAN: I was, I refused to apply to any programs that wasn’t gonna pay for it for me.

PETE: Okay, now why would, God, dumb question.


PETE: Why would a pro, not that you’re not great. You’re fantastic. But why would a program pay for it for you? Because you won a scholarship or something? What are we talking about?

MORGAN: No, my program was coupled with what’s called an assistantship. And that’s basically you work while you are in school.

PETE: Okay.

MORGAN: And so for me, I had what was considered a full time graduate assistantship.

PETE: Okay.

MORGAN: And I worked 20 hours a week and that paid for my education. But it was coupled with my program. And certain programs within education schools, and a bunch of other schools too, they partner that way. So that they’re built in so you don’t have to worry about it.

PETE: How long was your program?

MORGAN: Two years.

PETE: And do you know what it would have cost you otherwise had you not had that assistantship?

MORGAN: I believe because I was coming from out of state not to mention all of the costs. I went to Maryland, so I was just outside DC.

PETE: Sure.

MORGAN: So, rent was insane.

PETE: Okay.

MORGAN: So, but the cost, cost of attendance total, I wanna say is somewhere around $50,000. Somewhere between 40 and $50,000.

PETE: This is why Morgan McMillan is our financial genius of the week here on the How Not to Move Back In With Your Parents podcast. Alex, that’s impressive.

ALEX: It’s good stuff.

PETE: Did they pay for your cost of living, too?

MORGAN: They did not.

PETE: All right, so you-

MORGAN: But I had a stipend, I did have a stipend. I got a paycheck, so.

PETE: So then, did you have to work on top of that? Or, how did you survive?

MORGAN: So that was it, so the agreement was that as long as you’re working on campus, because you’re considered all of a sudden an employee-

PETE: Sure, yeah.

MORGAN: Of the university, your tuition is taken care of and we’re gonna give you a pay check.

PETE: Did you have to go into any student loan debt to fund living expenses on top of what your stipend was?

MORGAN: I did not.


ALEX: I guess you got like paid to get a graduate degree, almost.

PETE: No, it said-

ALEX: Obviously, I do work a lot.

PETE: I mean, I don’t know. I got, is that rare?

MORGAN: I would think so, I mean I know when I was at Maryland, I worked with business school students. And that was the opportunity-

PETE: That’s called B-School.

MORGAN: B-School.

PETE: Did they call it B-School?

ALEX: It’s whatever you want. [LAUGH]

PETE: I don’t know. B-school sounds cool.


PETE: It makes me seem younger.

MORGAN: It does. [LAUGH]

PETE: You ever go to B-School?



MORGAN: B-School in B-town?

PETE: I don’t know, who knows? So, I guess the best advice we can give someone if they’re concerned about going back to grad school. Number one, are you going back because you think it’s gonna make you more money? And if that’s the case, step back and really chew on that for a little while. What does that really mean? Number two, do you go because you need information that you wanna have to actually further your career path? Number three is, be honest with yourself. Morgan, you have said it, these are your words, you were in a field that’s not necessarily gonna make you a tremendous amount of money. Was it something like that?


PETE: So you have to be willing to make decisions in accordance with that. You can’t just say well I’m going to have an $80,000 grad degree, of which I’m going to borrow all of that, and never make $80,000 a year.

MORGAN: That’s true. There was a program that I applied to that was gonna ask me take. It was a one year program, $60,000 in loans for one year.

PETE: Wow. What? We gonna be like an astronaut? What is that?

MORGAN: [LAUGH] No, no, same field. And because it was one year program, on top of adjusting to getting back into school, I would have been applying to jobs and trying to study.

PETE: Yeah.

MORGAN: All that at the same time.

PETE: I don’t know why I thought astronaut.

MORGAN: Astronaut.

PETE: Wonder how much that cost.


PETE: To get an astronaut degree.

ALEX: What do people, I guess you’d be an engineer, right?

PETE: No one knows. Here’s what I know, you gotta love freeze dried ice cream.


ALEX: Major in astronaut.

PETE: That’s all I know.


PETE: All right so, Morgan, anything you want to add to the conversation?

MORGAN: I don’t think so. With respect to finances, I think it’s just about finding the program that works for you and that works for you financially, too.

PETE: Here’s what’s fortunate for you. You did a really good job.

MORGAN: Thank you.

PETE: I’m never really interested in telling people what they want to hear. So if, for some reason, you would have not done a great job, I’d probably tell you that, too. But you did a really good job.

MORGAN: Thank you.

PETE: Not only, of course, on this podcast, but in funding your grad degree in the right way. Alex, learn from her.

ALEX: I did, definitely.

PETE: Good for her.

ALEX: It’s awesome.

PETE: If you want more information, go to moneysmarts.iu.edu, we appreciate you listening to How Not to Move Back in With Your Parents, here on the IU MoneySmarts Radio Network.