Frugal Beautiful

Posts Tagged ‘College

Steve Jobs - Limited TimeLife an unconventional life.  Follow your instinct and know it won’t make sense as you go through it, but filling your days with little things that bring you joy and fulfillment will eventually lead to a gorgeous story of your life when all is said and done.  Failure can be freeing.

You have to find what you love- do what you believe is great, no matter what that is.  You will know when you find it- don’t settle.

This is one of the most famous commencement speeches ever given- it has over 3 million Youtube hits and for good reason.  Steve Jobs is an American Icon, but he isn’t simply gloating about his success- he details his meanderings, his failings, his admonitions to love and follow that love.

15 minutes is all you need!

Brand Yourself: Your Degree is Not Enough


Graduates are grumbling- their degree didn’t get them what they’d hoped.  No longer will a degree guarantee a shiny lucrative career with enough income to pay off those precarious student loans.

To get noticed you must stand out. Your degree is nothing more than a piece of paper that states you’ve done the BARE MINIMUM to make yourself marketable to employers or graduate schools.   Don’t wait out the economy- the fact is, the job market and academia has changed- your degree is unremarkable.  You must be remarkable.


Even if the economy rebounded immediately- the fact remains the same, a degree does not have the clout it used to.  The answer to this isn’t to get a “higher degree,”  you’ll have the same problem applying for grad schools as you will applying for jobs.   Thousands of students are graduating each semester, and thousands more are enrolling in higher degree programs to wait out this bad economy- while a degree is essential for many careers, is it enough? Short answer: No.

The fact is, competition is fierce. Truth be told, hiring agents cannot see past the piece of paper- to the hours you labored over a tough chemistry exam, the the fact that you’re a first generation college student, or the blood/sweat/tears that you put forth above and beyond that of your peers to graduate with honors (or to graduate at all).  That piece of paper tells them nothing except that you at least meet the minimum qualifications for their position.   What will make you noticeable in a pile of degree-holding applicants is what is the papers of your resume, your cover letter and the impression you make on your interview.  Sadly though, these areas are rarely fully developed in the coursework required for today’s average baccalaureate degree.

Speaking from experience, I have seen plenty of qualified, recent graduates get rejected or just ignored for relying on their degree- even when that degree is from a prestigious university.  You owe it to yourself to stand out from the crowd, you cannot afford to blend in.



Market Yourself as More Than a Piece of Paper:

-Work for Free. The youth of previous generations had to work hard for years to reach levels of respectable status and income- your degree does not mean you get to expedite that process.  You will probably have to work just as much as they did, but you just did 4-6 years in a classroom first.   Intern at a company you’d like to work for, or at least get some experience volunteering at a company that’d look good on your resume.  You may not be getting paid, but you will be getting a line on your resume- which looks far better on paper than post-graduate unemployment.

-Research and Network. Somewhere, out there- is someone doing what you want to do.  Living the life you want to live.  Find these people, even if it’s just by reading their blog, watching their interviews on YouTube or reading their memoir.  Smart people have already written just about everything you need to know to get your dream job- I assure you, there is a probably a “Guide for Dummies,” on your given industry or topic.  Find people doing what you want to do and seek out their wisdom.


-Grow. Sadly, most universities today produce cookie-cutter degrees with cookie-cutter graduates.  You need to discover ways to differentiate from the pack.   Start filling your life with inspiration and experience that you didn’t get in the classroom.  Read books about people that have lead phenomenal lives, participate in the community and start doing things you’ve always wanted to do- travel, explore, question.  This is the time.  If you’re feeling downtrodden from the job hunt, you need to recharge your batteries, or perhaps explore a new way of approaching the search.


-Brand Yourself. The term “branding” is usually used for marketing- but increasingly it is used to market people.  Using social media and blogs to market yourself is a relatively new phenomena but has been hugely successful if done correctly.  Barack Obama comes to mind as someone who pioneered social media to get “hired,” as the United States President, but similarly, you can use blogging or social media to get yourself known and build credibility within your niche or industry.  Improving your contacts, writing skills and computer know-how can only boost your hireability.


More on Branding:

How to Brand Yourself in a Competitive Job Market– Q&A @MarketingProfs

How to Brand Yourself @RuckMakers

7 Secrets to Getting Your Next Job Using Social Media @Mashable

Suze Orman is known for her financial advice- especially her emphasis on living within your means and saving for the future.

I chose her commencement address at University of Illinois because she speaks about her life journey.  The fact that she had no idea what she wanted to do, and ended up dropping out of U of I resonates with a lot of us who are trying to figure out our life’s path.  She was a major in Social Work and ended up being one of our generation’s major financial gurus, and it happened through her mistakes, miscalculations and of course- tenacity.

“Your degree does not make you- you make your life.” Her story will leave us with plenty of useful lessons learned.

“You are to go for anything and everything you want.  You are to give 100% to everything you do…the hardest thing in life is to jump a chasm…it doesn’t matter what you jump into.  All I ask of you is to jump into it with 100%, with every single thing you have.”

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?




Stupid, stupid 30 Day No-Shopping Challenge.  It’s nowhere near my birthday and I have done nothing notable worth gifting (aside from posting on this blog begging for some biblio-esque goodness).

Here my “Books Worth Swooning Over” (and then purchasing!):

I adore me some  Jen Lancaster- she is like a far more articulate version of myself (you know, with like a smart-ass opinion about everything).  She has written of her love of pugs and has excellent taste in handbags- what is there not to love?  I read her first book, Bitter is the New Black and was hooked.

If you need a good laugh but want it coupled with witty commentary and a vocabulary that is expansive and still hilarious- this is the author for you.  You will not go wrong with any of her books- and when I am off this damn challenge I am buying pre-ordering her book and demanding the rest of them for my shelf.  This will happen.

Jen’s sure-to-be-fabulous new book comes out May 3rd and is a stupendous deal at $13.64 for hardcover.

Pre-order If You Were Here on Amazon or other fine booksellers.


Jenny Blake is a popular person in the blogosphere. I adore posts, and her personal journey to getting this published is nothing short of notable and inspiring.   I have already pre-ordered her book- it was available on Amazon for $9.10 with free Prime Shipping.  It’s coming out later this month, but dude, that is a fabulous deal- $9.10??!

Ms. Blake’s book comes out March 29th and you can buy it here (or somewhere else if you are so inclined).





This little gem by Gretchen Rubin just came out in paperback for the fabulous price of $7.72 with free Super Saver shipping on Amazon (By it with Wish You Were Here perhaps, or you can always buy a copy for both of us?).

The Happiness Project just makes me happy- I have heard great things about this book and have totally enjoyed Gretchen’s vlogs and posts online so this is bound to be a great read.

Career Building for Women


Our résumé is that notorious little piece of paper that often gets neglected and put off until we start searching for new job- but don’t wait for opportunity to find you, be ready with a slammin’ résumé!

Leaving your résumé to collect dust in your desk or in the realm of obscurity in the depths of your hard drive might be leaving opportunity on the table.  Many of us approach our résumé with reticence- we only want to face it when we want to apply for a job.  It almost seems counter-intuitive for those of us who want better careers and a more rewarding job to sit around and wait for opportunity to find us- so right now, go pull up your résumé or any other documents you might use, and print it out.  If you don’t have one- make one.

Being proactive with your career and aware of your skills (and where they need improvement) will lead to opporuntity.  Simply being ready for opportunity will bring it closer towards you.


Formatting: You can find templates online or use one of my favorite websites to build it-  Depending on your career goals, include them in your search.  Formatting a résumé for graduate school applications is totally different than applying for a job in finance!

Tailoring: If you’re “not sure what you want to do,” or what your résumé will be used for in the future- that’s fine!  You need to start or update your résumé so that you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way.  Scrambling to write a résumé when you have a job offer fall in your lap could reduce the efficacy of your application.  Start with a solid foundational résumé and leave room to take out or highlight different experiences and skills depending on the application.

Proofing: Get a fresh set of eyes and have a friend or mentor look it over- this is key!  It might be hard to accept feedback on this- but don’t take it personally.  This is all about presentation- an employer will probably spend a minute or less reading this over, it needs to ROCK and do so quickly@   You may be really proud of your volunteer experience with Habitat for Humanity, college G.P.A. or a special honor- but if it distracts or detracts from your tailored, marketable skills for your industry that employers are highly discriminate over- it might be best to take it off without getting offensive.

Be sure to choose the right proofreaders though- it might be tempting to have your best friend take a gander at it, but find someone who can offer you poignant, constructive criticism- because your potential employer won’t be kind

Additions: I recently graduated at the top of my class with a B.A. in Sociology and Women’s Studies.  Employers thought that was great, but could I format a document?  Did I know how to use Excel or Photoshop?  Do not underestimate the importance of simple skills around the office coupled with computer expertise or think that simply having a degree/job experience will be enough to make you competitive.   In my experience, I found that a lot of employers wanted computer skills most of us don’t get in college.  Look at your résumé and find holes in your skill sets- you can identify this by doing a job search online and gauging what potential employers in your field are looking for in addition to degrees or job experience.


Articles on Résumé Building:

10 Tips to a Kick Ass Resume @Bargaineering

10 Overused Resume Buzzwords to Avoid @LinkedIn Blog

How to Write a Resume @WiseBread


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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