Category Archives: Education

Graduate School… Costs a Fortune Before You Get In

Forget the cost of tuition, room and board, the cost of applying to graduate school is fiercely staring at my quivering piggy bank like an angry honey badger ready to pounce on an unsuspecting snake long before I’ve even scribbled a sentence of my application essay.

To get into a top masters program — MBA or otherwise — you need to stand out for more than just your GPA. When your GPA makes you stand out for the wrong reasons, you’re far behind the curve. It isn’t clear if it’s possible to run really fast and hard to make it over that hump (ie pay expert consultants a lot of money to teach you the right speed to run and how your feet should hit the ground every step of the way) but the consultants surely will tell you that without them, you’ll be sitting down where you started, exhausted, looking up at a giant insurmountable lump of your future.

The cost for a live or online GMAT study program is somewhere around $1000 – $1400. There are cheaper programs, of course, and plenty of ways to get some books and study on your own, but many advise to take one of the classes if you’re the kind of person to underachieve on standardized tests. But for the candidates who really want to do well, you can pour hundreds or thousands of dollars more into private tutoring… just so you’ll break 700 or 750.

Consulting by admissions experts for the top programs is even more painful. One program I was examining the other night cost $3500 for a full package of help and edits to apply to just one school. Plenty may argue that putting $5000 – $10,000 into preparing yourself to apply for a top ranked program is worth it because on the other side of the hill… long after the field trips and late nights getting intimate with statistics… there’s a miraculous salary increase that will improve your overall lifetime earnings by, well, something around a lot of money, give or take a decimal point. But that’s IF you get in. All the coaching and test-taking advice in the world may never be enough. It’s a gamble either way. And if you can do it on your own (obviously there are plenty of people who have got into top MBA programs without draining their savings on outside help) then why seek out an expert?

Looking at my semi-healthy bank account, I can’t fathom draining my cash or stocks for this kind of coaching. And maybe that’s why I’ll never be an MBA student or even masters student. I figure, if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. And, meanwhile, am somewhat jealous of the people in the world that can afford such coaching, and their Harvard / Stanford / Wharton / Kellogg / Haas / Ross pedigree.

Graduate School — Calculating a Reality Check

I’ve been doing a lot of daydreaming about graduate school as of late. If I can manage to get past the GMATs and possibly retake the GREs for a better score, there’s still one more overwhelming knot I must tackle: reward vs. cost of a graduate degree.

Today, I started a spreadsheet to attempt understanding just how much money over time each of my top-choice programs would cost me. I tried my best to fairly estimate how much it would cost for a year including tuition, room, board and other necessary costs. My top-choice schools range from $30k a year to $80k a year. Most programs are 2 years, some are 3. Some are MBA programs, others are in design research. My top choice is in both, and happens to cost the most when lost salary is added in (it’s a 3 year program.)

Based on my current income, I feel it is safe to say that I could make $100k average per year during the time I would be in graduate school. So to understand the total cost of school, I’ve added that yearly lost income. Granted, I could freelance and consult on the side during school or obtain scholarships and other work situations, but at this time I’m looking at the cost of graduate school w/ no work vs. working full time. And I can’t handle the results of my calculations.

My top choice school, which would grant me an MBA and a Design masters degree, will cost approx $500k over 3 years. (WHAT? A HALF MILLION DOLLARS?) It’s $160k total, give or take, without the income loss factored in. Quite frankly if I continue on the professional track I’m on now I can probably match any income bump I’d get from having an advanced degree.

Now, the thing is, I’m not going for my masters degree for a raise. I’m going because I want to give myself a fighting change to lead product management for an innovative company. That leads me to wondering, however, if I’d be better off investing that $500k in starting a company instead of going to grad school.

Even the in-state program that I’m interested in will cost me $260k over a period of 2 years including lost income. How can I justify this kind of spending?

This all comes at a time when my networth is eeking closer and closer to $100k. At the moment, that seems like A LOT of money. But when I look at the cost of these graduate degrees (and the cost of life in general), it seems like pocket change.

Looking ahead to the future I know I won’t have the luxury to save as much as I do now. I’d like to start a family when I’m in my early 30s. My boyfriend is also planning on going to school so will have loans as well. Once I go to graduate school my value will be entirely in the amount of time I work in life. These days I feel like it’s a waste of time to do anything other than work… all my freelance projects earn me additional income – why spend time outside at a park when I can be earning valuable cash to invest when the market is down and I’m still young?

Not that I’m complaining… life is going really well, esp given the current economic circumstances. I’m just trying to figure out how to justify graduate school to myself when on paper (eh, Google docs spreadsheet) it just doesn’t make fiscal sense. Then there’s this whole “having to get in” issue as well.

Who is Superior? Response to a Comment…

“John M said… I can relate to Ivy envy. I live near Boston on the East Coast (Harvard, MIT, etc.). It shuts you out of some really special positions. Most of suffer from not living up to our expectations. We percieve others as being superior to us, and that we are failures for not being perfect. I look at decisions that I have to make in the future and I realize that compromises have to made. There are many people with ADD who are successful. There are many people who aren’t book smart who are successful. Our perception of success may seem difficult because of the challenges we face. I am not perfect, but that will not stop me, nor should it stop you from being successful.”

John,

Thanks for leaving me a comment. I’m not sure if you’ll return to my blog or not, but I figured I’d respond to our comment in a new post.

I figured that the Boston area is similiar to the Bay Area in the way that either you’re “one of them” or you aren’t. I can’t complain about the whole situation much, though, because I just love being around smart people. It inspires me. I’d rather live here than in middle-of-nowhere hicksville, where 50 percent of the population doesn’t know how to multiply past single digits. But I’m also glad I’m not the only one who feels such Ivy Envy.

It’s interesting that we all view other people as being superior to us. I guess everyone does that, even people who are extremely smart with… proper pedigree. I realize that success is not defined by what school you attended, and that there are plenty of people who are successful sans any degree at all. Yet I feel trapped by my understanding of myself and my abilities. I’m terrified of risk, even though compared to some I’m quite a risk taker (I moved away from home for college and never looked back, I live on my own now, support myself, etc, etc). I figure one thing required for success is the ability to see failure as a byproduct, albeit hopefully a temporary one, of any opportunity worth chasing.

I’m sure ADD isn’t what will hold me back in the long run. So I have a hard time focusing and It’s in my nature to be terribly disorganized. But I’m a big idea person, and when I put my mind to something I’m always the person that puts in 200 percent.

I’m now tempted to write an entry on age in the workplace, so I’m going to sign off here for this entry and move on to the next.

Again thanks for your comment John. I hope you return to my blog. I love comments. 🙂

Ivy Envy

Two years ago, when I was just a wee soon-to-be college grad, I hadn’t a clue what “job stability” meant. I was all wide-eyed and bushy tailed, expecting my B.F.A. to ensure everything in life would work itself out, given a short bit of things smoothing themselves out.

I really had no idea what I was in for. I’m lucky, I have a savings, I know my parents are there for me if I’m desperate (although with the amount of savings I have and my history with the ‘rents, I’d rather run myself into serious debt than beg them for help.)

So after a year of interning for a slave’s wage, I found myself a full time job in the editorial department of fairly small magazine startup. I’ve been there for about a year. It’s been a great ride, that’s for sure, and I’m learning tons. What I’m not getting, however, is a promotion in title or salary, despite that I’m a fairly dedicated worker and I’ve put a lot of hard work into the job.

Besides all that, it looks as though the company is slowly but surely falling to pieces. It could always surprise me and make a fortune, but there’s been an increased dosage of pessimism that leaves me thinking I’m likely going to be out of job in a month or two, or maybe three at most.

Meanwhile, my apartment complex raised my rent to $1050 from $905 (utilities included) for my comfy studio apartment. Gosh, I can’t believe I’m paying $1050 for a studio, but that’s the cost of living in the Bay Area. I know, I know, I should live with other people because at $35k a year, I can’t really afford to live alone.

But the thing is, I’ve been depressed my whole life until I finally got my own place, and suddenly my brain and emotions have stabilized. Living on my own, I figure, includes the cost of therapy I no longer need (or at least no longer desperately need).

Still, expenses are tight, as I’m spending about $200 more than what I earn per month. It’s do-able with my savings, but obviously I can’t live that way forever. I kind of figure that eventually I’ll be making more money (hopefully sooner than later) and if I can manage to make at least $45k a year I’ll be set.

I mean, I’m a spender. I buy things. But I also rarely buy big ticket items. I’m the type that goes into the drug store for shampoo and leaves having spent $78. I did that today. I love little things. Sometimes I need them, sometimes I don’t. I’d never spend more than $70 on a shirt, and I usually try to find clothes at sale retailers like Marshalls or Nordstrom Rack. I’m rather stingy, for the most part. Or so I think. It’s just all the little costs add up. And then I’m left looking at bright red numbers with a minus sign in front of them on my budget reports in Quicken.

Sometimes I feel like I’m hopeless. When I lose this job, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’ve considered graduate school but the thought of taking the savings I have and spending it all on more schooling, plus going into debt over it, makes me want to puke. I mean, I’d be going to grad school for journalism, and the reality is that the salary I’d make at a job post graduate studies is equal or lower to what I’m making now. That’s just how the field works.

Meanwhile, my job prospects at the moment are pretty dim. They’re definitely not as bad as they were last year, when I was a college grad with a degree in the arts and basically no experience minus a few internships. I’m way ahead of that in terms of experience now, but still, I feel like the only jobs outside of journalism I can get are in PR. And not that there is anything wrong with PR, it’s a perfectly practical and admirable profession, it’s just not something I can see myself getting passionate about.

There are SO many things I want to do with my life, and I’m trying hard to do each and every one of them, but some things I just, well, I need more training to do, and I’m not sure how feasible that is. For instance, I’d love to learn how to code web applications, to work for a local startup as a project manager, to somehow magically obtain some serious computer science skills and build out a career from there. Of course it’s a bit late for that. I know HTML and some CSS and that’s about it.

Well, long story short, when I’m out of a job in a few months, I really don’t know what’s next. I’m looking for another position now, mostly because I don’t want to be left out cold. But I also want to take the next step in my career, as it doesn’t seem possible at my current company. I just have no idea where I ought to step, and meanwhile I’m just frustrated with myself for failing to be good enough for my company. It’s tough, I’m not an Ivy League grad, and for good reason. I’m smart, but I’m not book smart. I’m not as smart as 99 percent of the people who work at my company. And I try, believe me I try, but it’s hard to know that my brain perhaps doesn’t have the ability to keep up with my co-workers.

But that’s just what it’s like in Silicon Valley. Everyone here is smart. Everyone here seems to have graduated from Berkeley or Stanford. Well, I didn’t. I’ve got Ivy Envy, and for good reason. Tons of the interesting entry- or junior-level job ads on craigslist note that they’d prefer (or require) the applicant to have a degree from a “top university.” Thus, I’m out of the running.

Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between someone like me and a graduate of one of those top schools. Obviously they’re able to focus better and be more efficient with their time. Are they really all smarter than me? What is intelligence anyway? And can I be successful despite having a terrible case of ADD and perhaps not having an IQ that would allow me to so much as get an interview for a job at, say, Google?