It was a celebration-filled weekend when one of my closest friends, after a 15-year hiatus, graduated from law school. As college “first-years” this friend was adamant that she was going to law school after graduation. She fell in love with law when she interned for a lawyer’s office the summer before we started college. The love was mutual. The lawyers thought so highly of her that they awarded a scholarship toward her undergraduate degree. Out of all the people I met in those first few months at college, this woman was the most sure about the course of her future. She was going to be a JD.
The week following our graduation, she married her high school sweetheart, a newly commissioned naval officer. We served as her childlike bridesmaids. While they went on to have two beautiful daughters, this young mom did not go to law school. We eventually (and quietly) gave up on her dream. But to our surprise, she returned to school to successfully pursue her long-held dream. She passed the bar and is now officially a lawyer.
Sometimes we see these stories play out. Mom devotes time to her family and later takes action to pursue something for herself. We romanticize this storyline, and I honestly love the concept. But what are the considerations we must take into account before we undertake these pursuits? Should we really divert time from our families to pursue costly adventures? Furthermore, if we do decide to pursue these activities, what is the best way to do so?
Should I go?
This question deserves a lot of deep thought. Going back to school is not a normal impulse buy, although many, many people treat it like one. The best advice I can give is to really take pause and imagine the entire process from start to finish. Imagine completing the applications, making the book purchases, writing the papers, working on the projects. And don’t forget to imagine the bill. The costs can be daunting, and it’s important to be sure you are going to make the money back with an increased salary.
Case in point: I was recently accepted into a PhD program that was going to cost me over $75,000. When I did more research, I realized that my salary would increase by $10-15,000 to start. This meant it would take me (without raises) five to seven years just to recoup my initial investment. I did deep soul searching to eventually decide it was not the best use of my resources. My resources of time, money, and attention have become so much more important to me. My children demand all of them, and with that constant demand, I am much more intentional about where I allocate them. I decided I could go, but I (personally) shouldn’t go. Your decision-making process would be unique to your situation. With different sets of factors, the final decision would vary.
How would I pay?
There are many ways to pay for the things we want. In the age of Google, you can pretty much hack anything you desire. With time and planning, you can even hack grad school. Some options are: 1. Scoring as high as possible on entrance exams (this correlates with scholarship awards, depending on the program). 2. Attending schools that are known for giving out more money (flexibility can save you money). 3. Working for the college to receive discounted tuition. When I went to grad school, I eventually worked in the grad office and went to school for free. Different schools have different financial benefits for employees. I love the idea of getting paid to go to school for free.
What will my kids learn?
It’s not all about the money, and family time is not completely lost during school. If done with intention, young children can learn immensely from seeing their parents model college-level learning. My lawyer friend was able to take her girls with her to class because they were older and could care for themselves. They were exposed to adult learning and professors, and they became familiar with a college campus long before their freshman years. They likely won’t be intimated when they go to college themselves — a huge benefit.
In addition, kids observe the the process of setting goals and working them to completion. This skill is invaluable.
We all have the ability to create the lives we dream of. We don’t need to limit ourselves and stay “stuck” in situations that are soul sucking. Being thoughtful and planning, however, will go a long way toward making our transitions tolerable for us and our families.