Over the last week and a half I’ve been, believe it or not, thinking a lot about Grad School. Yeah, I know. Again. Am I ever going to get this out of my system already?
Well, the fact is, there is rarely a point in the last several years that I’m not in some way or another thinking about Grad School – how I could return, what would be the benefit of returning, what kind of ROI could there be if I actually finished my degree?
This continual pondering does not jeopardize my Unschooled Master of Theology program. In actuality, it would fit right in, given that a ThM is a kind of hybrid, with somewhat of a tangential purpose – after the MA and before the PhD or MDiv. So, if I actually went back and got my MA and then even went on and got my PhD, my uThM would fit in perfectly between those two degrees, albeit somewhat retrospectively (and, of course, not accredited).
But, I’m jumping the gun here a little. Let’s back up and discuss my overall academic motivations (because who doesn’t like to do that?), how I got here, what’s actually happening, and where I see this possibly going and what kind of chances do I give the idea of me actually going back to grad school.
Despite how crazy it might sound…
What Do I Really Want?
I decided back in 1997 that I wanted to be a high school English teacher. I loved creative writing as a kid (the act, not necessarily the course) and I couldn’t think of another thing I would want to go to college for at the time.
Fast forward to my first term at the local Community College, fresh out of my one and only enlistment in the US Army (originally planned this to be 20 years, but that got spun sideways real quick), I had the G.I. Bill, plus a $30,000 kicker for signing up four years before, and I was set.
Of course, you’re never actually set. In fact, I was stumbling around blind, groping at the dark just trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing as a person on this God forsaken earth, let alone planning my career and life going forward.
My aspiration to be a high school teacher died quickly with my first term in college. It was literally like high school. Clicks. Rude people. Cool kids, losers, etc. I was socially awkward to say the least (though I could fake my way pretty well on the outside – how I felt on the inside was much, much different), and I dreaded going to and sitting in class lectures or working with partners or the like. I had free workstudy with the VA as part of my benefits so I worked at the Financial Aid office part time, which provided for my living expenses.
While I was struggling through this new life (after four regretful years of military service), I was also trying to understand who I was in Christ, as a Christian. The bible provided a glimpse into one world, but around me, I saw a completely different one, as if I’d stepped into an alternate universe. I knew very little about myself at that time, but the one thing I knew was I had no desire to be a pastor (and by this point, a school teacher either).
Going to school quickly became about the money. Getting the $30k + from the military was my objective. But I really hated college. Everything I hated about it was the same things I hated about public school, though college was voluntary and I couldn’t seem to justify putting myself through all this willingly.
By, I think, my second or third term, I was ready to quit.
Inventing the Internet
I’d just about had it by that point. I found solace living out in a 23 ft trailer on a ranch out on the river. It was a nice place. Pristine. Lots of mountains to hike on and get lost in (literally). I was alone alot, which was okay for me, but at the time I thought I wanted a wife and family.
Just before I jumped ship on college, though, I found a flier in the Student Center for some online classes at a neighboring town.
To make a long story short, I was instantly hooked. I stayed enrolled for one course at my local college so I could keep my workstudy, but transferred all my other courses online. This was better, but only for a while. I just couldn’t shake the disaster my life was becoming on the inside and school was not providing any direction or satisfaction. In fact, I looked at it as a distraction from what I really wanted to be doing with my life.
Why Not Teach Online?
After the first few terms online my desire to teach was rekindled. If online courses took off (why wouldn’t they?), I could get my MA and teach online. I wouldn’t have to socialize with other people. I could do it from anywhere. And that got me thinking about my previous dream that had been dashed to pieces when I left the military.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to live as a hermit in a cabin on a lake, isolated, living in peaceful solitude. And, I could accomplish this with online teaching!
So I got to work, even moved out of town, and through a few familial circumstances, ended up on that lake, in the cabin, while going to school. And, if I’d stuck to my guns, thought through what I was doing and what I wanted, instead of reacting emotionally, I could have stayed there, gotten my AA, BA, my MA, and my PhD, all on the government dime, all from a distance, while living out my dream on the lake.
Of course, this is not what happened. I lasted a year on the lake before I flunked out of school (the content was driving me insane), left the cabin for the ill-fated promise of ministry work, and found myself back in the valley working and trying to make sense of an incomprehensible world (I still don’t understand this place, but I’ve since stopped trying).
Fast forward again, and I’m post marriage, post divorce, and I’m running the family business, still miserable, still unsure of what I want or how to get it, but at least I’m working for myself and from home, so I at least have the isolation I’ve so long craved.
And, during those rather dark times through my marriage and shortly thereafter, I was able to get my AA and also my BA in History online, but I also started grad school, studying history, with the intention (hope) to teach History online when I got done with my MA.
Circumstances again spun me out and I found myself separated from my wife, and my coursework again experiencing cataclysmic obstacles because the subject matter was not what I was interested in.
Yes, I’m interested in History, especially Native American History of the local tribes that used to live on this particular lake. But, it wasn’t what I felt called to do. It was a means to an end. It was distraction.
What I wanted to do (teaching the bible) held all manner of road blocks in front of me, along with an assortment of compromises that would be required, uncomfortable realities that did not set well with me. Plus, it had to be one or the other. If I got an MA in History I couldn’t teach the bible. If I got a bible degree, none of the secular schools would touch me.
So, after I received a zero on a paper from an atheist professor in a History of Religion class because, as she put it, “Your paper wasn’t history” I reacted emotionally instead of responding rationally and took this as the final straw and quit.
What Does this Have to Do With Now?
So, you might be asking, “What does this have to do with you going back to grad school?” Well, fast forward again and I find myself trying to realize at least part of my long-held dreams – from even childhood.
I end up on the same lake from my youth, at least partially. I’ve moved, landed a pretty great job on the coast, and now it’s evolved into an incredible part-time position where I’m basically all but retired at 45!
I started my uThM program about a year ago, but then last week I find myself looking online for graduate degrees. And, of course, this is not the first time I’ve done this kind of late night degree searching on Google. It happens every few months.
This time around, though, I think maybe, possibly, I’ve found a workable solution. Not to mention a different mindset altogether.
The Current Plan
What I would love to find is an online MA program in Philosophy. But more so, one that operates from a biblical worldview. And, I actually found it at Biola – for $45,000 (such a ridiculous price)! And that’s if I could even get in.
So, I started searching for something similar and that led me to Liberty. Now, I’ve been here before. I’ve checked the ThM program and the MDiv program. They’re find and all, but I have little interest in being a pastor and the ThM degree requires a Master’s degree first.
Then I found their PhD in Bible Exposition degree and started to put a plan together. If I finished my MA in History, then got the PhD in Bible Exposition, I could bridge the two worlds like I wanted. I could teach History (or any other secular subject I got 18 credits in) and then also teach bible courses at seminaries and bible colleges or Christian Universities with the PhD. But, the MA in History program at my old grad school still had the same complications that it had before. How in the world was I going to get around it?
That’s when I discovered Liberty has an MA in History as well!
Liberty is not only regionally accredited, but it also has a Military discount for Veterans, bringing the MA program tuition to $275 / credit and for PhD programs its $300 / credit. They also have a block tuition rate for full time PhD students (@ 15 credits per semester) that works out to $180 / credit.
Theoretically (and how often does that actually work?), I could finish my MA in History for $5500 and get my PhD for $8640. It would require they accept the credit’s I already earned at my previous grad school, plus the MDiv credits I have from a free online bible college (which I’ve heard Liberty has taken in the past).
That’s a really, really good point. Why should I even bother? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is, I discovered what quitting grad school has done to me..psychologically. It’s a kind of psychic drain, always running in the back of my mind. An unfulfilled goal, an unachieved aspiration. An unrealized dream. I think these things wear on a person over time. I know it has worn on me over the last ten years.
But, price has always boxed me out of going back and finishing what I’ve started. The ROI is just too low (or non-existent). And that may still be true, even if there have been a rash of new teaching jobs online in just about any subject due to the pandemic. That could die off as quickly as it came about, certainly. But, here is the rationale I came to. I have 100% no chance of getting a teaching job in history or the bible or anything without going back to grad school. I will not be able to teach for a college or seminary with my uThM degree, even if I do finish it. They’ll laugh me off the phone call, toss out my resume without a second look.
And, who’s to say there is a genuine chance of landing a teaching job with an MA. It is, after all, Liberty University. It’s possible no secular Community College or University would touch someone with a degree from there. But, that’s actually okay. For the price, it’s worth the risk. Especially given that Liberty will have the right worldview, unlike the previous grad school I attended.
For the price, $5500, given my current circumstances (semi-retired, with extra income), it is worth the risk, especially in light of the reality that finishing my MA in History (I only have 6 classes left if all credits transfer) + there is no Thesis requirement, it would close that psychic drain once and for all.
Playing the optimistic, say getting my MA works out and I can regularly get online adjunct teaching jobs. To match my income needs, I would need to secure four courses each year (and that would be free money if I still had my current job). There are a lot of colleges out there. And, what happens if the liberals (or socialists) are able to pass free college tuition? Everyone will be heading back to college and there will be even greater demand. What if the pandemic never goes away and colleges are forced to move everyone online permanently? Demand would be even greater still.
Not only does the ROI have a psychological and financial component, but this specific opportunity (if it actually works out), I would be able to use my current disposable income to pay tuition for both programs. That means no Student Loans (which are nothing but scams, just like the VA).
What else could I do with that money? It has no bearing on retirement. As long as I have my current job I have no need for full retirement. Plus I have another 30 years left to do something with myself, to pass the time, if I indeed live to my 70’s (which is possible I guess). Should I, instead, spend the money on frequent trips to Hawaii and sit on the beach or go for walks around Honolulu? Buy a new car? Start dating and spend the money on wine, women, and song? Get remarried (don’t even get me started)?
There’s ZERO ROI on any of those!
Say I get my MA in History but cannot land any teaching jobs. If I continue on and get my PhD in Bible Exposition, I open up an entirely new field for teaching – seminaries. If I get 18 credit hours in philosophy (or really anything), I could theoretically teach whatever subject I wanted at the undergraduate level and also, apparently, the graduate level, too (because I had a PhD + 18 graduate credits).
Don’t Go for Money
They say it all the time, “don’t go to grad school to help your career” and I agree with this, somewhat. If I thought I could get an MA in History and find a tenure track professorship somewhere, taking out $100,000 in student loans to do it, I should probably find the nearest Mental Health Facility and get checked in. That’s insanity. The MA in Philosophy at Biola for $40,000 is pretty crazy, too. But, gambling on finishing my MA for $5500, paying cash, while working my job and having five days a week free to study (I’m going to be doing the work anyway), why not roll the dice? I’m definitely going to crap out if I don’t take the chance. Even if the financial ROI is a bust, it’s worth it for the psychological ROI.
So, at this point, I’ve sent in my unofficial transcripts to be evaluated by the Liberty staff, and I’m waiting to hear back on what credits they will accept. If they, for whatever reason, say no to the bulk of them, I will probably pass. Driving the price up to $11,000 makes the opportunity much less attractive to say the least.
But, what if they do accept the credits I have? What if I can really get a regionally accredited MA in History for only $5500 (hey, there would be an actual, tangible benefit from spending four hellish years in the military, God knows having the free medical they promised was nothing but a lie)?
What if I could get a regionally accredited PhD for $8500?
There is the adage to consider, “What looks too good probably is” and I realize that. When looking at re-enlisting while in Europe, when I asked a soldier about the duty assignment she was stationed at (that I could transfer to) she replied, “Not all that glitters is gold.”
That’s stuck with me.
The reality is, that PhD would be a tough, tough challenge. 5 doctorate level courses per semester. But, even if I went the military discount route instead of the block tuition rate, I could get the PhD with a spread out workload (2.5 years) for $14,000. That’s a fraction of the MA from Biola!
Who knows what’s going to happen. The first thing I did after I sent my transcripts in was jump back into my uThM studies, because I know how this works. There could be loop holes, hidden fees, they may not accept my credits – who knows all the different blind alleys this could lead to (and usually does).
But, it’s an interesting opportunity if it does work out. Imagine? In 3.5 years (or less even) I could have a PhD and be teaching online from my dock or next to a campfire as I look up at the stars in the summer sky.
Now, talk about an ROI…
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from The Light Aurora:
The door’s lock released and Dr. Lewis looked around at each of them.
“Stay close, and be ready for anything. I’m not sure if they’re all in the Command Center or if they are trying to secure Level 4. Hell, they could all be evacuating.”
He stared at Scott as he came up onto the landing.
“Let’s go,” Scott said.
Dr. Lewis pushed the door open and walked out into the hall, followed by the others – in ones and twos.
Level 2 was similar to the other level, with a long corridor, doors on either side, all with security displays recessed into the wall next to them.
But, as they entered the corridor, Scott’s breath caught in his throat.
As he stood there with the others, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
In front of them, probably no more than a few yards away, were three bodies lying on the floor. One was sitting up against the wall, the side of his face melted, exposing his right eyeball and a good portion of his right skull.
Another one was laying face down, his entire back opened up at the spine, as if his spinal cord had been ripped out of him from behind.
The last one was a few more feet away from the others, on his back, his eyes seared from his head, black, burnt flesh where his eyes used to be.
The intercom came back to crackling life.
Derrick said over the intercom.
“Don’t worry. You can answer,” he said. “I can hear you.”
Scott looked up, then fixed his gaze on the security camera at the end of the corridor.
“Yes?” Scott finally asked.
There was a pause, static.
“What are you doing, Derrick?” he asked. “Did you do this?”
“Indeed,” Derrick said, coming back on.
“They refused to help me.”
“What are you trying to do, Derrick?” Scott asked.
There was another pause.
“I want to go home, Professor,” the boy said.
“Yes,” Derrick said, his tone soaked with some other-worldly confidence that did not belong in an innocent, ten year old boy.
“I want to go home, Professor,” he said again. “Would you be interested in coming home with me?”
Buy the entire story The Light Aurora today and get ready for the thrill ride of a lifetime! What is this foreign and hostile place these strangers find themselves in? What does it all mean? Will all of them survive?
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But, trust me when I say, reading this book will change your life forever.