Frugal Beautiful

Posts Tagged ‘College Funding

I asked the question, perhaps too late, “What can I do with a graduate degree in sociology,”  and the timing was such that I really had to ask, “What can I do with half a graduate degree in sociology.”  Truth be told- nothing.

I spoke to two of my professors last week, and neither really knew what to tell me.  For the reasons I had to stay, I had equally compelling reasons to quit- namely my cost-to-benefit comparison based on passion vs. affordability.  If you are passionate, it’s hard to argue something is “too expensive,” in most situations- but what if you are confused like me?

My professors asked some hard questions:  Did I have something else in mind?  I did not.  Sure- I love to write- but am I confident enough in my skills as they stand to walk away from a possible degree?  I am not sure that starting over at this point and trying to stay afloat based on my entreprenurial skills alone would be wise.  I love to blog and explore different markets and niches- but I feel my inexperience would kill my passion if I were to step out at this point. Having a graduate degree could be beneficial for someone like myself who is at this point in the process.  For those who still have time to choose- take that time and ask lots of really hard questions before you commit.  But of course, sometimes all we can do is to assess the “known unknowns,” and take a step forward.

I also voiced my concerns about the cost of grad school.  They sympathized that costs are high and post-graduation prospects for employment are low- and at least are not up to expectations for newly minted degree holders.  What they did say though, is you can do nothing with half a master’s degree, not even get some kudos for “some graduate level courses” on a resume.  The sad truth is- there is no way to to know if the amount of debt I’m taking on is going to impede my chances to succeed in other areas, nor is a graduate degree an automatic key to success.

The debt itself will not prevent me from affording a wedding, car or hell, a piece of Tiffany, just as the degree itself will not ensure my immediate success- but my efforts outside the classroom will.  The only thing preventing me from being able to afford the life of my dreams is simply my inability to make them happen- and I can work on that.  My time in the classroom (or out of it) will not find me a man to love  or a dream job, nor will my debt stand in the way of buying a house or starting a family or starting my own company if that’s what I choose to do.  What will stand in the way of those things is my fear:  Fear that debt will ruin my future, fear that I’m not on the right path, fear that I’m not making the right choices.  Fear needs to be taken into consideration- it can be a very smart survival tool, but being too cautious blocks progress.

There is no way to gauge your prospects based on having debt or having a degree alone–  you just have to ask questions, evaluate, and take a risk.   The  the best decisions you can and forgive yourself for mistakes of inexperience.  Get your hands dirty- at least you can say it was YOUR mess and have something interesting to say at the high school reunion.

I meticulously planned my path to grad school and based my decision on the person I was at the time.  I had no way of anticipating the process itself would change me in the way it did.  While the reasons I had in coming to graduate school are no longer the reasons I am staying- I am still confident in those decisions.  I am not the person I was a year and a half ago, and I no longer harbor the same motives or goals I did before, and perhaps, that was the point?

 

 

 

Studying in Berry LibraryOkay, so you’ve read part one of “Should You Go to Grad School?” and you’ve evaluated your reasons and you’re sure you’re doing it for the right reasons- but what now?

-Evaluate where you will get funding from. If you’re going for a Master’s Degree it can be a “no-man’s land” for funding- you no longer qualify for federal and state grants, many scholarships are geared towards undergrads.  Unless you’re going for your Ph.D. (and are accepted into that program from the beginning) or have worked out a plan with your specific institution or program, you might find it hard to fund your graduate degree.  Of course, it’s not impossible- but it’ll take some legwork.   You may have to come to terms with the fact that your graduate degree could cost you $20k or more and that you may not get funding even if you are accepted.  If you’re okay with that, proceed.

-Evaluate what you hope to gain from graduate school. Are you just going to further your credentials as an educated person, or are you looking for a life experience as well?  Knowing what you want to get out of grad school in your personal life can impact where and how you apply- which is something most people won’t tell you.  If you are going for the name of the institution- you shouldn’t care so much if it’s in a bad (or simply uninteresting) area, or you might even stay local or try an online institution.  If you want an education coupled with an amazing new city or lifestyle- you really should let that be part of your decision.

Graduate level work is rough- loving your location can help you power through it.  Additionally- look at the culture of the city, is there stuff you’d be interested in outside of the school?   There will be times you hate being a grad student, being in love with your life (and location) outside of the program is part of a balance that is key to your longterm sanity.  You can live at the library, sure- but get your tuition’s worth and make the best out of your time away from the stacks.

If you have dreams of traveling, look into options of studying locally and researching globally to get some travel in as some grad programs are geared for the explorers at heart.

-Start talking to people- but be careful who you listen to. This is something I wish I’d have known- this is not the time to garner support from your family and friends as to whether this is a “good” idea.  You need to start talking to people who are doing what you want to do, who have gone through grad school, and who can offer constructive but critical guidance.  Asking your uncle or best friend who typically lovingly supports everything you do is great to bolster your courage, but it’s not enough.  People who haven’t been to grad school or who don’t know your field will typically tell you that “more education is always better,” but for the price you’re paying, you’re going to want more substantial feedback.

Talk to your professors, mentors and any grad students you know.  If you don’t know any grad students- many schools list the contact information of their grad students on their department website.  Send a humble email to anyone you are soliciting advice from.

-Read. Read. Read. Get your nose out of the GRE book now!  Those dreaded exit exams get way too much time and money from worried students.  Trust me (and many of my friends)- if you suck at standardized tests, you’re not likely to pull a miracle out of your bum on this one.   Couple your exam prep with application prep and start reading up- you’re going to want a killer personal statement for those applications.  I recommend Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D. along with Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture.  Start looking outward for inspiration and start looking inward for what you focus on in your application essays.

Of course, this advice is geared towards those who still have some time .  If you’re reading this at the time of its initial posting in February, you have plenty of time to implement these foundational tips.  By summer, you want to be prepping for your exams, by fall, have them done, and by winter you’ll want to get your apps in- of course this varies program to program!

Upcoming:  Posts about saving money on the application process, and application time management is on its way!

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I graduated from my (relatively affordable) state college DEBT FREE and was able to save enough to put money towards my graduate education. How? It all starts with an application.

If you’re attending college- you need to fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is available online and can be done in a relatively short amount of time-don’t be intimidated! Doing so will help you qualify for any available aid in three categories: Federal aid, State aid and School/Private aid and scholarships.
As soon as your taxes are done for the previous tax year (and your parents if you’re claimed as a dependent) start the application.

Even if you feel you will not qualify for Federal or State Student Aid, your FAFSA results are still required in order to apply for certain scholarships through your school or charitable scholarship funds.

Log on to Fafsa.Ed.Gov with the following:
-Your social security number, along with your parents if you are claimed as a dependent (and under 24 years of age).
-Driver’s license information, and the birth dates of your parents (if they are claiming you).
-Your most recent income tax return AND that of your parents (if they claim you).
-Your bank statements and parent’s financial information. (This will be used to document your assets- if you fill a form out online, you will not have to have an official hard copy, but you will have to be honest!)
-Apply for an online PIN to log in. If your parents are claiming you, you will need to register them as well- which might delay your completion (based on how cooperative your parents are).  DO NOT lose your pin- you will need it to access your information to edit or reapply later!

The Deadline:
Each school has a different date for the priority registration of the FAFSA. The sooner you apply, the better.

Don’t get frustrated or hung up on the details- just like doing taxes, it’s an annoying process and sometimes not having the right information on hand can be a stumbling block.


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