Why Dropping Out Of School Was A Great Choice For Me

Hey look, I tried.  I earned A’s.  I showed up for class.  But it just didn’t work out for me.  It was too much work and not enough reward.

No, I didn’t drop out of high school or abandon my undergraduate studies.  I didn’t even drop out of law school after discovering I didn’t want to practice law.

But I did drop out of the Master’s program in Civil Engineering after finishing half of the coursework.  Only five more classes and I would have earned the Masters degree.  But I quit.

I quit, even though my employer was paying for all of my tuition, fees, and books.  I quit, even though I was able to instantly complete 30% of my master’s program by transferring in three classes from my juris doctor degree.

I was only taking one class per semester in the evening after work.  During the first semester of the master’s program, school kept me busy.  Very busy.  Between class two or three times per week, a heavy dose of homework, and a few major projects, and a full time job, I was slammed.  Add in the birth of our first kid at the very end of the first semester and I didn’t do much other than work, study, and change diapers.

I signed up for course number two in the fall of 2005.  It was an online course, but required just as much time and effort as attending in person.  It was sometime during that second semester that I decided I didn’t value the master’s degree enough to continue.  So I quit.


The purpose of education

Why do we value education?

It’s intrinsically valuable.  Smarter people make a better society.  Education enriches lives.  Students of history are less likely to repeat mistakes of the past.  Understanding how our world works makes life less confusing and more satisfying.  All are great reasons to get educated for the sake of knowledge itself.

It’s instrumentally valuable.  More education tends to lead to higher earnings and more advancement in one’s career.  That translates to more money.  More money means more options, more freedom, and more autonomy in your own life.  Or as I’m fond of saying: Money is the Root of Good.


Is a master’s degree a worthy pursuit?

It depends.  In some fields, a master’s degree can greatly expand your career options and turbocharge your earnings over the course of a decades-long career.  In other fields, a master’s degree might be required for entry level work.

In my (former) field of Civil Engineering, a masters degree isn’t worth that much.  Most employers don’t require a master’s degree and most don’t offer significantly higher salaries to those with extra education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

I took a peek at Payscale.com for civil engineers with 0-9 years of experience.  Having a master’s degree adds about $4,000 per year to the median salary.  Consider that half or more of those extra earnings are due to people who get master’s degrees being more motivated and higher achievers in general (lazy people don’t tend to further their education as much as highly motivated people).  Let’s say the net impact of a master’s degree after discounting for variable motivation levels is about $2,000 per year.

$2,000 per year isn’t a lot after taxes.  In my case, state and federal taxes took a combined 22% of every extra dollar I earned (even though we paid nearly zero taxes on a $150,000 income) while payroll taxes took another 7.65% bringing my marginal tax rate to roughly 30%.  After taxes, a master’s degree could have earned me another $1,400 per year.

Other benefits to a master’s degree:

  • One extra year of experience toward the four years required to obtain the Professional Engineer (PE) license (though I earned my PE at the same time as I would have graduated with the master’s)
  • Possibility for advancement (however an MBA would help much more)
  • Learn new skills – broaden and deepen knowledge of practice

From my observations, people skills and willingness to enter management had a much more direct bearing on salary and advancement than holding an advanced degree.  A genius at leadership, marketing, networking, or rainmaking is worth a lot more than someone who is technically very proficient (at least in the world of consulting engineering).  A few years in government employment reinforced the notion that those who rise to the top aren’t necessarily the most highly educated or most technically competent (because, wow, there were some real duds at the top).


Is it okay to give up?

I think so.  Phrased differently, giving up is simply moving in a different direction and pursuing other interests.

Instead of spending 400+ hours per year for another 2.5 years earning a master’s degree, I was able to work the occasional bit of overtime at work and get the occasional bonus.  But in general, after clocking in my normal 40.0 hours per week, I had plenty of free time to spend with my family and to pursue other fun pastimes such as reading, relaxing, and enjoying the outdoors (like I do now in early retirement).

What can I say?  I prioritized extra free time over more money at a very early point in my career.  

Instead of focusing my efforts on obtaining another degree that would lead to roughly $1,400 per year in additional after tax income, I chose to streamline my finances.  I skipped the money manager and learned how to invest on my own by sticking to my asset allocation.

I started tracking our spending more closely.  Cutting $1,400 of wasteful spending per year was way easier than getting a master’s degree.  Learning to DIY can easily save that much every year.


Advice for those NOT aiming for early retirement

For those seeking a very early retirement, small increases in earning potential won’t help very much.  But for those planning to work for a few decades, even a few thousand after-tax dollars per year can add up to a large figure upon reaching a normal retirement age of 60 or 65.

Going back to the salaries from payscale.com, I noticed the master’s degree led to significantly more earnings for engineers with a decade or two of experience. Like $10,000 to $15,000 per year more money.

I knew early on that I wouldn’t have to work more than a decade or two, so I discounted the value of the master’s degree accordingly.  By the time I started seeing the big pay differential for the master’s degree, I’d be nearing early retirement.  In hindsight, I worked just under ten years in engineering, so dropping out didn’t cost me very much in foregone earnings potential.


Making the right choice

I’m a big believer in continuing education to keep skills from growing stale.  But it doesn’t always pay off.  The main reason I started the master’s program was because “everyone else was doing it” and my employer offered to pay for all of it.  They also wanted me to take a specific course to lead our firm into a new practice area, but that didn’t pan out (for me or them).

At the end of the day, we should all analyze big life choices like pursuing a master’s degree in the context of what we want out of life and how to get there the best way possible.  In my case, I realized after a year that I learned what I needed to learn and that another 2.5 years of further education wouldn’t benefit me very much.

I dodged the sunk cost fallacy of thinking “Well, I’ve already spent a year working on the master’s degree.  No reason to let that go to waste” and quit when it made sense.  I have absolutely zero regrets about dropping out and don’t miss that fourth diploma not collecting dust next to my other three degrees (wherever they are these days).

Much like my choice to leave the world of full time work at age 33, I got out of the master’s program when it made sense.  Sometimes being a dropout is a good thing.



Have you ever walked halfway down a path in life and then realized you should go in a different direction?



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  1. Sounds like you made the right call, knowing you wouldn’t be working 10 – 20 years later, the numbers just don’t work out, especially when you put any amount of value on your time. Going to school with kids is a very difficult road.

    It was either 2008 or 2009 when the local nuclear plant I work outages at worked with our local community college to create a 2 year degree program in nuclear plant operations. Ops guys with overtime can earn into 6 figure territory and their salaries have a clear forward trajectory. Our 2nd kid was just born, and I was already going to school to pursue finish my bachelor’s degree in business. I had made a plan to go after my Bachelor’s AND this associate degree at the same time. between credits I already earned that would count towards the nuclear degree and credits I would get for experience I already had working in the industry, I would only need about 36 credits. I went to the first class for a few weeks and realized I was in over my head. I backed out of the nuclear program, but still finished my Bachelor’s degree.

    Now I am really happy I did that. Operations can be an extremely stressful career and the rotation schedule between days and nights all year would be really difficult to adjust to.

    1. I’ve turned down lots of “opportunities” to work more and/or work harder for more money. It just never seemed to make sense with my end goal of early retirement in mind. Good job on figuring that out in your own life!

      1. I feel it’s tough to find the balance between “making more, faster” at the cost of 1 or 2 years of additional pain, versus “making less, but work less hard”. Some paths, some additional education *could* dramatically accelerate the path to Early retirement… I think looking for statistics, like RoG did, is probably the right way to approach it.

  2. I looked into getting a masters degree in engineering field but found it had limited upside in our industry. I asked around work and found a large group of people with masters degrees- I met with about 10 of them to figure out whether out if it was worth it. Roughly half surveyed say they used their degree – 75% are in the same positions they would still be in if they didn’t have one- So I found that for the effort and cost it was not worth going for.

    My wife got her masters in education but has yet to use to advance her career. She was able to finish as stay at home mom – when she goes back to work in 2 years her masters will get her another 10-15K/yr. As a teacher she has never earned more than 50K/yr.

    Now that you are retired and have the time do you have any interest in going back now?
    How long do they hold the credits for? At least you were able to cut your losses and

    1. I felt the same way. I was already making more than most of my coworkers with master’s degrees, so I knew my upside at the same company was limited.

      As for going back to finish the master’s in civil engineering, I wouldn’t do it today. The coursework isn’t interesting enough to pursue it just for fun. I think they hold the courses 3 or 5 years before the credits expire, so my window of opportunity closed over 5 years ago.

      I have taken a number of Coursera or similar courses online since retiring early. That’s more my style now. Free tuition, study whenever and wherever. Drop the course if it sucks. Right now I’m working on a Python introductory course at CodeAcademy to prep for a more in depth course on Python offered by Rice University through Coursera. Just for kicks. Maybe I’ll monetize what I learn somehow but probably not.

      I also like looking at history courses on Coursera if I’m interested in a particular topic or issue.

  3. I completed a master’s degree in accounting. In the state I was living in you needed 150 credit hours to be able to obtain a CPA. I only had about 120 after my bachelor’s and therefore I thought a master’s program was the best fit. The program cost $20k, but work footed half the bill. But do I think that $10k I paid to be worth it? Not really. It prepared my somewhat for the CPA exam, but I could have just taken 10 courses for my 30 credits needed at a local community college for much cheaper and probably would have been in the exact same spot. But hindsight is 20/20 and maybe it really prepared me much better for the CPA exam than I’m giving it credit for.

    I think you made the right choice. Everyone is different and you weighed the costs and benefits, but the costs outweighed the benefits so you made the best choice for yourself.

    1. I think I fell into the trap of “hey, my employer’s paying for this free master’s degree, so why not get it?”. I didn’t think about the thousands of hours of effort required to earn it.

  4. Your time is incredibly valuable, no matter what stage you are in life. I recently made a major career change. After spending most of my 20s as a talent buyer and concert promoter, I decided it wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life. I produced hundreds of events over several years, but in the end, my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to work in digital marketing for a tech company, so I quit my job last August. And I haven’t regretted my choice once! This one change has increased my future earning power and provided a more sustainable lifestyle.

    1. I made a mini career switch doing a totally different type of work a few years before early retirement. It worked out splendidly. More interesting work, more pay (at least at first). I didn’t regret that choice, either.

  5. The rational you gave makes sense behind why you quit the program. I always wanted to get my Masters as a life time goal, and I completed mine in 2012. Looking back it was a great learning opportunity, but it hasn’t paid off as I thought it would career wise. But when your going through it, its harder to decipher if it will be beneficial or not.

    1. Yeah, I don’t even think I gave it much thought when I first entered the program. I think my employer just really really wanted to be able to brag about how educated and elite its workforce was by having me get a master’s. Looks good on the firm resume I suppose. Luckily I thought about what I wanted and not just what my employer wanted for me! Although both of the classes I completed toward the master’s did help me in my career, but subsequent classes probably wouldn’t have helped much.

  6. There are a lot of degrees people get that don’t directly benefit their career. For those that want to rise out of their specific niche, an MBA is a great tool that shows you understand business and can actually read and understand financial reports like income statements and monthly expense spreads. That being said, you could ask a mentor or take 1-2 classes and get most that that necessary knowledge (many of the classes are just that and do not add to your career).

    For me, an MBA or CPA is required to get past a manager level (think director, VP, or CFO). I got my MBA while still single, but after enough years of work that it was beneficial. I had a lot of 5th year MBA students in my classes and they were worthless. They had no job or life experience to contribute to our projects!

    1. I had a few friends that went back to get an MBA after a few years of experience. I probably would have too if I planned to work into my 40’s or 50’s, since that’s a great way to amp up the earning potential. But when I ran the numbers, the time and tuition cost wasn’t worth it, especially if I took a year or two off to get the MBA (which is about the only way I could have earned it with kids around!).

      1. I actually went the MBA route, and you’re totally right. With kids it would be nearly impossible to complete without taking a year or two off.

        That said, I didn’t see any big pay bumps after I finished my MBA. Despite that, I think it was worth it.

        1. The folks I saw succeed once getting MBA’s tended to make a career shift of some sort. Into sales, management, logistics, that sort of thing, instead of straight engineering. Nothing crazy, but $10-20k pay bumps seemed like the norm (but that’s coming from low-ish paying civil engineering).

  7. I have three degrees – one bachelors and two master’s. All paid for by scholarships, and the last $8K by employer, so thankfully no debt. While my master’s helped me land my current job, I don’t see it being an extremely huge benefit down the road. It won’t help me a whole lot, but it also won’t hurt me down the road. At the end of the day, at our company, it’s based on how well you network, and if you want get even more to the top, how well of a brownoser you are.

  8. Quitting is life’s great reset button. It’s a very empowering act. My only regret was quitting eighth grade basketball. Other than that, I dropped out of a Master’s program after completing everything except the required thesis. I dropped out to take a creative job that required no advanced degree. I quit that job too along with several others on the way to The Big Quit: early retirement. About a month ago I heard a quote from Bobcat Goldthwait on NPR’s Fresh Air that was inspiring, “Quit everything until you find something you just cannot quit.”

    1. Yeah, I guess everything in life leads up to the Big Quit – early retirement. 🙂 Nice way of saying it! I’m hoping I don’t have to quit ER for a long long time.

  9. I walked down a similar path early in my college education. My freshman college year I worked full time while attending classes, even though I had a scholarship that covered half my cost. I hated school and enjoyed making money as a manager. Heck, who needs to go to college anyway? Neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates completed college and things turned out well for them! The company promoted me; I moved away and dropped out of college losing my scholarship.

    After two years of working it hit me, I had better get an education. I quit work, moved back to my hometown and spend five years working full time to get through the three remaining years of school. That experience and the degree made a huge difference in my direction and future successes with my career.

    1. A 4 year degree still seems to be the sweet spot for getting a huge pay bump versus holding only a high school diploma. Maybe throw a pharmacy or MBA into the mix to up the salary even more without costing a ton more time or money.

      Glad you realized the education was something worthwhile to have early on as I’m sure the increase in salary and career success long term!

  10. Though it was among the hardest things I’ve ever done, quitting grad school was by far one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And this is coming from someone who was being paid – both tuition and a living stipend – to attend a very selective university.

    1. I almost got sucked into the “2 more years” of getting paid to go to grad school and doing a TA/RA position and getting a nice fat scholarship. All in it would have paid $30k/yr plus free tuition and health insurance. Which is roughly $20k/yr less than I started at when I got my first post college FT job. 🙂 Unfortunately there was 3 years of law school in between not pursuing my master’s the first time around and getting that first FT job. And I had to pay for law school ha ha.

  11. I never even got past an Associates Degree. That was the furthest I could take it. I never enjoyed school and to this day, I sometimes get that weird feeling that I have a paper due the next day. It feels great when I realize that is a life I am never going to live again and I love it!

    I mean don’t get me wrong, Im big on education and learning to achieve success, I just think it can be self taught. I know that everything I have today is not because of an education system but because of all my hard work and passion I put into learning and achieving success. Still not 100% there yet but Im still busting my butt to get there.

    If I was given the opportunity back in the day to have a free education though I would have hopped right on it.

    1. I’m with you on self taught working just as well as formal education for many things. The problem is demonstrating that knowledge to the computers that HR use to screen resumes and find good applicants. The bachelor’s degree seems like the gold standard to get your foot in the door at most employers that pay well above min. wage.

      Now if we’re talking self employment, that’s a totally different subject and one where a formal degree doesn’t matter nearly as much (unless you’re going into one of the professions obviously).

  12. Nice article. I can definitely identify with choosing more free time over earning potential. At a certain point you have to ask yourself how much extra time you are willing to trade for money. Most people who are looking for FI at a young age want it because they want their time back. Makes perfect sense to take back some of that time as soon as you can get it. Also, with three degrees in the bank and a career in hand, I think you discounted the degree appropriately.

    1. Free time is very valuable. It’s not always easy to put a price tag on it though. I’m glad I didn’t spend any more time pursuing the master’s degree, especially with solid a solid career and degrees in hand.

  13. I can’t imagine going back to school, even though my employer offers to pay for it. There’s so much to be learned outside of the classroom, that I can’t fathom learning on someone else’s schedule. I suppose this must be how you feel about working (unable to fathom doing it on someone else’s schedule).

    1. Yeah, pretty much. Rigid schedules aren’t much fun. It was definitely a drag to know Tuesday and Thursday was work all day till 5, go to campus and attend class from 6 to 7:30 and not get home till 8 or so. Even switching to online learning with a flexible schedule still meant some nights and weekends were class and study time.

  14. Thanks for posting this. My family is astonished that I’m not pursuing a masters degree even though work would pay 100% for it.

    I tried to explain that:
    (1) Getting a graduate degree wouldn’t increase my income in the short-to-medium term;
    (1)(a) I don’t intend to be in a professional career long-term when a degree might pay off;
    (2) Getting a degree would mean committing to 3-4 years of part-time schooling and essentially lock me into my current employer for that time period;
    (3) Work only pays for certain degrees (MBA, JD, MA or MS in select fields) none of which I’m particularly interested in for non-work purposes, therefore;
    (4) I don’t see utility that is worth giving up my nights and weekends, which I value greatly.

    My family isn’t buying it. Because, you know, more degrees are always better! I am glad that there are other folks out there making similar decisions.

    1. You got to do what’s right for you and not something just to appease your family. More degrees aren’t always better. Maybe for bragging rights, but not always for more earnings or better career options.

  15. Length of time in the workforce vs. possible increased earnings is an awesome way to measure the effectiveness of something! Mr. Crackin’ has considered pursuing some certifications but with our goals, it no longer makes sense.

  16. You and I are definitely along the same lines. Like you, I also dropped out of a masters program in Management Information Systems that was mostly paid for by my employer. Like you, I found that there was WAY too much work for the reward that I was going to get for putting in all that time. Being an economist at heart, the ratio was way the hell too unbalanced for me to continue.

    Personally, I wasn’t all that impressed with what I was learning anyway. Spend a couple years in the working world and you’ll know more, in many cases, than you were being taught – with an added degree of realism, too.

    It was a complete waste of my time, and I’m glad that I dropped out and did not continue. It just wasn’t worth it.

    1. I felt the same way about a lot of classes. Like a 15 week semester could be compressed into a few weeks of the most important stuff and we would still learn 80% of the material.

  17. I worked on my MS part-time for a lot of years and it gained me absolutely nothing in my work place. It might have helped if I changed companies – though it might not (I am also an engineer).
    Four decades ago I worked with a young man who stopped his Master’s degree ONE CLASS AWAY from completion. He said his time was better spent working at the company. He is now the CEO and COB of a major company. He probably now has a few honorary degrees.

  18. It’s tough to go to school and work full time when you have a kid. It’s a lot less beneficial when you take early retirement into consideration.
    I was pretty lucky because UCSB offered a 5 years MS/BS program. I just had to gut it out for one more year. I think it was the right decision for me because I worked 16 years and I got those early raises. I don’t think I would have done it if I had to take one class per semester while working full time with a kid. That would seriously burn me out.

    1. Glad it worked out for you! Did you see more than $2000-4000/yr in pay increases from the master’s? I didn’t look at other engineering/STEM disciplines beyond civil engineering to see how much the average pay bump is for adding a master’s degree.

  19. After getting my BS from Univ of CO, I moved to NY and was getting an MBA on my employer’s dime from Syracuse University. Unfortunately it was a 57 credit hour program for me since I was from a non-NY state school and they gave me credit for virtually nothing from the undergraduate program. After about 39 hours I was fed up, particularly since I thought the SU MBA program was lesser in quality than my BS in Business from CO. Since I was in high-tech sales I never felt it hurt me, since I did not need the MBA whether I was an individual contributor or manager.

    My earnings minus without the MBA allowed my wife to retire at 56, and for me to finally follow her at 60. Could have stopped sooner except I did rather enjoy getting those checks every two weeks. So in my case the MBA would not have helped one iota.

    1. I think once you have a solid career trajectory, it’s easy to keeping moving up if you’re good at what you do. Extra degrees, in contrast, seem much more useful when you’re first starting out since they prove you know a little bit of something.

  20. I have a BA in Psychology with a Biology minor, a year after graduating and not getting the jobs I really wanted, I went back and got a MS in Applied Psychology – Organizational / Industrial Psychology. I worked for a couple years in Medical Research before the following happened all in the same month: we bought a house, had our first kid, and I was laid off! I really didn’t like medical research, but I liked the medical aspect.
    This time, I went back to school for Nursing. I got an associates degree and a lot of my credits transferred, I also tested out of two classes. I worked full time while I went to school and graduated in two years. I paid for my nursing degree in cash, borrowed books, and saved wherever I could. Today I’m am a self-employed nurse contractor, making triple what I was making in Medical Research with my master’s degree. I love my job and I started working in the position two weeks after graduating nursing school. I only wonder how much further ahead I would be had I done this from the beginning! I am glad for my BA and MS college experiences though. I was able to study abroad and travel around Europe, move to San Mateo, California for a year as a researcher, and I think the “campus life” experience was important for me. Still, I can’t say that I actually use my BA or MS degrees at all these days.

    1. I think psychology is one of those areas where a master’s or PhD is almost required if you want to get into certain fields.

      Nursing, on the other hand, seems to be relatively easy to get into with a 2 or 4 year degree, and pays pretty well starting out. And there are ways to make a lot of money in it like you’re saying. Great job on finding that sweet spot in your career!

  21. I sometimes – not always, but sometimes – feel that the educational system has it all wrong. I think it provides structure for those who have zero interest in school and gives them milestones to work towards so they can at least meet the minimum requirements to graduate. However, for those who really do like to learn, this structure may do more harm than good.

    Have you read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”? There is an entire section in there about Phaedrus as a professor not letting his students know what their grades are throughout the semester. Once students understood the “game”, they actually did better. For those who are interested in learning, this type of set up may help them excel. They no longer need to worry about the teacher looking over their shoulder and trying to meet a certain grade; they can simply delve into the topic if it piques their interest and they will likely be better off for it.

    I also recommend “Mindset” by Carol Dweck for some in depth looks at different learning techniques.

    If people were able to chase after what they truly were passionate about, we would probably make a lot more progress in society as well as live happier, more fulfilled lives.


    1. I feel that way about formal education, too. So many 17 and 18 year olds go to college and “just show up” while not really caring about what they are doing. I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance many years ago, and remember the focus on “quality” as a concept, as an aesthetic to strive to achieve. We’d probably all be better off if we focused on quality (in the abstract sense) more often.

  22. Feels like a lot of people are perceiving adding more initials to their business cards make them more attractive and marketable. For me one or two strong ones definitely would although more than that seems unfocused. Thanks for the article. As always, much appreciated!

    1. When I see those business cards with seven different sets of initials after their name (none of which I recognize), I simply assume they got at least 5-6 of the credentials by paying $99 for an annual membership to some trade group that doesn’t actually require the applicant to do anything or be qualified in any particular area.

  23. Sometimes dropping out takes more will power than staying in. Humans have a problem with always feeling the need to finish something even if it stopped making sense long ago. It’s like when something isn’t working and you know it isn’t working. But you keep plugging away anyway.

    1. You got that right. We should all focus on re-examining what we’re doing in life to make sure it’s what we want and/or need to do to meet our goals.

  24. Fellow civil engineer here. Sounds like you made the right choice. Hard to even debate that now, since you retired in your thirties. I did choose to get a master’s degree in Structural Engineering. At the time I graduated (2010) local structural design firms weren’t even considering applicants without a grad degree. I took the PE a couple years ago, but I’m now trying to make a similar decision at this point in my life on whether or not I should pursue the SE designation in California by taking the 16-hr SE exam. Although the pay doesn’t increase significantly, it does make you more marketable and valuable. Like you said, it really just depends on how long you want to work for. I probably have another decade of full time work ahead of me.

    1. Yeah, tough choice. I’ve heard that CA SE exam is a rough one. I’m not sure what kind of studying it would require, but I know for the PE the studying I did was about equal to a semester college class (2-3 hrs/wk class plus a few hours studying on weekends, ramping up to many hours studying on weekends right before the exam). But that was just the regular PE exam.

  25. I started an MSCS two employers ago, thinking it would enhance my marketability, while employer paid for it. The classes were generally more interesting than undergrad, perhaps because I took some “easy” ones first. But after a layoff, couldn’t resume at next employer due to heavy workloads. And with less familiar material, the remaining classes would have been much more work, not that the first were minor effort. Then I ran across some stats that for software/IT, grad degrees don’t pay off much, and with less career left, dumped the idea of finishing.

    1. Makes total sense. It seems like a lot of the applied STEM careers benefit very modestly, if at all, from advanced degrees once you have some experience in the field.

  26. Good choice. I fell into the “everybody else is doing it” mindset when a friend and coworker said she was applying to get into an executive MBA program, it had crossed my mind so I thought “why not?” I almost took it as a challenge to get accepted to this limited enrollment degree. I had my BSME from 2 years prior and work would pay for it…until I was laid off halfway through (right after 9/11). So I had to come up with $9k for tuition without a job for the next year, thanks to frugal living, extended unemployment benefits, and easy credit ($0 balance transfers) I walked the tight rope and finished the degree while jobless.
    Has the MBA boosted my salary? I don’t think so, but I also stayed in engineering jobs that didn’t utilize that knowledge. What it may have done was help me get my next job in late 2002 during a tight job market and I wouldn’t trade that for anything now. It helped explain the long absence of a job by saying “I was concentrating on my MBA”. True or not, it sounded better than any alternative.
    I’ve been at that same company for over 14 years and I like my job most days, though we’re still aiming for FIRE ASAP. I’d say my recent promotion and generous raises lately have come more from my dedication to work than any advanced degree.

    1. Makes sense. Rarely will another degree hurt your job prospects and the MBA education probably helped you in harder to quantify ways at your job and in your personal life.

  27. Hi Justin,

    I will not have taken the additional qualification. Though it may be a self achievement if this is attained, value free time more than the additional qualification. I still recall the time in which I took the part-time degree while working full-time in my work. It has been a tough experience juggling between work and study. Since I graduated from a Pass degree in 2004, I have not taken additional qualification and focused on saving and investing the saving proceeds from the full-time employment till now. It will be a worthwhile decision taken by me.

    To each of our own.


    1. “Value free time more than the additional qualification” – that’s what it comes down to. I didn’t want to commit to several more semesters or years of busy nights and weekends just to get a piece of paper and a small raise.

  28. These are all great points. The “sunk cost” fallacy keeps MANY grad students in the game and then spits them out on the other end into the fierce academic job market. Happiness is undervalued and shame is often used to motivate folks who are thinking about alternatives. Love this post.

    1. Yes – the sunk costs were pulling at me. I had so many course credits and I was so close to finishing the masters degree. But it wasn’t worth the stress of another year of part time classes!!

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