Tag Archives: financial aid

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.

 

Should Everyone Go to College?

My alma mater, a private midwest college with a strong arts program, recently announced that it is raising tuition to $30k a year. While this is quite high, other private schools in the area also announced tuition hikes… The University of Chicago raised tuition to 4% to $55,416 for 2011-2012 and beyond.

At least the students at The University of Chicago have high odds to earn back their extremely high tuition fee… but what about the others of us who are not Ivy League material? Is it worth it to pay $100k – $250k for a college degree?

We were raised to think YES, but some are now arguing the opposite. In The Atlantic, Professor X returns to further on his original controversial article “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: University education for everyone is a destructive myth.” Professor X is a professor at a “college of last resort,” he calls it. In 2008, he wrote:

“I wonder, sometimes, at the conclusion of a course, when I fail nine out of 15 students, whether the college will send me a note either (1) informing me of a serious bottleneck in the march toward commencement and demanding that I pass more students, or (2) commending me on my fiscal ingenuity—my high failure rate forces students to pay for classes two or three times over.

What actually happens is that nothing happens. I feel no pressure from the colleges in either direction. My department chairpersons, on those rare occasions when I see them, are friendly, even warm. They don’t mention all those students who have failed my courses, and I don’t bring them up. There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass.”

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How long would it take to save $150k?

All of the graduate programs I’m looking at will cost about $150k for 2 or 3 years. Thus, I want to save $150k before applying. Is that possible? How long would it take to, realistically, save $150k?

If I cut out things I don’t really need… voice lessons, dance class, gym membership, etc, I could get my monthly expenditures down significantly. Still, $150k is a lot of money.

I don’t want to take out loans. I don’t want to graduate from grad school in debt. That seems counterproductive to fiscal growth.

I have $30k saved now, though half of that is my retirement savings. Do I want to touch my retirement savings? At least that doesn’t count towards my FAFSA AGI.

Ok, so to save $150k …

$12500 / month for 12 months (1 year)
$6240 / month for 24 months (2 years)
$2500 / month for 60 months (5 years)
$1250 / month for 120 months (10 years)

I bet I could save $1250 a month, but that means I won’t be going to graduate school until 2020. And by then, tuition will cost much more. So this saving up for my tuition seems impossible.

Right now I’m taking in between $3,000-$4,000 / month.

Cutting out all extraneous costs, $1250 / month would be possible to save.

But then… I won’t be saving for retirement in the next 10 years. I won’t be saving for anything else. And I won’t be living life. Oh, and I won’t be able to afford to have children. Which all kind of sucks.

How on earth does anyone justify graduate school (unless it’s all paid for?) How does anyone justify any education (I can’t believe how much my parents paid for my undergraduate degree!) Then again, at the time my dad was making over $200k / year, which, even after taxes, made it possible to cover my $120k undergraduate education. They really should have made me go to the equally–good state school that I got into that would have cost a lot less, but I’m glad they didn’t.

Now, looking at my future, I’m trying to balance how much my career is worth versus being in debt for the rest of my life. I realized that I missed the mark in terms of my undergraduate major, though even with the right major I lacked the maturity at the time to make the most of my education. Not that I partied a lot or anything, I just didn’t want to be there. I didn’t know what I wanted. I felt like I had to be in college because that’s what you do after high school. I didn’t really know WHY I was there. To get a liberal arts education? To get a technical education? Yea, it wasn’t clear. I got a taste of a few different things, but now I really need some sort of focused trade-school-esque education to get where I want in my career.

Speaking of, I’m contemplating seeing a career counselor to help me figure out where that is. I went to my career counselor in college quite a bit, but he wasn’t much help. Maybe the ones that cost $100/hr are better? Apparently it’s normal for an INFP like myself to spend way too much time thinking about all the possibilities without ever acting on them. So I just need some guidance. An adult guidance counselor. I’m starting to think I need that more than therapy. I mean, I know my issues. And yes, I can work on them all my life. The daughter of an upper-middle class everything-is-fine-with-our-family sociopath and a narcissist is bound to turn out a little messed up, right?

I’m just SO TIRED of living my life afraid of failure in the eyes of my parents. I’m looking forward to paying for my own education because then, even if they look down on me for my choice, or roll their eyes at it, I know it’s coming out of my wallet. It’s my education to make the most of, not theirs. Not theirs to waste, either.

I went to a new therapist this morning… a first meeting intended to place me into a group for group therapy. I’m very interested in group therapy because much of my issues, especially those relating to my ability to succeed, are rooted in my complete lack of ability to communicate. It is painful because I know I come off like this conceited bitch because I’m terrified of giving compliments even though in my head 99% of what I’m thinking is a compliment and 1% is “you could just tweak this one thing and everything would be even extra special great.” How on earth do you say that without coming off like a suck up? Agggh.

Well, I know I’ve completely failed on the communication end in my current company. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes, yet I still make them, and no one really wants to hear my thoughts anyway. Because they are often inspired by a gut feeling more than solid research, so their standpoint is beyond fair.

I just have concluded that ultimately I need to be in a job where I am a problem solver. I am always bursting with solutions and to not be allowed to say them (even though I often do anyway, to the disappointment of my coworkers) is suffocating. I know my ideas are not always right, but I love to collaborate and throw ideas out, bounce off other people, turn an idea into a solution.

I’ve spent my free time this week reading about countless masters programs. MBA programs. HCI programs. ID programs. Design masters programs. With a foundation year for people who didn’t major in design in undergrad. International programs. Online programs. Part-time programs. Dual degree programs. Weekend and evening programs. Programs that can only be completed if you stand on your head and clap five times while hunting wild boars. (Okay, okay, I haven’t found that last one… yet.) I am overwhelmed by all the options and the potential cost of all those options. Any of those options.

All the stress is enough to have me retreat into the status quo forever. And maybe that’s what I’ll do. Or maybe I don’t need grad school to do what I want. Maybe if I can just believe in myself enough I can take a few design classes, get a portfolio together, and shift my career trajectory. I don’t know. I’m obviously more confused than ever. It’s the typical quarter life crisis. Except I kind of know what I want. Or at least I know I want to be solving problems. To be in charge of solving problems. Creatively. I’m most comfortable as a leader, not a follower, but I need a team of equals. I wish I had some realistic support. I won’t get any from my parents and my boyfriend doesn’t understand the financial consequences of grad school… his mother is going to pay for him to get a graduate degree if he doesn’t get a full ride (his undergrad education was much cheaper than mine, so it makes sense that his mom still has money left over for his graduate education.)

I just wish someone sat down with me in senior year of high school and forced me to take a year off and work before going to college. I wish someone explained why despite “liberal arts” magical allure, ultimately you should be using college to get the skills you need for a job. A job that you’ll actually like. Not just one you’re qualified for because you have a BA.

Anyway, that’s enough rant for tonight. I hate that I always sound so spoiled. I just want to pay my way through graduate school, work hard, and feel like I own my successes and my failures. I want to own… me.

OMFGrad School

Graduate school is a huge sacrifice. Am I ready to take it?

At 25, my career is going well, but in order to really get where I want to be I need something big. Either that’s a lot of luck or a lot of education. I’m stuck. At least I think I am. My experience is rousing no ones interests and the economic situation in the country isn’t helping.

I have a job at a company where I’m making 57k a year w/ no benefits, and I could get let go every third month because that’s how long my contracts usually last. My skills don’t merit a full time position. I work 40 hours a week. I’ve been with this company for over a year now.

One route I could go down in the management route. But as much as an MBA makes $ sense, it doesn’t really work out in my head. My passion is and will always be design, and since I have a psychology-business bent I’ve found myself addicted to Interaction Design.

There are a lot of successful interaction designers without graduate degrees, but they often have technical experience that gets them jobs where they can also do ID. Not so when it comes to people like me… who just feel stabbing pains whenever I view poor UI.

So… grad school is an option. I’m completely at a loss over whether it is the right option or not. When I went home to visit the fam for Thanksgiving I visited two graduate programs in NYC. They were very, very different. One was the Technology & Design program at NYU. I visited this second. The program was housed in the school’s art building, and that place was a fluttering with artists. The tech floor felt like I walked into some experimental art exhibit. Cool, but probably not for me. The program seems a little too techy. The good thing about that program is it’s flexible in that there are few required courses and you basically design your own program. But that’s what got me into trouble in undergrad. If anything, I need a grad program that will force me to focus. Few or no electives, just a structured curriculum with the flexibility existing only in my thesis / final project.

Plus, I just didn’t get a good vibe from the NYU program. Sure, the students seemed happy, but I just didn’t feel like I’d click there. Compared to SVA, which I visited earlier in the day, it was black and white to me. Of course, when I visited SVA there wasn’t much of a “program” to visit. They’re launching an MFA in Interaction Design in the fall. So right now there’s an office, a head of the program, and an assistant. And floor plans. Which can be a good or bad thing. For a lot of reasons.

I’m attracted to the MFA at SVA for a lot of reasons. #1 is the professors they have lined up. The roster is rather impressive. Various interaction designers that are at the top of the field. Connections aplenty. That doesn’t speak for whether they are good teachers, but ultimately graduate school is about meeting the right people, spending time to teach yourself about the field, and, oh yea, did I mention meeting the right people?

The awesome thing about my visit to SVA was how the head of the program took the time to have coffee with me and chat. I asked a zillion questions. I definitely felt like I was being courted to apply, whereas at NYU they didn’t care if I applied or not. Granted, with a brand new program it makes sense that the chair is trying to court the right students. The success of this program seems to depend greatly on the students she choses. With only 15 students in the program, each one of those heads will make all the difference. Not only does she have to select people with potential, she also has to figure out if there is a good blend of people in such a small, collaborative program. It’s a tough job, I don’t envy her.

It’s really hard to judge the program at this point. I’d be trading $65k for two years of education, plus losing about $110k in salary, minus room & board, etc, etc. Ouch. Just thinking about the numbers makes me wonder how anyone decides to go to grad school (unless they somehow get a free ride or major scholarship money.)

The good news is that the SVA program is mostly at night, so it leaves time to work during the days. By “work,” I mean intern, since I’d probably want to build up my work experience in the field and not just continue working as a writer (though some writing might work well for me, at least to cover rent and things).

I’m also concerned that I just have this romanticized idea of graduate study. I know it’s work, and a lot of work at that, but I also am upset at myself for not figuring out what I want to study sooner and missing out on a really great HCI (human computer interaction) program at my undergrad institution. Since I can’t rewind time, I need to look ahead and think… grad school, or, at the least, taking classes in the field.

There are so many options outside of grad school that could possibly land me in the same spot. Self education. Courses at community college. A local State University that has an MA in multimedia studies that would cost me $20k for two years, and is a night program so day-time work is do-able. Trying my darndest to get an internship with an Interaction Design firm. Weeding my way in via a paid copywriter position and learning more on the job. Meeting the right people outside of school.

When all of those options exist, how can I take the plunge? Or, when all of those options exist in theory but don’t quite pan out in reality, how can I not?