In 2010, I was faced with one of the biggest decisions of my life. To pursue or not pursue a law degree; that was the question.
The problem? I dreaded, feared and hated math. Back in elementary school, I had an encounter of a dangerous kind with a teacher and since then, lost interest in math (of course you know it’s easier to blame someone else). Matter of fact, I had prepared myself for a law degree with a Bachelors in Professional Communications and a minor in paralegal. I believed I could conquer the legal field. So deciding not to go to law school meant I could either just move on in life with only a Bachelors degree (which you and I know in this economy wouldn’t get you far unless you majored in a technical field) or going to grad school. I didn’t want an MBA. I wanted something more specific hence a Master’s of Science in Accounting. But this meant dealing with math, math and more math!
It was not until after I had completed my Bachelors did I begin to research and consider the cost…seriously. There are 2 categories of aspiring lawyers and I had to figure out which category I belonged to.
The Long Liners: Their grandfather, father, brother, brother in law, even sister is an attorney. These group of people have the support financially and any other way you can think of. Do not underestimate the support you can get from a person who has travelled a path before you and their ability to guide you as you travel that same path. In this category, their family is either willing to contribute to pay for law school or they’ve already set up a trust fund account or other accounts for Law School tuition. When they graduate, they also most likely have jobs waiting for them or have the connections needed to get a job.
The First Timers: These are people who will be the 1st lawyers in their family (they will most likely include that in their introduction when you meet them). They hold the law degree with a serious and severe sense of pride. Their parents go as far as selling their valuables or refinancing their homes to help pay for law school. (Yup! That’s me minus the parents selling their valuables/refinancing their homes J). Maybe several decades ago, The Long Liners used to be 1st Timers.
Now people go to Law School for various reasons like the prestige, making a difference, saving the world, fancy TV shows (think Harvey Specter from Suits), making bank, undecided in life, hate math, ability to argue. You’d be amazed but the ridiculous and irrational reasons to owe over $100,000 are endless. I was somewhere in between all that. The only Law School I applied to rejected my application which made my decision easier. I went back to the local community College to take my prerequisites, signed up for the GRE and applied to the grad school in my area. Here are the lessons I’ve learnt.
1) Count the Cost: I believe in miracles. I really do. But unless you are off to Harvard, Yale or Stanford Law school (translation: in a pile of 60 resumes the recruiter is most likely to pick yours first). Please sit down in your home to count the cost. Unless you have scholarships that significantly reduces out of pocket expenses or allows you get an education for free, please sit down and count the cost before applying. How do you know if it is worth it? Simple: The cost of pursuing a thing must never outweigh the benefit.
2) The Fear of Debt is the Beginning of Wisdom: Debt is like endurance or resistance training. After working in the bank for over 7 years, I have realized it is the among the top three reasons people don’t pursue their dreams. I always equate debt to diving into an ocean and trying to swim up for air and being unable to because there’s a huge rock tied behind you. Yeah, I know it’s a grim picture. Unfortunately, that is the reality for a lot of people. As far as student loans are concerned, it is important that you take a moment to decide what quality of life you want out of your career. After all, what shall it profit it you to be in $100000+ debt, and keep ‘slaving away’ simply because you have a huge student loan to pay off? Responsibility is like a progressive tax system. The older you get, the more responsibilities you will have. Avoid packing on a lot early in the game.
3) It’s Your Choice: When it comes to spending your money, it is always your choice. People will have an opinion, suggestion, and there will always be ads to entice you but ultimately, you’re the one who signs the contract and you will be the one responsible for making the payments. Because the decision to go or not go to law school was a huge one for me, I must have polled over 100 people including those who had gone to law school and those who hadn’t. It was people who hadn’t been to law school who kept talking about ‘the prestige’. It was easy for them to say, “Don’t worry about the cost; Just borrow the money. After all, you’ll be making bank when you graduate”. The lawyers were candid enough to tell me had they known, they would have done something else. Law Schools will never tell you not to apply neither will they reject your money. I cannot count how many articles I’ve read about students who felt they were ‘deceived’ about law school by the administrators. Do your own research so you don’t end up feeling duped.
4) Face Your Fears: Yes! Turn around and face all your fears and when your fears yell at you, summon up the courage to hang in there and yell (or growl) right back. Sometimes, no most times, you will find it’s not as bad as you think. Humans have a way of making our little problems seem larger than life. As of this past December, I have graduated with a Masters of Science in Accounting and I couldn’t be happier for starting and finishing such a rigorous program. Me who couldn’t deal with math had to take the GRE exam and math all the way to Calculus. I’ve had a C in my transcript and it wasn’t even in the math I feared so much. My entire student loan is only $26,000 so I could have gone to Law School and owed over $100,000 simply because I feared or didn’t want to deal with math. Can someone say ridiculous again?
5) You Can Make a Difference and Save The World Without Being in Debt: This is one of the major reasons young people apply to law school (myself included). In the flight safety speech you hear on the plane, you are told to wear your mask first before trying to help someone else. Life is no different. You have to be able to save yourself before you can save someone else. Going to law school is not a prerequisite for making a difference or saving the world. More importantly, I didn’t need to rack up over $100,000 in debt to do so. All I needed to do was look around my neighborhood, find a cause that appealed to me and commit to them.
Not going to law school was one of the best financial decisions I could ever make. I don’t regret it. I don’t feel less educated or smart. I actually feel more empowered to help people with their finances. It would have been a waste of my time. There is no gap in my resume as I continued working in the bank I would have left had I gone to law school (The bank paid a portion of my grad school since it is business related). I will get my degree in the mail in a few weeks and I will hang it with as much pride as I would have hung my Law School degree. Most importantly, if I had gone to law school, I would not have created OneSavvyDollar. Truth be told, I would rather owe $26,000 in student loans and work a $60,000 job than owe $100,000 and earn $150,000.
Author Bio: Ogechi Linda Igbokwe holds a BSc in Professional Communications and a Masters in Accounting. She has worked in banking for 7 years and created the OneSavvyDollar Curriculum. You can catch her speaking across Long Island and blogging at onesavvydollar.