Logistics: Which School? and Full-time or Part-time Student?

Okay, so I finally had my husband on board with the idea of going back to school to get my master’s degree. It was making financial sense to him now and would return his goal-driven wife to her former state happiness. (I’m no saint. I can admit I was not the most fun I’ve ever been to live with during those couple of rough years, but who would be?) Now we just had to figure out how to “work this”. It’s seemed practical to start by choosing a school.

WHICH SCHOOL TO CHOOSE?

Of course there are many variables to consider when choosing a college, so it’s time for another LIST! Make a prioritized list of what is important to you when choosing a school and use it to narrow down your choices. Since I’m really happy with where I’m living and my husband’s job is here, it only made sense to find a school close to my home. Location was my first priority. Of the 6 schools close by, only two offered the Master’s program I wanted: Western Carolina University (WCU) and Appalachian State. 

Catamount Athletic Logo

Catamount Athletic Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Both schools offered a quality program in a price range that would result in a good return on investment. (I decided I didn’t want to spend more on my education than I would earn in one year with my new career.) After spending hours reading information on each schools’ website, I came to the conclusion that Western was not only 35 minutes closer (saving time and money involved in commuting), but had a slightly shorter program and would cost a little less in the long run.

 A lot of people apply to multiple schools, which is fine if you are willing to be flexible. I was more concerned about time for completion and money overall. You also have to pay a separate application fee for each school and money was a little tight at the time. By applying to only one school I was taking a pretty high risk. The program is very competitive (approximately 200 applicants for 30 positions) and there was the chance I wouldn’t be accepted, resulting in another YEAR before I’d be able to apply again. Something in my gut just told me it was the right choice. There are dozens of articles out there with advice on how to pick a school, here’s a couple of articles that might be useful to you in making your decision:

 http://www.npr.org/2010/12/08/7506102/how-to-choose-a-college-that-s-right-for-you

http://www.a2zcolleges.com/adm/schoolselect.htm

FULL-TIME OR PART-TIME?

I made the discovery that the longer it would take to get through my education, the more expensive it would be overall. That may sound obvious, but I was initially toying with the idea of going back part-time and continuing to work part-time. I could pay for some of my education out of my part-time job money and have a smaller student loan. Then I realized that as a part-time student, it would cost an extra 2 years and $4,500 before I could start making money in my new career. I also had to consider the “cost” of dividing my attention between work and school. Upon graduation my school loan might have been less sizeable, but would I really have been able to immerse myself in my studies and do my best? Would I get my money’s worth? This wasn’t undergrad work, filled with a mix of the “core” classes and major’s work. I really need to MASTER the content of these courses if I intend to be an awesome practitioner. (Maybe that’s why it’s called a “master’s degree”?)

It turns out that I didn’t need to worry about this part of my decision anyhow. Reading through the departmental handbook, I discovered that they don’t offer this Master’s degree as a part-time student. They require attendees to be full-time students for the very reasons that had concerned me about part-time school/part-time work  in the first place. Lesson learned: Read the requirements of your program BEFORE agonizing over a non-existent option.

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