Tag Archives: grad school

Dilemma: Grad School vs. Work

Some say a graduate degree (in the right subject) can improve your future potential earnings. But I wonder if taking 2-3 years out of my career right now would actually equal more money in the long term.

Assuming I’d be missing out on an earning potential of $100k per year (let’s call that $60k after tax) and I go to school for 2 years. That’s -$120k plus -$50k per year on school and other costs So In the course of two years I’d be out $220k, give or take.

Let’s say I manage to save half of the money I earn, or $30k a year, $60k total. In 30 years at 5% annual compound interest rate, by the time I’m 60 I’d have $259,316 just from that $60k. Ok, that’s not too impressive — in theory I could make a lot more with a grad degree such as an MBA, which is one potential route.) But I’d also be $100k in debt. Ok, so how does that really add up…

Sans Grad School,
Investing $30k per year for next 30 years:
$2,222,481 by age 57

With Grad School,
assuming -$30k savings lost per year in school
plus $100k in student loans
Income increase to $150k / year, $90k after tax
Savings start 2 years later @ 29
Can save $50k / year after loan repayments
3,066,135.60, by age 57 – 259,316 in lost investment earnings

BUT — it’s really hard to say if that’s actually true. That’s assuming a lot of other variables that are unknown. Namely, it’s quite possible for my income to go up WITHOUT a graduate degree, and for my income to go down WITH one. Over the long run I believe a graduate degree would make my yearly income a bit more predictable (but not by much) and give me opportunities to pursue better paying jobs, but that doesn’t mean I will want to take them. But the two years I am in school may be two years I could have spent at a startup that ends up having a successful exit, and thus the grad school would never be able to equal the fiscal value of those lost years (not to mention the experience may be professionally just as valuable, at least in getting a job, as the degree.)

So the truth is the choice of grad school shouldn’t be about money. Clearly if I get a graduate degree and use it to find a better paying job over the long term it could mean a larger retirement nestegg. But it’s not a certain to say the least, and right now the experience and opportunities outside of graduate study are.

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.

Eat. Pay. Money can’t buy you Love.

Life has been too busy, for better or worse, to update this blog as frequently as I have in the past. Mostly, though, I’m afraid of being found out — I know far too many people who are experts in finding things online accidentally or otherwise, thus I’m concerned about writing details of my professional or fiscal life at this point to identify myself. Heck, one gal who read my livejournal for a few years guessed this was me just by my writing style and some other details. What, am I the only insecure yet semi successful gal who writes in run-on sentences in this world?

In any case, it’s time for a real update. I’ll take my chances and hope that I don’t say anything too incriminating here to get me into trouble in the real world.
This summer I spent most of my time traveling for a business trip, and then a short vacation since I was already abroad and needed a breather. The best part about it — other than seeing some cool new places and having great professional opportunities — was how much money I made in a month. I ended up working extremely long hours and billed about two months worth of work in one month’s time — which is especially great since my contract will be expiring soon and it’s not sure yet whether it will be renewed.
I’m not too concerned on that front, though. I’ve already made more money this year than I did last year, even with just seven months of work. I also have a few startup projects that I’m working on which are extra income streams — though they’re more to keep me sane (I can’t just work on one thing at a time) than for the money. Then again, I’ve found consulting in my field can be quite lucrative. Sure, self employment tax sucks, but once you can call yourself an expert in something you can get away with charging enough to cover that and then some. What I really love about those jobs, though, is the ability to work from home. I’m so much less anxious at home so I get much more done and do better work. Ultimately, I’d like to find a full-time job or consulting work that I can do mostly at home.
That brings me to my current plan to actually apply to graduate school this year. It’s definitely the right time for me to do this, if I’m going to ever go to grad school. I’m 26 and I’m not getting any younger. I want to have my graduate degree by the time I’m 30 and given that a few programs I’m looking at are 3 years long, it’s now or never. And now is a great time… I don’t have an extended full-time job (even if my contract does get renewed it will end in another six months) and my consulting projects could feasibly continue into grad school if my bosses feel I add enough value to the company, and ideally I could work a few hours a week to cover some of my basic expenses outside of loans.
Still, I wonder if grad school has a place in my life. This year (not counting my two months of unemployment) I would have made over $120k — most graduate programs, even top-ranking ones, boast that their graduates that are on the high end of the salary scale score jobs that pay that must post graduation. Of course, the reason for me to go to grad school isn’t exactly for salary alone… it’s about having more flexibility in my career, more respect, and more knowledge. I just wonder how much that’s worth… because I seem to be doing ok so far — which I’m proud of and also somewhat guilty about, given the state of the economy. I certainly don’t feel like I deserve the income… yet I know I’m most comfortable in the upper middle class, and I don’t expect my boyfriend to ever get me there. It’s all on me.
My goal this year was to end 2010 with a net worth of $100k. Even though I’ve been making a lot and saving a lot, the stock market (as we all know) is not doing well enough to boost my savings to that goal. Right now it looks like I might hit $80k… which means I would have saved $30k this year (not so bad.) I might be able to make it to $100k if some of these side projects work out, but that’s all up in the air. It’s tough because some weeks I love working the extra hours and other weeks I just wish I had time to have a life! For instance, I’ve been spending all day working… instead of hanging out with my boyfriend and enjoying the nice weather. Hopefully I’ll have a few hours away from the computer tomorrow.
I have a hard time sticking to my goals because everything in life is so transient. Working for a big corporation has been a great learning experience, but I also struggle to find motivation in working for ‘the bottom line’ when even my direct superiors and their superiors don’t have a lot of say in what we’re doing. I definitely like working for smaller companies where you have a say. Then again, in a bigger company it’s a bit easier to just hang on for the ride… do what you’re told… which is nice sometimes. But not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.
Well, I have to get back to work. I don’t know if anyone still reads this blog since I never update, but if you do say hi as knowing folks still read will encourage me to write more. 🙂

Mint’s "Goals" Depress Me.

It’s been a while since I’ve written on here because I’ve been so busy lately. Which is a good thing. I’m working a full-time job, spending some time on a side project, and not spending all that much money. All in all, I’m doing “good.” Heck, I’m doing amazing right now in relation to how I’ve done at any point in my life before – financially, personally, etc.

Yet I feel so far away from reaching any of my goals. Mint’s new Goals feature makes my future look terribly bleak. Especially given that my current salary — of about $120k per year, give or take — is temporary at best — and even WITH that salary I can’t save enough to reach my “goals.” At least according to Mint.
I made four different goals for myself…
Emergency Fund — I have my $8k in that, and it’s the only goal I’ll reach.
Save for Grad School — I need to save $110k, I’ve saved $1.4k. Yikes. At this rate I’ll go to to grad school by the time I’m 90.
Buy a Home? Yea, right. I need to save $207k for a downpayment. I haven’t really saved anything for a downpayment yet, but I’m counting my various non retirement investment as savings for a downpayment (which, it is if I ever want to buy a house.) Ok, so how much do I have saved now? A whopping $13k. Mint so nicely reminds me that I’m “4 years and 10 months behind” my savings goal. Granted, I wrote that I want to buy a million dollar house – but that’s not unreasonable where I live. That’s a pretty small house where I live. And I’ll never do it. Ok, so I’ll rent forever. Or I need to more to Kansas (I guess I’m renting forever.)
Retirement? Well, I’m doing OK on that goal. It doesn’t LOOK like I’m doing ok since according to Mint I need to save $6,362,665 by the time I’m 65 to hit my retirement goals. Yikes. Yea, so that’s giving me $80k per year in retirement income and I doubt I’ll need that much money when I retire, but I wouldn’t mind having it. I have $22.8k saved so far, at 26. You may say I don’t REALLY have $22.8k saved because that money will probably have to go to the down payment on my house one day when/if I want to buy one. Which SUCKS because I don’t want my retirement savings to go back to zero.
I know it’s good to be honest with yourself about your goals and how much you have to save, but really this is just terribly depressing. And as I contemplate seriously applying for graduate school next year, I am forced with knowing that grad school will make my goals even further from ever becoming a reality. It almost makes me want to give up. I’ll never own a house and never have enough for retirement. I’ll be lucky if I can buy myself another car when this one dies.

The Value of Each Second

I’ve been making an insane amount of money so far this year. I still owe taxes on my freelance earnings, but I’d guestimate I’ve taken in about $30k so far.

But I still feel empty. I’m not saying a job is supposed to give me my ultimate fulfillment in life, but I’d like to feel proud of what I do. I work for a very cool company but ultimately I am not a huge fan of the product I’m paid to promote. I’m given very little power to impact the product, so all I can do is work with what exists. And that’s not the easiest job. That’s why they pay me so much.

Still, I don’t know how long I can do this successfully. After less than two months in the role, I feel myself lost for what to do. My contract ends about half way through the year, so my goal is to make it that far. If I can do that, I’ll have earned at least the amount I earned for an entire year of work in 2009. Sure, I won’t make my $100k Net Worth goal by the end of the year, but I’d be doing ok.

I just want a job that I feel like I can DO a good job at. I like feeling like I’ve accomplished something, and it’s a lot easier to do this with a product that is useful. Ultimately, I think the only way I could ever really be happy in a work environment is if I have a say in the product and get to help make it useful. Not just to market whatever it is.

Ok, so I’m not destined to be a marketer. I’ve done a good job marketing myself and getting this far. But my introverted and honest nature makes me struggle with any sort of promotion. It’s even harder that my role requires me to be “honest” and seem like I’m not promoting a product. Instead, I have to actually like the product and talk about it like I use it all the time. That could be a lot of fun if it were true. The problem is that it’s not, and I can’t bring myself to flat out lie.

The good news is that I’m strongly leaning towards applying to graduate school for 2011. I see no reason to put it off any longer. I’m still terrified of the debt I’ll rack up (my top choice program is $33k a year for two years, not including room & board, yikes! so long savings!) and even more terrified that I’ll find out what I want to study isn’t right for me either. And it’s still hard to justify going to grad school when I could have $100k+ in the bank instead of -/~0.

But everyday I am anxious because I can’t do my job well. Because whatever my boss asks me to do, I am unsure how to do it properly. Because I’m not really good at my job. And if I’m going to manage to survive my life, I need a job I can be good at. Really good at. I’m looking forward to the day I figure out what that is.

Graduate School: Still an Option, But is it Worth It?

I’m not an academic. Since I was young, I couldn’t focus in class, I rarely completed my homework, and while I supposedly had a lot of potential and was at once point dubbed “gifted” by the public school system, academia was never my forte.

So why, now that I’ve earned a college degree and made a career for myself, still long to return to the Ivy Tower? And what would I return for?

I’m still torn between options, including whether to apply at all. On a pure rational front, I’d be best off getting an MBA if I could manage to score high on the GMATs. At this point I think my experience has a shot at canceling out my less-than-exceptional undergraduate transcripts, but the GMAT would be a toughie.

But does an MBA even make sense for me? I’ve worked with many people who have MBAs, and many who don’t. I’ve been managed by MBAs and I’ve been managed by engineers-turned-marketers and artists-turned-non-profit-owners-turned-business-women. I’ve been managed by people who get it and people who don’t, people who succeed by pure luck and others by pure talent, and others who fail for all the wrong reasons. So why get an MBA?

Partially, I want to do it for myself to prove I can. It would look great on my resume (if I go to a top 10 school which, again, is not exactly an easy feat given my overall credentials.) I’d spend two years focused on learning about business — and maybe I’d even learn something practical to apply in the real world. Mostly, I’d feel more confident in my experience as a marketer with an MBA under my belt. I don’t need one, but to really move up the ladder I either need to start my own company or get an advanced degree. Or have friends in high places.

The other option, still, is to go to graduate school for interaction design. I’d enjoy this more, but I worry it’s too focused in an area that has limited value if you don’t know how to program well. I could learn a bit of programming on my own or in school, but I’ll never be the programmer who moved into design. I’ll also never be the programmer who moved into business management. It seems I’m already in trouble, not being a programmer and all.

I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I need to make a decision on this. I’m 26 now, and I’m not getting any younger. I’ve had a solid 5 years of work experience in non-profit, start-up, and large international corporate environments. I’m still not sure where I fit into the work world. I feel awkward in marketing, as I’m not super creative, nor am I brilliant with numbers, and I’m also shy in a field run by the outgoing. Most of all, I dislike “marketing” as a field where you must produce lies to sell a product that isn’t as good as it could be, if the business was managed better and the consumers were actually listened to. Which leads me to thinking I really ought to run my own company. And I don’t really need an MBA for that. I need an MBA if I want to be middle management. And I don’t see myself as middle management. I know middle managers. They are great people, but a different breed of people. They are willing to do whatever it takes to reach their business targets. That’s what capitalism is all about. A little lie, here and there. Make everyone want what you’re selling, no matter how much it’s “worth.”

Is that where an MBA would lead me? I don’t know if I have the stamina to lead, though I know in the long run I’ll never have the heart to follow.

What do you think I should do?

An Investment in Career Counseling

Per request of one of my loyal readers, investingnewbie, I’m going to jot down some information on my process in seeking out a career counselor — why i did it, and what services they provide.

When I get into a funk I often start questioning the cause of my depression. More often than not, it’s my career. After spending too many hours in a therapist’s office rehashing the same old issues, I started thinking about how advice from a different angle could help. After all, understanding the root of my dissatisfaction with life is one thing, but being able to proactively create a better future for myself is another.

After doing some searching online, I sent out emails to a ton of local career counselors that went into detail about my current situation. Some, I’m sure, were scared away or weren’t interested in helping me. I knew the more honest I could be, the better a match I’d find in whoever responded.

I got a couple of bites. Career counseling is not cheap (it’s usually $100 – $150 per hour, more for some seriously overpriced counselors) so I wanted to make sure to pick someone who could really help me. One counselor, who was obviously in her 50s or older (likely older) talked to me on the phone for an hour in a free consultation. She basically told me that when she was my age women didn’t have any choices and now we have a lot of choices so I am doing fine for my age and I shouldn’t worry. While that was kind of nice to hear, it wasn’t what I was looking for. She didn’t want to take my money and she spent a whole hour talking to me, which was really nice of her. But I had to move on.

After that I decided I wanted to find someone nearby (not in the city, which is an hour a way and a pain to get to during business hours) so I did some more research. A woman who had been quoted in an article wrote me back and sounded like she might be a good fit. I scheduled a first appointment with her.

Before the appointment she had me fill out a lot of forms about my work life and why I’m dissatisfied where I am at. She charged $125 for the first hour long session, which I scheduled on my 26th birthday. I could immediately tell she was the type of person “not in it for the money” as she spend 30 minutes extra on my first session answering my questions. She really seemed to like helping me. Not saying every counselor is or should be like this, but it just so happens that mine is.

On the first session we went through some different forms about things that matter to me in work and talked a lot about values and goals. One thing I find that’s difficult with a career counselor is that the industry I’m in is fairly new and I have yet to find someone who gets it, or anything I’m really interested in pursuing. Most career counselors have been in the workforce for some time and then decided to become counselors, getting their MSW’s later in life. So while they know the basics of getting hired very well (resume writing, interviewing, etc), actual knowledge of future career opportunities, especially in newer fields, may be limited.

However, I’ve found that isn’t too much of a deterrent to learning something from my career counselor. What she has taught me so far is that every person has a unique mix of what work means to them, and that finding the most important things to me (goals and values) is most important in figure out what path to take…

She’s also helped me with some of the nitty and gritty, fixing up my resume that I hadn’t taken the time to tweak much in years minus adding new jobs. She has also decided that I should take a class in marketing or business before really considering applying for an MBA.

I’ve only seen her for two meetings thus far, and she understands that my budget is tight so I don’t need to see her often. Again, not all career counselors will be this flexible. I met with one who asked for $600 for a starter package, which would include 5 sessions, though it sounded like I could do them at my own pace. Some require monthly or even weekly meetings. Find someone who is flexible if you need that flexibility.

My career counselor even decided, at my last meeting, to drop her rate to $90 per session (and she gave me an extra 30 minutes again). She seems, for some reason, to really like me. After I went on about social networking, mobile, and the future of technology she was like “you’re cool” and decided to give me a discounted rate. She thinks I have potential, apparently, which is nice… I’ve been so down on myself lately, it’s nice someone thinks I can succeed somehow. Not that I really believe her, but in the least she can help me come up with goals and meet them, which is really important for me.

I’ll update you all on my career counseling going forward when I have another session. Right now I’m trying to figure out if I’ll stay at my current job. My company is going through some major reorganization soon and I think I may be left out in the cold. I’m not too worried, as it seems the economy is picking up and recruiters are writing to be on LinkedIn for open positions in my field. Luckily, I picked a field that few people specialize in. I’d really like to work for a company where I have the support to do my job, as opposed to my current job where all of the opportunities to quantitatively succeed and put on my resume are most often taken by my boss and coworkers.

Is Grad School Worth It? Financially Speaking.

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of applying to / going to grad school lately. Not for the earning potential post graduation, but for the chance to focus on an area of study and build up my skills so I feel like an expert in an area (at least until those skills are out of date.) But then I wonder… financially speaking, is grad school worth it?

Really what I need to look at is how much I will have when I retire. I figure I should have at least $1.5M in my bank account when I “retire” (although I plan to work at least part-time well into retirement, but at this point I want to be able to travel and freelance and not have to worry if I get sick and can’t work.)
At the moment, if I can live up to my quasi-frugal savings plans for the year and maintain my current job and occasional freelance income (say $70k per year pre tax) and save $20k each year, according to the compound interest calculator if I start with $30k today and save $20k a year for 30 years at a modest average interest rate of 3% I will have $1.052M in savings by the time I’m 56 and $1.65M by the time I’m 66.
It almost seems silly then to add in the cost of grad school, which will put me into debt and for many reasons, not guarantee I will make more than I am now later and certainly will not allow me to comfortably save $20k anytime during or after graduation from a graduate program.
Additionally, if/when I have children, it will also become increasingly difficult to save $20k per year, if not impossible. This variable could effect both the non-grad school and grad school potential scenarios. And since my 27-year-old boyfriend refuses to work a full time job or put an ounce of his occasional earnings into a Roth IRA, it’s likely that I’m saving for the both of us and our families. Which makes that $1.65M, esp with inflation, seem like a few dimes and a penny.
That brings me to wondering if I should just keep living like I’m living now for the rest of my life. No kids (they’re expensive.) Roommates. A small room. Living in an area where heat isn’t necessary. Cheap bills otherwise. Saving $20k per year. Cutting back when needed to make that possible. Retiring single at 66 with $1.65M (some of it would be taxed, of course, but that’s still not bad.)
Then again… why should I be living life to save for retirement? I can’t imagine ever wanting to fully retire — I see my grandmother at 80 spending her days in the casino and I think if I had the mental capacity she does at 80 I’d be working. I might be limited in my job choices but still, I’d be working because I don’t want to be the type who just sits around and “enjoys” retirement.
Going to grad school is probably an easier choice when you’re making $35k or less. But once you’re making $70k it’s a hard trade in. I’m looking more and more at MBA programs (my career counselor seems to decided that I should consider this path and is in awe of my knowledge of social networking and certain aspects of the tech business) but I don’t know. I don’t see myself ever really following an MBA path — working 100 hours a week, traveling more than I’m staying… I could do that maybe for a few years but not my whole life. How much more can I really earn with an MBA vs. 2 more years of experience that I can gain through my current or next job? Alas, these days I’m liking numbers a lot more than I used to… and I think I’d like studying applied math. I like spreadsheets.
The debt truly freaks me out. People go into debt all the time for school but I don’t know if I can. Partially its because I don’t know if it will actually be worth it for me to go to grad school. It would probably make more sense to give a loan to someone more focused than I am and more dedicated to getting a high salary, pay for THEIR grad school, and earn interest on that… then for me to go to grad school.
And, anyway, I read that in 25 years a dollar today will be worth $.32 which means that my $1.65M when I’m 66 will not be enough to get me through retirement (unless natural causes like stabbing myself help me reach those goals.)
How much are you saving for retirement? How much do you think we will need to retire in 2050?

I Should Call My Blog: ADD & ADHD Money

If you’ve been reading my blog for longer than two minutes you probably can guess (or have read) that I have ADHD. I don’t entirely believe in ADD or ADHD (I think its caused by anxiety, which I happen to believe is the cause of most mental disorders) but for whatever it’s worth, I have all the symptoms. I’m distracted, disorganized, have never followed a routine for longer than maybe two days at a time, and am pretty sure my intellectual potential far surpasses any of my output.

Every year, especially around this time, I tell myself — this year I will get organized. This year I will figure out what to do with my life. This year I’ll wake up early, go to the gym, get to work at a reasonable time every morning, work hard from 9-6:30, take an actual lunch break (not work through lunch), come home, clean, do laundry, COOK DINNER, read a book, go to sleep around 10, wake up and do it all again…
And every year, I know it’s not really going to happen. Not without some serious outside help that I’ve yet to find. I don’t know why I’m so unable to keep to routine. I don’t understand how most people do easily (or seemingly easily.) For me, it takes so much focus and energy to accomplish anything once, let alone multiple times on repeat into the foreseeable future.
I still feel like a child, albeit one who understands the world overall fairly well, but I’m still a kid in my mind, wanting to run off on a whim, commit to nothing, yet still have the security of being taken care of, and living a life where risk is just s synonym for trying something new without the fear of any serious kind of failure.
Here’s why I’m depressed — I am afraid of everything. I’m afraid of trying and failing but I’m even more afraid of trying and succeeding. What’s success? It always seemed like some sort of end to me. End of childhood. End of my 20s. End of growing up and instead being grown. At least failing you have somewhere up to go. I think too much. Constantly. My mind is filled with worry. I check my budget compulsively. Not routinely. Routine is alien to my very existence.
I oft wonder if some ADHD drug would help me focus… but every psych wants to treat my depression and anxiety before treating ADD. So I get drugged up on SSRI’s and give up on them because they put me to sleep, they don’t help me focus, they don’t make me able to handle routine, they just make me feel out of it, like a zombie who is unable to cry, who isn’t happy or sad. That’s not getting me anywhere.
Whenever I consider actually applying to grad school there feels like a huge brick wall up in front of my face that I can’t get passed. First is figuring out what I want to do with my life (I want to do everything and I want to do absolutely nothing), then there’s actually having faith in my ability to do graduate-level work (I struggle with writing, math, reading, well… focusing, and just about everything that is required of academia) so then I think “what am I thinking? I can’t do graduate work. I barely got through undergrad and somehow took enough classes to squeak by with a 3.2 from an average (ie non-impressive) liberal arts school. I don’t necessarily want a PhD, an MA or MFA is more likely, as my graduate study should probably be largely about learning and applying skills, not solely research. But I worry about the level of other students who would go to any of these programs – they’d undoubtedly be smarter and more capable of focus than I am. They’d already know a lot more about whatever field I decide to study. I’d never be able to prepare enough to feel competitive in any graduate program worth attending. Then there’s the pressure of applying — I was lucky in undergrad, I applied to 5 schools, and even with a miserable high school GPA I was accepted to 4 out of the 5, mostly based on my artwork. But now… I don’t know who would want me. I’m average at best and not sure what I could contribute to any program. Then there’s my average GRE scores (not getting into any of the Ivy-level schools I like to daydream about) and my fear of asking anyone to write me a letter of recommendation. And beyond all that there’s the cost of grad school which I can’t even comprehend. Right now I’ve at least gotten myself comfortable with saving… if I can stick to my budget, I’ll save $20k next year. But grad school looks like it will cost me $50k per year. For 3 years. After putting so much effort into getting accepted I then would have to take out HUGE loans that I’d pay back for practically the rest of my life.
Or I could… not go to grad school. I could find a job that I’m good at. But what IS that job? I get bored so easily. I fall for every job at the beginning and then after a year I’m ready to move on. It’s like this with every other aspect of my life as well, but even more so with work because it feels like it’s my entire life. I hate feeling infinitely trapped as an indentured servant of capitalism. But that’s life. Can’t I just accept it and move on? Why can’t I just… focus?

Look for a New Job or Apply to Grad School?

A few days ago I wrote a post about how I’m going to take the GMAT in 2010, but I’m still unsure that’s the best idea. I feel like I’m ready for a change, and ready to focus on education right now. I don’t want to put grad school off much longer, despite being incapacitated by my fear of educational loans and debt.

There are still things I like about my job, but not many. Largely I just need like I’m not needed anymore and the few things I could do to help, I’m not allowed to do. I’m in a very odd spot.

I have a hard time reading my mind and separating out what I really want to do from my escapist tendencies. I’ve been in this job over two years now which is really good for me, but I feel really stuck. My biggest problem is that I have trouble marketing a product that is flawed in ways that it needn’t be flawed.

I don’t know how people separate their work from their emotions. I always, ALWAYS get emotionally involved in the work I do. And when things are imperfect I find it impossible to just accept that and ignore it and do my job.

But going to grad school ISN’T going to change that. There will always be people who don’t want to listen. And there will always be times when I’m wrong even though my gut tells me I’m right. I feel like at least with a graduate degree I’ll have a little more clout, or an opportunity to be in a role that has final say about something.

I don’t fit in with the culture here at all, but I’m not sure where I’d fit. If I go to grad school for the field I want to study I’d likely end up back in a company just like this. Maybe the culture would be slightly different, but designers as a whole seem to be faced with the problem of having engineers and the marketing team and the CEO alter their designs until there is no design left.

The reason I’m drawn to an MBA is that maybe I can be in charge one day. But I don’t really want to be in charge, I don’t want all that responsibility on my shoulders. I don’t mind running my own freelance writing “business” because if something goes wrong I’m the one who loses money… no the investors or coworkers because I don’t have any. I like that kind of responsibility. I’m terrified of being responsible for a business. And still having to convince people that my ideas are right.

So do I apply to grad school now? I kind of… well, I kind of really want to. I’m trying to think about why I shouldn’t and should…

Why I should apply…

– Time to study a field I’m really interested in and obtain skills that I didn’t get during undergrad
– Be in an environment where people are allowed to explore perfection without business realities (ie design school)
– If I get in, I can still decide not to go, but at least I’d have the option
– Have an “end date” to my current job that is set, so I can survive each day until I leave
– Open doors for myself that are currently closed due to my experience
– Shake up my life a bit, get myself out of this funk, move on to the next phase of my life
– maybe my boyfriend would be more inspired to apply to grad school if I did, and especially if I got in and had plans to leave town
– Explore new career paths that I’m not even fully aware of yet
– Make contacts and get solid faculty recommendations
– Secure internships in design that I can’t do as a non student
– To prove to myself that I can get in to grad school
– To prove to myself that I belong in grad school

Why I shouldn’t apply…

– I probably can’t get into the schools I’d want to go to with my GRE scores and GPA
– I struggle with consistency in academic work and I’m worried I’d fail, never get my degree but still be in debt from school
– Going to grad school doesn’t guarantee a good job after I graduate. It could even hurt my chances of being employed, though that’s unlikely in my field
– It’s possible to pick up skills by taking non matriculated classes nearby and to change professions without a masters degree
– A business degree might make more sense even though I’d rather be a designer than a CEO… but if I am the CEO at least I can have final say on design
– I’d have to ask for letters of recommendation from my current employers, so they’d know I’m trying to leave, and if I don’t get in that would be even more awkward
– If I ask for letters of recommendation from my coworkers and then I get in and decide not to go, that will also look bad
– Did I mention debt?
– I like living in the bay area and the grad schools I’m looking at are far away. I’d have to move again. I hate moving. I really, really, really hate moving.
– I will miss my boyfriend. A lot. We’ve been together almost 4 years now. It would be tough being away from him.