Going Back to School is not Always the Answer

June 24, 2013

I have a friend (I have several- I think, but yeah anyway), and her name is Amber. Here is some background on her.


  •  Amber is 28 years old, and has a Diploma in Holistic Nutrition.
  • Amber is extremely bright.
  • Amber has decided that she is going  back to school for something somewhat related to that, but not really.
  • She has been working different roles; none of which have anything to do with her Diploma
  • She’s about to spend $35,000 plus living expenses, by going back to school for the next 5 years. That’s a ton of additional debt to take on.
  • Her new chosen career doesn’t pay all that much.
  • Amber lives with her boyfriend, and plans on working part-time during school.

Now Amber made the mistake of meeting me for brunch on a day where I was feeling particularly honest, and I started questioning her about her future. I tend to do that these days because a) I’m nosey, and b) because working with developers all day has taken a toll on my conversational skills. Anyway, Amber informed me about her plans to go back to school, and I flat out told her I didn’t think it was the best of ideas.

Here are my reasons:

  • There is a growing demand for nutritionists, particularly holistic ones. She is lucky to be in a position where she has her Diploma, and can capitalize on the growing demands before the field get saturated. I recognize that there are some fields where the need to upgrade your degree is significantly higher. That’s not the case here. I knew that Amber had done initial research in the field, and agreed with my assessment,  but I researched the field a big more after brunch just to make sure that I wasn’t wrong.
  • She has a mortgage already thus not working during school is not an option. Depending on the job that she gets, she will need to work anywhere before 25-30 hours a weeks to be able to cover her half of the bills while going back to school. Not doing so will cause a strain on the relationship. I’ve seen this far too many times.
  • She doesn’t need the degree, she’s doing it because she likes the idea of school.
  • The opportunity cost of her going back to school is at least $200, 000 perhaps even more. Not to mention having to start from the bottom up when she graduates thus missing out on all potential raises during that time.


As I mentioned above, Amber is an intelligent woman, and sought the help of a career counsellor. Sadly, the counsellor was part of the university , and well, yeah.

I asked her if she was interested in Holistic Nutrition as a career as she said she was, but was afraid of starting her own business, or finding/creating a job in that field. While I understand that being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, I know working for a clinic and learning the ropes will help her gain the confidence that she needs. I really, really tried not to stress my point because I am known to be wrong once in a while, but I wholeheartedly believe that going back to school is not the best of idea for her.


What are your thoughts? What advice would you give her?  


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  • Joe @ Stacking Benjamins June 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I know too many people who are afraid of working as an entrepreneur. I love the thoughts of Robert Allen: there are two doors life, one is marked “Opportunity” and the other is marked “Security.” The person who goes through the security door gets neither.

    • American Debt Project June 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Wow! Awesome quote. Also, lunch with Marissa sounds fun 🙂

    • American Debt Project June 24, 2013 at 2:37 pm

      I meant brunch.

      • Marissa June 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm

        Brunch is with me is always fun. I’m a fun person, don’t you know? 😉

    • Marissa June 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm

      Totally agree!

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup June 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    My sister actually is thinking about going to school to get a masters in holistic nutrition or something similar. I think it is crazy because she has never been in the field. She never worked for a nutritionist or even tried out the field. She got angry with the family when we told her to get into the field first and try it out. Jumping into a master’s program for something you have never done before is a bit crazy to me.

    • Marissa June 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      I totally agree. What if she hates it? Thats a lot of wasted money and time.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money June 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I don’t know enough about that area to comment on it, so I won’t pretend to have a valid opinion. I should say that my wife is going to get her masters (and perhaps phd) in clinical psych so I think the whole relationship-straining aspect of it just has to be understood from the beginning. Yes, she will be incredibly busy. Yes, it will mean less time for her relationship. Overall, though, if both her and her boyfriend are on the same page they should remain intact.

    • Marissa June 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      Clinical psych is a challenging program, so kudos to her, and you for being ready to tackle it.

  • Thomas | Your Daily Finance June 24, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Be honest and tell her your findings is all you can do. If she doesn’t go and for some reason doesn’t get where she thinks she should she will blame you and listening to your advice. I see too often people graduate only to get back on the saddle before a days work thinking I need a higher edu. degree. Work get some time under your belt then go.

    • Marissa June 24, 2013 at 6:56 pm

      Exactly my thoughts on the subject- esp since she is interested in the field that her diploma is in.

  • My Own Advisor June 24, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    I wouldn’t do it, go back to school (just yet). The opportunity cost as you pointed out is too much and she always has time to do some schooling part-time once she is working.

    Get a job, even a meagre one to begin with and see where that takes you, I mean, Amber 🙂

    Good luck Amber!


    • Marissa June 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm

      Hhahaha. I swear I’m not Amber. I would be jumping at the chance to start my own biz! 😉

  • Holly@ClubThrifty June 24, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I remember reading that nutritionists don’t necessarily need a college degree to be certified in all states. If that’s the case in her state, her degree could be a total waste of money.

    • Marissa June 24, 2013 at 10:58 pm

      Its slightly different in Canada, but yeah, the barrier to entry is rather low.

  • Michael @ The Student Loan Sherpa June 24, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    I just did an interview with someone who went back to school about 15 years ago to enter a lower paying field. The decision had a huge impact on her life. Read about Colleen would be my advice:

    • Marissa June 24, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      Interesting. Thanks for the link!

  • Tushar @ Everything Finance June 24, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Many people I know see school as a hobby. It’s an expensive one. I guess if she was going for a hobby she wouldn’t be taking out a ton of debt and rushing to get through it in five years…

    • Marissa June 25, 2013 at 3:12 am

      Five years is a long time to put your life on hold for a “hobby” tho, right?

  • Mary Deshong Kinkelaar June 26, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Great topic. It would be different if she had an solid financial foundation to support herself through an ongoing discovery mode, but that does not seem to be the case. From what I’m reading into the story (forgive me, I can’t help myself) it seems as if she does not trust herself and is looking for more education, more credentials, more etc. to justify her delays. It is very easy to get paralyzed by thinking “I’m not ready” while seeking out tactics to continue preparing. She needs to stop the prep and research phase of her life and start taking action. I think the key part came through from this statement… “I asked her if she was interested in Holistic Nutrition as a career as she said she was, but was afraid of starting her own business, or finding/creating a job in that field.” I’m afraid even if she did go back to school, and get a degree, and get a low paying job, she would still be seeking and stuck, but with even more debt holding her back allowing her to make more excuses. IMHO she needs to work on her money mindset and understand Why she is feeling the way she does. Stop hiding behind education and credentials as the only solution to finding herself.

  • Jake @ Common Cents Wealth June 26, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I totally agree with you. I have a few of my friends in similar spots. One spent 5 years (and almost $100k) getting a degree that he no longer wants to use (teaching). He’s now in quite a bit of debt and doesn’t know what to do. I think school ends up being an excuse for putting off the real world when it should be thought of as the gateway to the real world.

    • Marissa June 27, 2013 at 12:06 am

      I’ve seen that way too many times!

  • Michelle June 26, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    I think I would have advised her to go part-time so that she could put more cash towards the degree and have a bit more financial stability. But, people are “called” to different things at different moments in their life and she will have to do what is best for her.

    • Marissa June 27, 2013 at 12:06 am

      Interesting AND I agree, but sometimes people make decisions because they are afraid of going out there.

  • Jon June 26, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Your friend is lucky to have someone like you telling her the truth…she should first try making a go of it the entrepreunerial route and if that fails because people didn’t trust her without the degree then she should go back.

    Committing to 5 years at that age is difficult for a lot of people!

    • Marissa June 27, 2013 at 12:05 am

      That’s exactly what I was thinking!

  • KC @ genxfinance June 28, 2013 at 2:55 am

    I totally get your point. I would say the same if she’s my friend. You can only tell what you think ad advise her as honestly as you think. There are a lot of people who are afraid to take that first step to an entrepreneurship life but some people makes the wrong decision because of that fear. Hoe she won’t do the same and listens to you instead.