Guest Post: The Grad School Debate: Back to School or Not?

Amanda Green is a guest blogger that has written extensively on the subject of education and business.

Many young professionals live in a fluid phase between the worlds of work and school. By definition they are employed and hold jobs, but they also are only years removed from college or grad school – and, for many of them, there’s a definite chance that they’ll go back. Some young professionals begin their careers with this mindset, planning to work a couple years after college and then returning for a masters or advanced degree. For others, this decision comes after they have experienced career dissatisfaction and a desire to seek out new opportunities.

The decision to go back to school is not one that should be taken lightly. After all, it often involves quitting your job, suspending your earning potential, and generally putting your career on hold for a degree that may or may not pass off. It also may involve packing up your apartment, filling up uHaul trucks and self storage facilities, and moving halfway across the country to attend school. For young professionals with spouses, significant others, or strong geographic ties, such a move carries with it considerable ramifications.

So what should you do? Return to school or stay in the workforce? How can a young professional decide? While the factors that inform this decision are often highly individualized, here are a few Dos and Donts of going back to school:

DO go back to school if:

-Your current employer is subsidizing the cost or has promised a job upon return
-The degree could either (a) help you concretely in your current career or (b) help you jump start another career
-You have the flexibility to pick up, move for a few years, and then move again
-Workers in your current or intended field are stronger applicants and better employees with a graduate degree
-You know you can commit the time and the effort to succeed
-You can afford making minimal money for a period of time

DON’T go back to school if:

-You are simply dissatisfied with your current job or career and see school as the best option
-You can’t expect improved job prospects upon receiving the degree
-Money is tight and you would have to take out loans (unless you can be highly confident of getting a quick salary boost after finishing your degree)
-You’d have to uproot a young family and potentially suspend two careers
-You aren’t fully committed to the specialty of the degree or the time commitment required to finish it successfully

Ultimately, going back to school will determine a new path that informs the next era of your employment career. If you are unhappy with your current path, see a graduate degree as offering a more promising one, and have the money and flexibility to make it happen, by all means go ahead and get that second degree. But make sure that you are doing so for the right reasons and with the right considerations in mind.

5 Simple Ways to Save Money as a Young Professional

This post comes to us from Newly Corporate reader Mariana who wanted to share a few money saving tips with new college graduates starting their careers.

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. You’ve finally obtained your college degree, landed your dream job (or a job), and you’re officially part of the real world. Your high school teachers may have told you college was the real world, but now you’ve realized that is definitely not the case. As a young professional, you have much more to do than you did in high school or college. You have to worry about balancing your budget and creating an ample savings account. After all, your parents won’t always be there to save you on a rainy day. Creating good saving habits now will be immensely beneficial for your future.  Here are some simple ways to save money on a daily basis.

Take Your Lunch to Work
This may seem like a daunting task. However, you will be surprised how much money you save by taking your lunch to work instead of eating out every day. Although it can be fun to go out with your co-workers for lunch, the weekly tab can be stressful on your wallet. For example, let’s say you eat a pretty modest lunch even at a chain like Chili’s. You will probably spend at least $10-$12 per meal. If you work 5 days a week, that adds up to $50-60! Instead, you could probably spend $15-$20 on a week’s supply of groceries. If you make yourself a sandwich every day, you will be saving close to $120 a month! Plus, you’ll be saving your waistline from extraneous calories. That extra $120 could be useful if your car needs repair on a random day!

Investing 101: Diversify your Polio
So, here is a way to increase your available cash flow: Investing a part of your salary. Of course, you need to decide how much you’d like to invest. Also, if you have any of those really successful friends in investment banking, now may be the time to invite them over for dinner or drinks. Here is a link that can help you get started, with basic tips on investing.

Be a Sensible Socialite
It can be really exciting to be a salaried employee. You always have a cash flow. Plus, every time you get a paycheck, you feel like you are being rewarded for your hard work! However, with great power comes great responsibility. It can be easy to spend your money on extravagant nights out on the town. It is important to spend your money wisely, and in moderation. Rather than spending $100 at a bar, invite your friends over to have drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Make it a potluck, where every person brings some sort of alcohol or appetizer. Even if you want to go out afterwards, you probably won’t spend even half the same amount as you would have without the pre-party! Plus, the pre-party will be fun, personal, and cheaper!

Get Rid of Your Credit Cards
Even rappers who make $50 million a year have become destitute after putting too many expenses on their credit cards. There’s no class in overspending. If you think you are likely to spend more than the available supply in your account, leave your credit cards at home! Or better yet, don’t have one. You may need one for emergencies, but if it is not necessary, just stick to using your debit card!

Think Before You Buy
So, practicing restraint may not be one of your strong suits. It is definitely not one of mine. However, exercising your critical thinking skills before making a purchase can help you save a lot of money. Every time you are considering a big purchase, write out a pros and cons list. How badly do you need the item? How often will you use it? Take a look at every store/outlet offering the item to find the best price. The more time you spend thinking about it, the less likely you are to buy unnecessary items!

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to [email protected]

 

The iPad Impact: 5 Effects on Work and Leisure

 

Yes, I was one of the recent iPad 2 purchasers waiting in line to get the latest technology out of Cupertino. I admit, I said I wouldn’t but, after experiencing the original and trying the new one out I decided I would make the investment and give it a try.  I couldn’t be happier with my purchase and I’ll share with you why.

Which iPad Model?

When most people start to consider an iPad the first question that comes to mind is which model do they need.  As it’s still a relatively new device and I don’t have enough specific designated uses in mind, I decided to go for one of the cheaper models (16GB, WiFi) to evaluate how I could use it. I decided against the 3G because I don’t need another recurring cost in my budget and if it came down to a situation where I needed it, I would just use the new, cheaper hotspot option on the iPhone. In the end, the base model just made sense.

When to Buy?

I waited for 2 weeks after launch and still had to wait in line.  There are still shortages out there so I would just say call your local Apple store when you’re ready and see what they have for stock.

Impact So Far

After about a month of usage, here are the areas I have found where the iPad has made a difference:

1. Inbox Zero
I am usually pretty good at staying on top of my inbox but, I rarely get to zero. Before the iPad my inbox count, both personal and work usually hovered between 50 and 100. The iPad’s superior and frankly fun to use interface helps me keep it closer to 10 and enables me to read and respond easier than on the iPhone without having to lug out my laptop.

2. Better Information Consumption (Google Reader Zero)
With work and the challenges of the GMAT, my news reading had suffered for awhile before the iPad. It was just tough to find the time to work my way through the pile of unread articles, even though I enjoy it and find it enhances my career specific knowledge. The iPad is a great way to consume this kind of information quickly and effectively. Using apps like Flipboard and Zite, anyone can interact with a wide variety of their personal news feeds all in one great looking, easy to browse place.

3. More Open and Dynamic Computer-Aided Person to Person Interactions
When opened, laptops become a barrier between two people. It’s only a partial wall but, it has the same effect and the other person either has to wonder what you’re up to, or try to look over your shoulder. With the iPad’s bright, crisp screen people can layout information in front of each other and still effectively interact with it and each other. It works great for budget reviews, trip planning or anything that requires computing on the fly. No partial walls, no isolation or shoulder peeping.

4. Fast, Engaging One on One Presentations
I recently did a project for an executive where I work and showed up to an update with the iPad. It was a great way to demo the tools involved live and let her actually interact with them by touch. No need to waste time plugging in a projector, no clicking intermediary or waiting for a laptop to turn on/work. Just boom, it’s right there at their fingertips.

5. Better Meeting Etiquette
We all know what it’s like when someone get’s pulled into a conversation on their laptop when you are in a meeting.  iPads discourage in-meeting distraction by being flat on the table.  Everyone can see if you are taking notes or doing something else.  This transparency actually helps promote focus on what is at hand for everyone involved.

I am still discovering new iPad impacts as it really is a new way to interact on many levels. What have your experiences been? Please let us know in the comments.

Power GMAT Study Plan for Young Professionals

Many young professionals begin considering an MBA a few years after they start working (for those considering, see our posts When is it time to go back for an MBA? and Managers Not MBAs : Critical For Managers, MBAs and Those Seeking Either). One of the first steps towards applying is getting your GMAT completed. I recently went through the process of preparing for the GMAT and received some great advice from my brother-in-law, Noah Bieber, who has graciously allowed me to post it for your perusal below. As a caveat, he went through law school so he was less worried about the verbal section of the test and focuses more on the math section but, it is a great general guide.

High Level Study Timeline

1) ASAP – take a diagnostic test so you know what to work on. The Kaplan software (see below) has a diagnostic that told me to focus on math.

2) 1-2 months out: Focus on general topic lessons. Princeton Review Math Workout for the GMAT. I read all of the math topics and worked some of the practice problems. Good book and I highly recommend it, it identifies all the types of problems and explains them really well.

3) 2-3 weeks out: start taking full-length practice tests.

Testing Software and Practice Tests

-I bought Kaplan’s 2005 GMAT software for $20. The lessons were terrible, but it had several computerized practice tests. I recommend doing computerized practice tests so you can get used to the computer-adaptive difficulty settings. This will help you practice timing to get to the optimal difficulty.

-The math tests always got to the point where I could not do the most difficult questions, so I tried to practice deciding when I hit the “too-difficult” level, eliminating obvious wrong answers, and quickly guessing. Then, I would get one wrong and the questions would get easier, but you get fewer points for them.

-After you do the computerized tests, they will tell you what topics you need to work on. Since the Kaplan lessons were crappy, I looked up these topics in the Princeton Review book and read through them again.

– I usually skipped the writing practice tests because it was largely irrelevant to my admission and scholarship decisions. I had an easy writing topic and a really hard one, and without practicing, my writing score was 4 / 6.

-Toward the end, I ran out of Kaplan Practice tests, so I borrowed Peterson’s Mastering the GMAT from the library. This book’s lessons were more advanced than the Princeton Review. Honestly, it was too difficult and too late for me, so I just used the practice tests

General Observations and Tips:

-If you can find software with more practice tests than Kaplan, I would get that – I would look for about 12-14 computerized practice tests if possible.

-The practice tests were graded much harder than my actual GMAT. I was consistently getting 600-650 on the practice tests, but I got above much better than that on the actual GMAT. A buddy had a similar experience with the Kaplan practice tests.

Do you have similar or conflicting experiences? Share your tips in the comments.

Photo Credit: Online MBA Degree Program

Solving the Ups and Downs of Personal Budget Enemy #1: Variance

You’re ahead of the game, you have a well thought out budget set and you’re doing a great job of tracking your expenses and BAM! Some unexpected charge nails you out of the blue! You do what you can but it ends up on your credit card and it impacts your spending for the next few months. We have all been there, in fact that can turn in to a spiral for some. How do you deal with these unexpected changes in your spending month to month?

Here are the 3 best ways to prepare for budget variance ups and downs:

1. Build Seasonal Expenditures in to Your Budget
Most people set the amount they budget for each of their budget categories as low as they can. They figure they can hit it and they want to try to be aggressive. They use their lowest month’s spend amount as their goal rather than looking at their average spend when they set it. If you have a good history in Mint or Yodlee, the average spend can be a great guide as to how much you really spend. Also, just looking back at the way you spend can help you make a realistic budget. Make sure that you build in things like more outdoor activities or higher gas costs in the summer.

2. Level Out Your Bills
Some of your bills can spike on you in a given month, causing the scenario described at the beginning of this post to happen. Avoid this by setting up payment plans where you can. A classic example of this is car, home and fire insurance (for more on insurance, check out our post 3 Ways to Save Money on Insurance and a Myth Busted). Many companies charge you for 6 months at a time in one month, causing a big spike in spending. A great way to solve this is to set up a payment plan that charges the same amount each month for all of your policies, it may cost a dollar or a bit more a month in fees but, it’s totally worth it when you consider the interest you might have to pay if you have to put big 6 month bills on your credit card.

3. Track Budget Category Spend Yearly, not just Monthly
When most people budget, they track their costs monthly. At the end of the month, if they spend less in a few categories they pat themselves on the back and go spend the money they didn’t spend for those categories. Unfortunately, the next month rolls along and the pent up demand for the goods in that category makes you go over your goal in that category and you now have a credit card balance or you have to cut back on other categories. This can be solved! Treat each category like a separate bank account. My grandpa told me him and my grandma used to have separate envelopes with budget categories like “Gas” and “Groceries” written on them. They would put their budgeted amount of cash in each month and then let anything extra each month stay in the envelope for when they needed it later. You can do the same on paper or with the carryover budgeting available in Mint. Give it a try, then you can see your budget status year to date, not just for any given month!

How do you control budget variance? Add your suggestions in the comments!