Frugal Beautiful

Posts Tagged ‘Grad school

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

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!

heart in your handsConfession time!  1.5 years ago, I sat in my undergrad advisor’s office and had a “moment.”  I realized that I was all set for graduation that next spring and I thought to myself:  “That’s it?”  I felt I hadn’t learned nearly enough as an undergrad and thought the remedy for my ignorance was more education- but I think I was wrong.

For me, 1.5 years ago, the decision to go to grad school was twofold- part one being my desire to be a smarter, better, more worldly person, and and part two was simply that I was about to graduate college and had no friggin’ clue what to do.  Of course, reason number two was hiding in the shadows of the glorious and over-publicized reason number one.  1.5 years ago, I saw a graduate education as my ticket to a new life- means to validate myself as an intelligent person, to secure myself one additional rung on that stupid “ladder of success.”

The process of applying to grad school, and then, getting in, was just the transition I needed to adjust myself to that scary “Oh sh*t this is really adult-time and it’s happening now,” that we all must face.  Granted, I saw myself as “more adult than most,” having taken care of my elderly grandmother and built a repertoire of philanthropic and travel experience that made me feel “adult,” bu never before in my whole life had I felt that I was about to face MY WHOLE LIFE.  In the manner of how I normally do things when I think I need to figure things out immediately, I completely freaked out and crafted my “Plan to Go to Grad School And Become An Adult.”  Which was really just a panic attack under the façade of a well thought-out plan which was categorized in a three-ring binder and researched meticulously.  But as we all know, “book smarts,” are not “street smarts.”  You can analyze something endlessly, but until you get out there and experience it- you pretty much have no idea what it’s really like.

Enter the present day- I am writing this blog and looking back on my life.  Getting in and going to grad school has accomplished it’s initial goal- I feel I’ve learned a whole heck of a lot in these past 7 months, but I’m not sure if what’s been gained in the classroom is worth the price tag.  What I have learned- much of it now fueling entries for this blog, was learned in the actually experience of getting to this point:  Moving across country.  Clearing out all my junk.  Starting over in a new city I’d previously never been to.  Looking for love and finding it within myself.  Dodging unstable drunkards on the EL train.   All of this transition and hard work has lead me to the life I now fervently adore.

But, I wonder now- have I already accomplished what I set out to do?  Will finishing my degree and shelling out an additional (I don’t even want to say how much it is, but it ain’t cheap) really serve anything?

This is something I’m grappling with.  I feel that there are other avenues to which I am far more excited about, and learning on my own doesn’t cost me a dime.  I truly feel you can be “busy,” without being “productive,” and while I’m not saying that my time in school isn’t teaching me anything- is it truly worth the price tag and is it distracting me from other things?  Is a graduate degree really worth it if I can’t use Photoshop and I can barely install Windows Office?  Will taking on college loan debt impede my chances of further happiness, or am I just being silly about wanting a down payment on a house/wedding/car/Roth contribution instead?  Can I have both?  I’m not even sure if I should see the money I’ve spent already on tuition as a “mistake.”  Even if it wasn’t a mistake and brought me to a life I am now proud of, it sure is an expensive “experiment.”  I’m trying to be positive about this- grad school isn’t “bad,” but it’s too expensive to waffle about.

Needless to say- being an adult is scary.  Nobody will ever have the perfect advice- for every person that told me going to grad school was a great idea, I’ve seen evidence that it might not be.  Being an adult is really about freedom- and that’s what’s so scary about it, if you fail, you have nobody to blame but yourself.  It’s all your choice, your life, your consequences- both good and bad.  No matter what path you take- that life?  It’s YOURS…and perhaps that’s why I love it so intensely and totally intimidated by the power of it all.  I’m not sure what to do, but I’m going to keep writing until I muster the cajones to figure it out.

P.S. I could have written this to PostSecret, but this was way better.

gre books of joy (#294)No.  You Absolutely Should NOT go to grad school…at least until you read this article.

I am a grad student now, and wish someone would have had this talk with me in a way that was comprehensible a year and a half ago.

I’m not even going to get into the cost of applying to grad school- the exams, the exam prep, the application fees, the cost of sending your scores and transcripts to different institutions.  It can easily cost you $500 for a very sexy batch of rejections.  Nor am I going to warn you that applying means days of your life and plenty of stress- getting letters of recommendations, establishing (and kissing a**) with professors at different institutions, writing a personal statement and getting together a coherent writing sample.   I will save that for later.

I simply want to ask you WHY you are applying to grad school- really think about it. I too often have heard people tell me “I’m going to grad school because the economy sucks,”  “I don’t know what else to do with my life, “more schooling will make me smarter/more competitive in the job market,” or “If I don’t get it done now, I’ll never do it.”   These are all really common, but really stupid reasons.  Let me tell you why.

-Going to grad school because the “economy sucks,” is not an economically sound strategy. If you are trying to “ride out” the current economic downturn, you’d be better off getting a less-than-stellar job and earning money to put away in a retirement fund.  Not only will you most likely not get funding unless you are accepted into an awesome Ph.D. program or are accepted WITH funding (which is difficult for most master’s candidates), but let me tell you, EVERYONE ELSE HAS THE SAME IDEA!  Most of my rejection letters were peppered with this remark: “This year we saw an unprecedented number of applicants.  While your application was promising, we were unable to admit you to the program.”  Kids, it’s a numbers game- unless you have an unusually strong application and strategy, you are a small fish in a big pond.

-If you don’t know what else to do with your life- that’s OKAY. It’s scary not to have a “plan” but I assure you- going the grad school route only seems like a plan on the surface.  Many people who claim their idea for a post-baccalaureate education was the “best idea ever,” are using it as a security blanket.  You don’t need another degree to prove you’re smart, nor will getting accepted better to prepare you for “the real world.”  How do you prepare for the real world?  Just jump in and do your best.  Though it’s comforting to know your next 2-6 years are accounted for, the feeling of purpose and accomplishment is a thin veneer which doesn’t hold up well over time.   I admit, I was one of these people- I am just now getting confident with my newly formed “adult brain,” and this courage came from an array of other scary choices I had to make outside the classroom.

-Getting a graduate degree will not make you any smarter, and it will not make you more competitive. A piece of paper is a horrible measure of aptitude.  You want to know what will ensure you are smarter, stronger and more competent?  Stepping into the world and forging your own path, a path outside the academic institution.   I thought grad school was what I needed to really be “better.”  When I got there I found that my first semester was nothing but a glorified reading list, and an expensive one at that.  I was disappointed- I could have gone on Amazon.com, got the books and discussed them on my blog FOR FREE.   When I went to apply for jobs, I found that many of them required skills that I hadn’t learned in school.  I went online or asked friends for help and strengthened my resume on my own, for free.

Getting another degree will not make you smarter if you’re not learning outside of the classroom- that responsibility rests upon you and you alone. If you have a master’s degree in literature and writing but don’t have work experience and know some handy computer programs (Photoshop, HTML/CSS, Excel, whatever), you just won’t be competitive in many of the jobs that are out there.

-If you’re worried you’ll “never get around to it,” perhaps you never should! If you have doubts, put off applications for a year, and go talk to people.  Try some internships.  Read some blogs and do some research.  Being in school another 2-6 years is expensive, consuming and stressful.  If your heart isn’t in it, making those sacrifices necessary to graduate will make you hate life.  Life is too short to be a martyr for education (unless you’re damn sure you want to be)!

If you think getting a graduate degree will enrich your life, or is a well-proven path to success in your given career field, by all means- GO FOR IT!  But if you’re meandering around, and you’re thinking graduate school will be an easy solution to your worries, do not let yourself off that easy- it will cost you more in time and college loan debt than you can imagine.

A year and a half ago, I was insecure and unsure about the future, grad school was totally a cop-out for a girl without a real plan of her own.   I have learned from that mistake, capitalized on it, and learned to find my voice now with those choices I have made.   For me, graduate school brought me to Chicago and challenged me in unimaginable ways- almost to my breaking point at times, but I am secure now in my decision.  For me, the choice to go to graduate school was also a choice to relocate halfway across the country, start over and build a new life- and it is the summation of those choices that are what I’m most confident and proud of now, not necessarily the program I’m in.

I hope your choices will be forged with critical thought, and the following of your own heart, and I hope I can help you in that process.

This post is lovingly dedicated to the one man who asked the hard questions and lead me, kicking and screaming into this frugal beautiful life.  Thanks.

Subscribe to the Frugal Feed:

Follow Me on Twitter:

Support LoveDrop!

Powered by BannerFans.com
June 2019
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930