Short Answer: I took somewhat sketchy jobs to offset the low amount of the TAship too… & I thought the degree was worth it both then & now. My opinion is that we should follow our passions. If you truly want the degree, go for it.
Long Answer: You can totally make assumptions about my funding :) To be blunt, up until I sold Wicked Lovely, I was poor. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and my father was a truck driver. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, but I wanted it desperately. I put myself through college with a combo of scholarships, loans, and jobs.
In college, one of my equally driven friends worked at a nude bar, but I wasn’t quite ready for that leap. I was a research assistant, tutor, daycare teacher, etc.
Grad school was only possible if I got a TA, and I couldn’t afford to apply to many schools. (App fees were $45-50 a pop). I got into my fantasy school, but there was no way I could afford it. I cried a lot over that. I got into a couple others, but I went to the one with the best assistantship. It gave me in-state tuition, and something like $8500/year stipend.
So I moved there the day after graduating college & found a job waiting tables for the summer. Then I was out with friends and wandered into a biker bar … where the bartender asked if I wanted a job “because the boys like you.” I said no, but by the end of the night, I was working there. By the following day, I was standing with my arms raised over my head so they could cut my t-shirt “a half inch from decent” (the goal was that when I stretched up, the shirt would lift enough to almost flash them). They treated me like a dress up doll sometimes, but the money was incredible.
I wanted both the college & grad degrees enough that I did consider a job at a nude bar, did accept a job at a biker bar, and even briefly took a job at a strip club (cocktail waitress with a uniform of lingerie and heels). I steadfastly refused stripping… not out of modesty but because I’m not athletic enough to earn well at that.
I can’t give you a logical answer of why I thought it was so worth it. After I finished my degree, I was still poor… plus in debt & still bartending in order to offset the low salary of teaching. I’d get frustrated bc I made more in one night in a skimpy outfit working in a bar than I did in a week teaching. But people age, gravity changes things, and those very lucrative nights would’ve ended. So I refused to stop teaching bc I didn’t want a gap in my professional work on my CV. The degree was about the long game. The bar was so I could afford to teach.
My plan had been either law school or a PhD after that, but then I got married. Marriage added more debt. I married an enlisted Marine (who was in univ in order to get a degree & get commissioned), & he sent his entire salary to his 4 year old daughter & ex-wife. I took on his debt, and we went even further in debt to get custody of her.
So, poor was definitely still the right word up until my spouse deployed & I wrote a book & then another & so now I’m a writer…
So I guess my long answer is that if I want something—be it a degree, a job, a child—the debt is worth it. I credit that MA degree (particularly two of my professors) for teaching me how to dissemble novels. That skill is why I believe I now have a career as a writer. I credit my daughter with being the reason I sold that first book. I wrote it for her … and that book sale paid off the $40k legal bill & the various credit card debts we incurred while fighting for her. The degree led to the job that led to meeting my spouse which led to being a mom which led to being a writer which paid off the debt of all of those things :)
It doesn’t always work out the way it did for me. I got lucky… but I worked my ass off because I thought the degree and the family are worth it. I still think that.
My answer is almost always “follow your passions.” If this degree is your passion, go for it.