This week’s Tip Tuesday became too long for a typical Instagram or Facebook post, so I thought it would be best to share it in a blog post. This is for anyone considering graduate or professional programs.
This is NOT the place for arguing about the proposed student loan forgiveness plan; but the recent talks about student loan debt have had me thinking more about the importance of making informed decisions before pursuing graduate and professional degrees.
Also, this is coming from someone with student loan debt. If you have student loan debt and have recently felt shamed for that, I am in the same boat.
First, you better be doing it for YOU. If trying to impress someone else is your primary motivation, that motivation may not be enough when times get tough.
Realities of Financial Aid
Second, look at the amount of loans you will need to pay for a program and compare it to the anticipated salary upon graduation to determine if you will be able to afford those payments on a ten-year payment plan. Don’t count on applying for PSLF because you could get so burnt out that you quit working for an employer that qualifies.
Maybe your chosen field pays very well, and practitioners in that field can reasonably pay their student loans in ten years or less. Think about the following scenarios though.
If you fail or withdraw, you still owe the money (depending on how long you attended before withdrawing).
Imagine taking out loans for two years of med school, and then you quit or get dismissed. The tuition could very likely be $50,000/year. Your loan amounts will likely exceed that because you won’t be able to work to pay for living expenses.
If you don’t graduate and match into a residency, you aren’t going to have that physician salary to help you pay those loans back.
As a reminder, the proposed loan forgiveness plan does not apply to grad/professional programs.
Another issue to consider is the potential difficulty with changing programs if you withdraw.
Let’s say you withdraw from an expensive graduate or professional program after your student loans have been disbursed. You are probably going to owe money to the school. Until you pay that balance, you won’t be able to get your transcript so you can apply for another graduate/professional program or a job. I have observed AND experienced this personally.
Do your research on your career path and school. This doesn’t mean just googling it. Talk to people working in the field. Talk to current students. Visit the campus. Reach out to the faculty.
If it’s a PhD program, will you be able to easily assemble a committee and find faculty who want to work with you on your research?
If it’s med school, ask yourself if the school’s culture and curriculum seem like a fit for you. Research retention rates, board passage rates, and match rates. Talk to current students about the types of support they receive from faculty, staff, and administration. If the school or students are vague about any of those things, those are major red flags; if necessary, postpone your application until you are a competitive applicant for the school that is going to be a good fit AND provide the necessary support for you.
If a med school brags about the total number of residency matches without offering a percentage, that is another red flag.
Again, my intent is not to discourage anyone. I just want to encourage and empower you to find your passion and make informed decisions to help you pursue it 💙