Hello everyone! I've been an AOM reader for awhile now, hoping to get some insight on a life decision.  I've been planning on starting grad school this fall but, without going into to many details, things haven't worked out as favorably as I had imagined financially.  I've played with the idea of doing some traveling abroad for a few months and coming back to grad school next year. I've got friends in Europe and have been wanting to do a big trip for awhile. 

My first instinct is that I should just stick it out in grad school and prove that I belong there, take out loans and try to pick up some funding. But by going to grad school, I feel like I could be missing out on a pretty spectacular opportunity. And I hate to miss a good opportunity. On the other hand, traveling may just be considered a form of running away from my problems, I'd like to avoid that.

I realize you don't have all the details of my situation, but In the spirit of manliness, what  do you think is the right decision here? 

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It depends.  Do you really, really, really love what you'll be going to grad school for?  So much that you are willing to take on potentially crippling debt to start classes right away?  Enough that you'll pass on what sounds like a cool (and if you have friends to stay with, likely affordable) trip?  Do you know the professors you'd be studying with, at least by reputation?  Are you willing to sink large sums of money into hanging around them and learning from them? 

I don't know the exact amount you'll be taking out in loans, but they'll still be there, waiting to be taken on, when you get back.  Unless you are absolutely chomping at the bit to start grad school, put it off and have some fun, don't go into deep dept, and see if you can get funding for the next year.

Not sure what you are studying, but in my case it was business.  I completed my BS and was being pressured by my mother to go for the MBA immediately.  I was tired of school, so I decided to go into the work force.  I did a variety of jobs and also opened a small business.  I went back to get my MBA after I turned 40.  The class had a lot of folks right out of undergrad, and I could tell that they were missing a LOT of what was being discussed.  I felt like I got a quite a lot from it because I had experience. 

Not all fields of study will be like that, but consider getting some time in your field under your belt before continuing on the Master's degree.

Almost same here, went back for my MBA at 36, I'll get it in May at 38. I see the same things with the much younger students in the classes.

Definitely depends on the field.  If you are in a science field then you should continue immediately upon receiving your Bachelor's.  In a Business field then you should consider getting some experience prior to starting an MBA.  If in Fine Arts then maybe some experience (it doesn't really matter).  Teaching, then yes, immediately (you kind of have to for this from what I understand).

You could take a short trip, 2 months or so, over the summer between your undergrad and starting grad school.

My three main regrets from my undergrad time in college was as follows.

  • Not taking the flint knapping class.  As I computer engineer I wanted to know how to make paleolithic knives.  I think it is something about working on advanced tech that causes one to want to go low tech for hobbies and such.
  • Not going to Europe for my summers.  I wish I was more outgoing and more of a loner so that I would have backpacked Europe.  I did backpack for a month in England and it was a blast.
  • Not learning a foreign language and heading over to the country to use it.  

What are you going to grand school for?  If it is finances you have to be careful with the advice you get.  If you have a 3.5 GPA and are in an engineering / science degree you can afford to get loans to a greater degree.  If you are a 3.0+ and engineering / science.  You still may want to take loans.  If you are not 3.0 or in an degree that pays well.  You need to be very careful about debt.  

If you don't have a 3.0 you might as well not be in the program whatever it is.

Also look up what your career income is and use the bottom 25% as your expected income.  I know that seem harsh but we are running SAFE numbers not EXPECTED or HOPED for numbers.


You should stick it out but you need to be careful.  As to taking the summer to grow in life, I would recommend that also at the right time (summer).  Manliness is about knowing your own character and being well versed in life and social interaction.  It is also about knowing when to throwdown and when to walk away for a while.  

Another way to examine the question is to build out two blueprints (search the site about it) and see which works the best.  But run the numbers.

All of this careful thought and planning is manly.

For the most part, if you don't go to school now ... you'll probably never go back.  Life happens.  You'll find a girl.  You'll get a job.  You'll settle down.  You'll have a kid.  Its difficult to go back to school once you're used to living on a full-time income.

I don't see the value in taking a break from life to wander around for a year.  Particularly if you're wandering around broke.  Same problems will be waiting for you when, and if, you make it back.  Personally, I'd rather be a year further along in my life than to waste time wandering around finding myself.

You're doing it backward.  Earn your keep, build your life, find your better half ... then travel.


That's what I told my 17 y/o son about college; almost word-for-word.  We've recruited our daughter in talking to him about college.  He's kind of in drift mode because he's not sure what course of study he wants to take.  I told him to take general education classes and maybe a couple of courses that seem interesting to find out what he wants to take as a major.

I would recommend doing this at a low cost state college or community college. I often tell people unsure about what they want for the future to hold off on college because college is an extremely expensive way to find yourself.

I agree with your comment about wondering around broke for a year.

However once you have your life partner and a career it is harder to take off for the a few months.  

My wife and I have talked about Europe for over 9 years.  Life seems to keep having other priorities. 

It is why I posted a split the difference idea.  Touring in the summer.

Little bit of my life.

I joined the military right out of highschool and spent 14 years on active duty with a year break between enlistments when I worked as a computer tech for a small business.  I was in a technical field and could have gotten another job afterward but I knew it wouldn't pay very much.  I started college full time at 33 majoring in physics with minors in math and computer science.  Because I didn't get the GI Bill (I was a betweener) so I got loans as well as other financial aid so I could concentrate on my studies.  In my last undergraduate year I figured that I wouldn't be going on for my PHD as I would be fairly old when I earned it (reality check there).  However, although I could have gotten a job as a programmer I knew I didn't want to be the slob in the cubicle I wanted to be the slob managing the slob in the cubicle; so I entered the MBA program.  I graduated with my BS at 39 and my MBA at 41.  BUT, I was lucky in a way; I wasn't married, had no children and no other debts.  Basically life didn't get in the way; but, I know of so many others who's life took a bit of a different course; they married young, had children, and got into debt, or had other obligations that precluded them from going to college or continuing their education.  Not that it can't be done but it is way, way harder to do once life sets in and obligations start piling up.

Some good points being made out there. Its interesting hearing peoples' personal stories and I think valid arguments have been made for both sides.

As for me, I'm in engineering. I'm viewing grad school as more of a not 'if' but 'when' proposition. I can defer my enrollment for a semester and not have to go through the application process again. To get into the areas I want to work in, a technical masters degree is basically an entry requirement. My concern is that by taking a semester off, I may be putting myself in a worse situation largely due to timing of funding cycles. But there's also a chance something could come up in the spring that's not available now. Its always the uncertainty that kills me. I'd be comfortable taking out loans to cover a semester, maybe two, but not so much after that if nothing else comes up.

My mother went from kindergarten to MD without skipping a single semester. She did spend a couple summers in Europe.

My father left a graduate program he didn't like to lead Bible studies, met my mother, went back to graduate school, but remains ABD. He went on one of Mom's trips to Europe.

One of my life regrets is going straight from kindergarten to JD without skipping a single semester. Significant work experience would have made me a better job candidate as a new lawyer, and a better law student.

I think my family is typical of the anecdata you'll get: For every story of someone who took time off from school and never quite got back on track, you'll hear a story of someone who regrets not taking some opportunities that only exist for the young.

I wouldn't pursue a teaching degree unless someone else is paying for it. The prudence of loans for a professional degree depends on the program. If you've been accepted to a small program with an obvious mentor, his upcoming retirement might influence your decision. It would be a bummer to time off and later find that time off means someone else will step in as your dissertation adviser. Honestly, "prove that I belong there" and "pick up some funding" sound like someone not ready for grad school, but my family tend to be over-achievers.


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