The Cost of Preparing to Actually Do Something

After a long debate (with myself) I’ve punted my short-lived plans to become a therapist in lieu of returning to my consistently-returning plans/desire to be a UX designer and product manager. While graduate school is not required for such a career change, I’m the type of person who likes to have formal training from a well-regarded institution in order to properly credential myself for the future – and to learn best practices, theories, and generally have an opportunity to try things out in a supportive environment. Furthermore, given my undergraduate and professional background, a degree from a well-regarded school would be extremely helpful in making a switch and moving up quicker once I do.

With a 3.2 GPA and a transcript that looks like a schizophrenic went to school (I believe I graduated with 320 quarter credits were my 3.2 is definitely what you would call an “average” of quite a range of grades (let’s just say my first two years were rough and I randomly did well in certain academic electives), I need a killer GRE score to get into any of the programs that would be worth attending. One of the great things about the GRE today is that you can also use the score to apply to MBA programs. I don’t plan to do that off the bat – my ideal scenario would be become an interaction designer for a large company that would help support an executive MBA education, which I would then use said GRE score to get into if I wanted more formal business training at some point.

The plan really makes sense. I’m not sure exactly which school I’d go to, but I do have a list of about 10 with 5 top choices. I’m a bit worried that somehow I’ve gotten so old that I will be the oldest person in any of these programs (probably) as looking at their photos of “current students” makes me wonder if they are accepting middle schoolers. Regardless, I must remind myself that graduate education has nothing to do with age, it’s all what you make of it and everyone brings different life experiences.

For me, I’m getting excited about the potential of this really happening. It’s going to be a nutty next five years of my life, that’s for sure. Just playing it out here — if I apply this fall, that means I would be accepted to a program for fall 2016. I plan to be getting married in spring or fall 2016, and ideally getting pregnant shortly thereafter – which means I’d both be pregnant and have my first child while in graduate school. I’m not at all sure if this makes any sense, but at least beyond the biological requirements, I know my man would be very helpful in taking care of the kid while I do things like study and attend class.

The thought of both — being back in school AND having a kid — seem rather surreal and completely unachievable. Well, I’m taking things one step at a time. No matter what, my first step is getting a great score on the GRE. This is going to require a lot of studying. For the record, I’ve never actually studied for anything in my life. Between ADHD and anxiety I just tend to take tests and use logic to solve the questions. Alas, I’ve never really worked up to my potential. The reality is in order to do well on these types of tests, unless you’re a flat-out Einstein, you have to study. In high school I managed a 1230 SAT ( I believe it was 610v/620q) out of 1600… which at the time I thought was astoundingly good for a person who didn’t study at all for the test and didn’t really have any idea how she’d score.

The GRE is a whole different story though. To make it worth it, I want to aim for a 170. I’m not sure what score I’d be satisfied with, but that doesn’t matter right now. I need to aim for perfection and then deal with whatever I get. I did take the GRE once with no real prep the year after I graduated college and it was a disaster. I believe I scored a 520 out of 800 or something. It was pretty pathetic. All the math I kind of knew when I was in high school had poof disappeared from my mind. And, despite it being impossible to be a voracious writer I’m not a voracious reader, and I tend to eat my words as I write them, so my voraciousness is reserved for expunging thoughts versus consuming them — in other words, I voraciously suck at vocab. Surprise.

I’ve heard the new GRE is less of a vocabulary quiz and more focused on reasoning – which is good. I’ve always been fairly strong on the logic/reasoning side of things. That’s how I got through school in the first place. Use logic first and if that doesn’t work then just be creative. Well, that won’t fly in graduate school, but I do now value my intuitive ability to solve questions when logic is involved. I guess I get that logic mind from my math-science brain father, and the creative mind from my former-designer mom.

So now I’m wondering – how much money do I blow on GRE prep before I even take the test? On one hand, doing well on the test is the most important part of applying to graduate school. I know I need a killer GRE score to bypass my crazy educational background. And I’m fully aware that plenty of people (who have the money) spend thousands of dollars on tutors and such for test preparation (even for the SAT.) Since I live in an area with a high cost of living, it’s not unreasonable to expect to pay anywhere from $1000-$4000 for a prep program, depending on whether it’s a standard group program or personalized 1on1 tutoring. I’m sure there are people who pay even more. That doesn’t even count all the other services available for application coaching, which I plan to skip – it would be worth it if I was dying to go to a top MBA program but I think my story will speak for itself once I can prove I’m capable of handling academia. Oy.

But thinking about grad school, and what that means for my career, is definite the silver lining on my life right now. I know things will never be perfect, but I am so thrilled about spending my life designing products and services for people to use. There’s many different routes my career and even graduate education can go – there are programs dedicated to everything from design for learning technologies to designing interaction with robots and smart devices. I get all giddy excited imaging a life where I wake up every day getting to think about the interaction design of such products. Who knows where my life will lead, but I can smile at the thought of not spending the rest 35+ years of my life in marketing, and instead in a life where I focus on building great products.

Oh, but did I mention that I’m absolutely horrified about what this all means for my networth growth? HORRIFIED, I tell you. But I know I’m not the only one who has been through this, and I’ll be fine. It’s just going to make me cringe to see my networth go down for a few years before it can go up again. But at this rate in my current field I’m headed towards a mental institution which won’t be cheap either. Got to look on the bright side.

 

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2 comments

  1. Have you considered doing a boot camp? It would let you get introduced to the concepts of your intended field, get you connections with startups that are recruiting, and would be a much shorter time + money commitment than a grad program. I also expect the techniques you’d learn would also be more hit-the-ground-running and less theoretical than grad school, though I don’t know what programs you are applying to. Not to mention then you wouldn’t have to take the GRE!

    1. Joy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      I’ve looked into UX bootcamps but they are rather expensive for what they are – and they don’t really seem to offer the opportunity to get a job unless you already have a lot of design experience. They’re good if you’re already a designer and you need UX skills, for example, but not really for career changers (as I see it.) It’s a bit different for engineering bootcamps.

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