20-Something Wants to Know: Get a Job or a Second Degree?

Q. I’m about to finish a four year bachelor of science in environmental science, and starting to see that it’s not going to take me where I want to go. I am wondering if I should start to pay off the debt I’ve already accrued or continue to go to school?  I would like to apply for architecture school, which would take another four years and rack up god knows how much more debt. Is it worth it for me to go back to school or should I give up those dreams and settle for a job I can get with this first degree? – 20-something

A. First of all. Congratulations on getting your degree! Second, know that it’s never too late to change your course in career. Your decision is not either / or … any more than it is final.  Getting a job is not settling or giving up on your dreams. Plenty of people change their careers well into their 30s and 40s. You aren’t supposed to know it all today. The good thing is that in your 20s you have some time to explore. That could mean going back to school or it could mean getting a job while exploring the architecture field and beginning to pay off your debt.


Most people would recommended to go out and get some real life experience and give yourself some time to explore different options. Getting a job as an assistant in an architecture firm for example. This would give you a chance to interact with people in this area of expertise, learn about their experiences and get a sense for what a career in this field would entail on a day-to-day basis. In this scenario you may even be able to get help from the firm in paying for school should you decide to go back.


At the same time, reach out to anyone you may know who has been in architecture and talk to them about how they got there. What have they learned? What do they like/dislike about it?  What is the day-to-day like 10 years after getting their degree? Is there an architecture school at the university you attended? Can you speak to some professors there?


Read up on books and articles if you don’t know any architects. One architect answered a question here about what they like about architecture:


“The highlights are being in a creative field; I get to see my ideas actually built! I get a chance to shape my corner of the world in a way that’s very noticeable, and I get to put into practice many of the things I believe in. I get to help other people turn their dreams into reality, and watch them enjoy life a little bit more because of the service I’ve provided them. I enjoy the respect of my community, and I like being in control of my own business.There are many different directions you can go in this field; some architects (like me) have specializations – others do a broader spectrum of work.  Some are in allied fields – interiors, industrial design, etc.  Explore all of the possibilities the field offers! “


That is one answer. Today I have a few perspectives for you from some 40-something women who either went to grad school or considered it… but I will also be following up with some specific answers from some women in architecture and who advise on education in the next few weeks! And of course, as always, readers with any perspectives please jump in on this conversation.


Dear 20-something,

Environmental science is an exciting and booming field right now.  I have heard over and over from former architecture majors (who now work in other fields) how poorly it pays and how sadly, most people who stay in it had a trust fund to get them through.


I went to grad school after working in politics for 2 years and even that made a huge difference.  I had more insights to share with my grad school classmates and a better idea of what I wanted to gain from grad school.  – 40-something, MBA (and daughter of an environment science professor)


Dear 20-something,

Moving from environmental science to architecture is somewhat of an extreme change in direction.  Without knowing your background (I find people who gravitate towards creative fields are typically people who have displayed a lifelong interest and affinity in them) or why you decided on your current major, my advice would be to get a job and start architecture school in the evenings and see if it is what you are looking for before spending even more money on another direction you may not like as well.  Unfortunately at the time in our life when we have to decide what we want to do for the rest of our life, we are usually too young, unaware of the vast possibilities and indecisive.  You could always pay down some of the debt and then go back to school.  – 40-something, fashion designer


Dear 20-something,

My personal experience – and what I look for in candidates who I hire – get some work experience before pursuing a second degree or Masters. You might find what you want to study changes. And, your learning in grad school will be enhanced by real-life work experiences, not to mention, paying down some of that debt. Some employers will also help pay for grad school. Take advantage of that job perk even if you have to do it part-time).  – 40-something, MBA, executive in financial industry


And lastly, the option of going back to school may ultimately be what makes you happy if you have given it serious consideration. And if you can’t find a job in environmental science or related fields, could be a way to ride out the economy while building real life skills. But do go online to figure out the financial implications and be prepared to work part-time to help alleviate the burden.


Dear 20-something,

Go to school.  Figure out what you like to do and do it.  The money will come. The debt will get paid off.  You can’t put a price on being happy. – 40-something, graduated in Finance and went back to school after a few years to become a psycho-therapist.


Stay tuned for some follow-up answers from women in architecture or related fields!

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