Tag Archives: gre

I don’t care about money anymore.

For the last almost 15 years of my life since I graduated from high school, I’ve felt overwhelmingly lost. I may as well have been wandering blindfolded through Siberia with my hands tied behind my back. Somehow or other I’ve managed to float from one job to the next, things I never really wanted to do, but it all just happened. I got really good at faking it enough to get hired in only the things I didn’t actually want to do.

I always return to my $325k+ networth, because that’s my one heaping achievement at this point in my life. I don’t own a house. I paid for my used car outright. I live in a relatively modest one bedroom shared with my boyfriend. I have no kids. I barely have a social life. I spend most of my time working or thinking about work or doing something related to work, despite not being nearly as productive as I should be. And I’ve given up on all of my dreams for fame or fortune. Right now, I just want to find my calling. I don’t need a six figure job. Ironically I find the more money I make the less I want to spend, the more I want to save – and I’ve figured out I can get away with about $3k a month in expenses, or less if I was desperate.

Part of me thinks I’m absolutely crazy. I should be fighting for my current life, my current job, with every ounce of my being. It may not be enough – I may just not be intellectually capable of doing a good job in this specific type of role – but I should at least be trying with all my might. I don’t feel like I have the right to be burnt out at this point – it isn’t burn out, it’s just the wrong fit. My whole life has been the wrong fit.

But I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not completely on the wrong path. There are elements of my role, the industry I am in, which are more than fulfilling. I just know that the only thing that stands between me and a life I can be proud of is the GRE. Yes, there’s graduate school as well, but the GRE is the big giant monster standing in my way. When I say this out loud it sounds like I’m throwing a pity party but I’m really not that intelligent in the book smart sense of the term. While I need a billion hour of study on quant to score decently on that section, I feel like I have a chance to master quant if I put my mind to it. I’m terrified of verbal, surprisingly enough, because my comprehension skills are limited.

Clearly I’ll need to study a lot for the GRE. With an undergraduate GPA of 3.2 (barely, it’s a bit all over the place) I don’t know i fan self-respecting graduate program would seriously consider my application without some crazy stellar GRE score. I’m talking top 95%. Or, you know, I just don’t go to grad school, and I figure out something else. But the longer I think about it… you know… 10 years or so… the more it’s clear that I need to go back to school to get where I want to be. There are specific programs I want to apply to, and all of these are at top schools to where I wouldn’t have dreamed of applying for undergrad. And I still think it’s rather funny I’m considering applying to them for grad school. If I were to actually get in, I think that would be the first actual accomplishment of my life that I’d be proud of.

At the moment I’m trying to figure out how to arrange my studying. I’m not opposed to putting $1000+ down on a class, but I feel like it would make more sense to TRY to study on my own and take the test first – see how I do after seriously studying on my own for two months or so, and then go take a class or get a tutor to hone up on the parts I couldn’t learn on my own. The whole prep class thing reeks of scam — the GRE is supposed to be the type of test one can learn themselves. And would 8 weeks of classes really get me where I need to be? Tutors are crazy expensive though. I realize compared to a $100k graduate program spending $5k on getting in is really not that insane. I just don’t think a one-size-fits-all type of program would really work. So I’m going to see what I can do on my own first… probably. I’d like to double down on quant first. Answering verbal questions is frustrating because I can’t go back and “work” them and figure out what I did wrong – other than memorizing words. And I SUCK at memorization.

In any case, the next 4 months of my life = intense GRE study. I need to approach this like a game. The game is the GRE. And I want to win it.

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.


Seriously Serious About Grad School

I’ve put off going to grad school until my 30s because I wanted to wait until I was ready to make the commitment. Given my interests are so varied it has been difficult to determine what exactly I should pursue in further education, especially as I’ve moved up the corporate ladder and, without an advanced degree, started to make a six-figure salary. So right now it isn’t about the money. I don’t expect to make more by earning a graduate degree. What I expect is that I will open all those doors that are tightly shut on my face right now that I desperately want to open.

For the past 10 years, I’ve wanted to go to graduate school for human computer interaction or interaction design. While my ultimate goal is to become a VP of Product, I’d rather approach this from the more scientific and design side over the business side. I know people who clearly are the right type of people to get an MBA, which was, until recently, another option I was seriously considering. But as much as I’d love to better understand how a business works, I have no aspirations to be in charge of business operations at a company. If I ever want to be in charge of a business it will be in a very tiny startup that I founded and I learn more about how to manage this type of business by spending my time in actual early-stage startups. So I think this is the right decision.

My goal is to somehow score well enough on the GRE to get into a graduate program in fall 2014. I think this is ideal timing too because at this point I will have been in my current role for over 4 years (if I can make it that long) and I don’t think anyone would hold it against me for wanting to shift career paths. I still have a few goals to accomplish in my job today, such as working closing with a colleague on a project where I am getting some product management experience, figuring out how to iterate on our website so I fully understand a/b testing aligned to generating quality leads, and honing my semi-executive presence over the silly person I really am.

But it feels good to have a goal again. I could easily just keep plowing along as I’m doing today, and finding jobs in marketing/pr, but this would never make me happy. I value my experience in this field, as I think it’s always good in product to have a solid understanding of not only your customers but also how the overall market would respond to your story. I wouldn’t give up this experience for the world, even though had I gone to grad school 5 years ago I might already be in a senior product role by now. It has taken me a long time to accept that life is not a race and there really is no destination for the journey. There are many things that come up along the way that you don’t expect and the best you can do is let life teach you its lessons while doing some soul searching in determining what makes you happy.

I’m pretty clear on what makes me happy — building a product with crazy good user experience from the ground up with a team of people who care about the experience as much as I do, but who bring their own unique ideas to the table so we can collaboratively kick ass. I like to build products that help people, whether that be improve efficiency, make it easier to learn new things, or help people lead healthier lives. I could see doing my graduate thesis around education and social user experiences, possibly somehow tied to wearable technologies.

I’m fascinated by the future of mobile devices — while google googles are terrible from a design perspective — the future is a connected one, where we measure so much more than we do today about our daily lives. I’d be very interested in designing learning experiences for children with ADHD which are designed to capture a short attention span and help these students memorize information. Some tie in with psychology, learning, and computer interaction. This is my passion and this is what I’m going to do. I have no idea how I’ll make a career out of it, as I don’t want to end up in the R&D wing of some giant corporation slaving away at projects that never see the light of day — maybe I’ll have to start my own educational technologies business. Who knows. But it all sounds extremely exciting, compared to spending the next 30 years begging reporters to give my company a smudge of virtual ink.

The real challenge, the biggest challenge, perhaps the ONLY challenge, is getting a high score on the GRE. I don’t know for sure if I could get into my top program choice, but there are a lot of good HCI/Interaction masters programs out there and I’m very confident with my experience in technology, even on the business side, I’ll be able to get into a good program as long as I can achieve reasonably high scores on the GRE. Easier said than done. Despite being a writer and philosopher of sorts, I’m a terrible academic. Studying has never been my forte. So I need to somehow come up with a way to motivate myself to learn and retain knowledge. It’s crazy how I’ve never really learned anything in my life past basic verbal skills and arithmetic. Or, I should say, I’ve never been taught anything. I always figure things out for myself. It’s pretty crazy looking back on my education and realizing that I never let myself actually be taught anything. The good thing about graduate school is that I’d be taught about things I’m very interested in, and a lot of it is about teaching yourself and doing your own projects/research, which is how I learn.

Needless to say, I’m very excited about this plan. It does put a huge damper on my $50k per year savings goals, and any trace hope of early retirement, but I don’t really want to retire early, I love working, and I’m miserable when I wake up in the morning with nothing meaningful to do. I need to work on that as well (doing nothing is ok) but ultimately right now I know I need to set myself up for a career that is going to fulfill me not just for a few years, but for the remainder of my professional career. Design-thinking product management, especially in the area of learning technologies and connected devices, is most definitely it.

GRE Fail.

I took the GRE for the second time today. I’ll admit I didn’t stick to my studying plan, which might have made a difference in my scores. Well, honestly, I think I might have been able to improve my Quant score with studying, but Verbal is a tough one to crack, especially with ADHD and the time limit.

So I took the GRE in 2005 and got 520v and 580q (4.5 AWA). I had to retake because those scores were old and the program I want to apply to wants scores within the last 2 years. Today, I took the test again and got 470v and 580q (guessing similar AWA). Ugh.

I just get so frustrated taking timed tests. I can’t focus, especially on the comprehension section. If the test was done on paper I’d do better, but for some reason the font they use on the screen just doesn’t work for my eyes. I can spend so much time reading an article and realize I don’t remember one thing I just read. Unfortunately, ETS doesn’t make it easy to get any sort of accommodations for people with ADHD or LDs, which I’m starting to think I have (I was diagnosed ADHD in elementary school, but I honestly think I might be dyslexic or something. My sister is, and if it’s genetic, it would explain a lot about my problems with concentration and reading.)

I’m not totally depressed about my scores, though. I’m leaning towards wanting to go to business school, which means I still have the GMATs in front of me. The GMATs are supposed to be a harder test, but if they test reasoning more than vocab, I’ll likely do better.

I hate the stupid argument essay topics on the GRE. I’m not good at picking a side on an issue that I don’t have a strong opinion on. For instance, the essay question (which is available on the ETS website — I’m not allowed to reveal test questions, but since this is already public information…) was about whether people should pursue scholarship or research that doesn’t contribute to society. Uhmm… so I kind of blanked. I couldn’t think of anything someone would research that wouldn’t contribute to society, even if that contribution was indirect. I ended up writing about that, which I’m sure was not what they wanted. Then my analyze an argument essay was rock solid… I’m good at finding flaws and explaining them (or so I’d like to think, I’ll see what my scores are in a few weeks).

After the writing section, I went through the verbal section. I started getting easier words fairly early on, so I assume I got all of the first few questions wrong. Even with the easier words, I felt lost. I am just not good at analogies, EVEN WHEN I KNOW THE WORDS.

This… from a girl who got a 1230 on her SAT back in the day. My intellect has all but depleted.

I hate how the verbal section skips around from one question type to another, and then back. Just when my brain is getting comfortable with analogies it will be time to do a comprehension section, then back to analogies, then opposites of a word (which there were a lot of) and so on.

The math section would have been easier had I prepared more. I’m not sure how I managed to get the same exact score I got last time (580) but in any case, that’s not a good Quant score. I also ran out of time so filled in random bubbles for the last 6 or so questions (of 28) today. That probably didn’t help much, although maybe I am better at guessing than actually solving the problems.

This all leads me to ask… should I even apply to grad school? I know I struggle with academics, so why should I put myself through all of that? Even in an MBA program I’m going to have a tough time. Yet, looking at my career, I feel like I need to do something to go from where I’m at to where I want to be, and that something is looking more and more like “grad school” every single day.

I guess I want to know if I’m just unintelligent or if I actually have learning disorders. I used to test well early in my life, but not so much anymore. Like, I’d be ok if someone could just test me and tell me I’m dumb. I’ll quit my job and go work as a waitress or something. Maybe I’d be happier. But part of me thinks that underneath all the confusion in my brain lies someone with really strong reasoning skills and even a slightly above-average level of intelligence. I just don’t know how to prove that to anyone, or how to make use of it.

Studying for the GRE Test

I took the GRE in 2005 and scored a measly 1040. While I’m not the best test taker, my skills weren’t that bad when I took the SAT years ago and got a 1240. My writing score on the GRE was also really awful considering that writing is what I do for a living. Then again, I’ve never been good at academic writing, so I wasn’t too surprised.

That’s why I’ve decided to retake the test and study MAO for it. At the very least, see how much I can improve my score by studying. I’m not too hopeful about the verbal or writing sections, but I’m pretty sure I can up my quantitative score if I study. I just forgot damn near everything about math… I haven’t even taken a real math course since 11th grade (I don’t count the Excel math class I took in college, what a joke!)

In the meantime, I really ought to start researching all the school’s I’m going to apply to, and more importantly, how on earth I will be able to afford them. I think that grad school would be ideal for me now, I’m much more mature than I was in undergrad, I’m ready to focus on learning about the topic I’m interested in, and also understand how it could benefit my professional life once I get through the program.

So… this summer I will be studying in my free time. I don’t want to spend a lot of money on those prep classes, that sounds like it would be such a waste. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I’m not sure what my ideal score would be, but given my 1240 on the SAT I’d like to at least get that on the GRE (though I know it is a different test.) And the writing section… I got a 4/6, I really should get a 5/6. But… 1240 isn’t really a good score for the GRE. It would be great if I could do really well… 1450 or something. I’ve never really studied for one of these tests before (I didn’t study for the SAT at all), I’m curious what I could do if I try.