Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

Let’s talk about Student Debt: Part 1: Digging In May 24, 2012

Filed under: Personal Finance — Stephanie @ 11:29 pm
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Let’s be honest.  EVERYONE is talking about student debt right now.  With the big article in the Degrees of Debt series in the New York Times, to in-depth discussions on Marketplace Money, to the latest political grandstanding (on both sides) about keeping Federal student loan interest rates low, it’s hard to escape the discussion.

It’s not a new issue.  But every once in a while, everyone starts talking about it again.

So, here’s my story, and my thoughts, on the subject.

When I was getting ready to go to college, I didn’t really know how I was going to pay for it.  I was encouraged by friends and family to go to MIT, even when Rutgers was offering me full tuition (I’d still have to pay room and board and other expenses).  MIT seemed like a better fit for me, and I wanted to go.

My parents had socked some money away in some mutual funds for my 2 sisters and me, but it was not enough to cover all of us.  We filled out the FAFSA forms to see what sort of financial aid we could get.  I was eligible for a small federal loan (not sure if it was subsidized or unsubsidized), and for “work study”, which really meant that I was able to get a job from MIT to earn a little money.  (I worked at the MIT Libraries for a semester or so in the back rooms processing new books).  I had a few scholarships I got through my dad’s work, and a few other tiny merit-based scholarships awarded to students at my high school, but that’s about it.  In retrospect, I really should have tried harder to find more scholarships.  Any amount would have helped.  I also didn’t take all the AP exams for my AP classes, because I misunderstood the way that MIT accepted AP credits.  Oh well.

So, to make up the difference between what aid/need-based discounts I received and the actual cost of going to MIT, I had to take out private loans.  Yep, those loans that they tell you to try your hardest to never have to take out.  There just wasn’t another option.  As a middle-class family, we were doing well enough that we couldn’t get a lot of  need-based financial aid, but we weren’t loaded enough to be able to pay upwards of $160k to send me to college for 4 years.

So, each year, I took on private student loans.  My parents did co-sign the loans.  But it built up during the 4 years at college.  And so when I graduated, I had $57,701.00 in private loans, and $18,218.61 in federal loans.

Honestly, like many of the people talking about student loans, I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I took on the debt a bit blindly, and there were ways I could have taken on less debt.

How could I have taken on less debt?

  • I could have gone to Rutgers instead of MIT.  I don’t think Rutgers was the right fit for me, but had I gone there, I’d have had tuition covered due to in-state tuition+ my GPA/SAT scores.  Final verdict:  Going to a public school would have been cheaper, but if I had to do it all again, I would still go to MIT
  • I could have looked for more scholarships.  I have a feeling there was plenty of money out there that I could have tried to get, but didn’t really look.  Plus, I didn’t really think to look for more scholarships after freshman year.  Final verdict:  Glad I got a few small awards, but I should have tried harder to find funding for freshman year and beyond.
  • I could have tried to earn more AP/college credits before attending college.  Though MIT wasn’t very big on accepting outside credits, had I gone to another school, getting college credits through AP or a cheaper school would have helped lower costs.

There are lots of things I could have done going in.  But I’d like to think that some of my decisions helped me slowly dig my way out of debt.  I’ll talk more in another post.

What were your best and worst decisions when it came to paying for college?  What did you wish you had known?  What are you glad you did?  What advice would you give to high schoolers planning for college?

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Seriously Considering Grad School March 21, 2011

I’m very wishy-washy when it comes to making most of my decisions.  And I get even more anxious the bigger the decisions get.

Which is why I’m feeling incredibly anxious about the idea of going to grad school.  But I know it’s important.

Every once in a while, I start thinking about going back to school.  It’s usually around the time I go to an interesting lecture, symposium, or other educational event.  Sometimes it’s when I talk to my sister, who is pursuing her Ph.D. right now.  And I’m usually reminded about grad school whenever people at work discuss the opportunities through their advanced studies programs.

This time around, I was talking with a coworker about my goals at our company.  We recently both had our yearly performance reviews, and with that, we were required to list our goals for the following year.  So he asked me what my goals were.  My near term (within the year) goals were basically to get better at technical writing and presentation and to get even more involved on higher level work within the project I am working on.  But long-term?  I want to be like the people I work with now who are basically genius problem solvers.  I want to be a subject matter expert. I know some of their skills and knowledge merely comes from experience.  They’ve been working a lot longer than I have.  But I also know that if I really want to keep advancing up the engineering ladder, I’ll need some advanced education.

The plus side of all of this is that my company is really supportive of this sort of ambition.  They’ll reimburse me for classes I want to take.  And if I decide to go back to school full-time, they’ll pay for my tuition, and still pay me half my salary while I’m gone.  It’s a pretty sweet deal.  Granted, you’re committed to the company for a few years afterward, but I don’t mind that.  I’d want to stay at a job that I enjoy!

So, what’s next?  Between my craving to learn more, my desire to advance in my career, and the sweet deal my company offers, this decision is a no-brainer, right?

Just thinking about this plan makes me really anxious.  I have to figure out what schools to apply to, what degree I’m going for (Masters vs. PhD), and what subsection of my major I want to study.  Materials Science and Engineering is a pretty vast field.  I took a lot of classes in polymers and environmental materials selection during undergrad.  And my internships were mostly in metallurgy.  And now I’m working mostly in ceramics.  So, I could go in any of those directions.  Do I pursue what I loved in undergrad, or get more schooling on my main focus at my job (since, well, they’re paying for it, and I’d want to do what would be good for my career)?

I also realize that I would like to go to grad school sooner rather than later.  It gets tougher to go back to school the longer you’re away.  I’m getting pretty used to this post-college lifestyle.  Then again, I could try going to school part time…which would take FOREVER.

I’m still very unsure of what I am going to do.  But I keep seeing signs in my life that I need to get serious about my grad school ambitions.  I can’t put this off forever.

To those of you who have gone to or are currently going to graduate school, how did you make all these important decisions?  I feel so overwhelmed!

 

And yes, I love material science! November 18, 2008

I don’t usually touch on my academic background in the blog.  I tend to talk more about personal finance, with a bit of food and Boston talk thrown in.  And I guess general musings about life after graduation.  But today I’d like to talk about Materials Science and Engineering.

First off, I studied Materials Science and Engineering at MIT.  I originally was going to major in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering, but the more I looked at the majors, the more I realized Materials Science and Engineering was the place for me.  It’s a great combination of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aero/Astro, and really, lots of science and engineering majors.

I think I often find myself urging others to pursue Materials Science and Engineering, or at least science/engineering in general.  And my new job gives me plenty of ways to share my love of science, engineering, and my scientific background with others.  I went back to MIT for their Career Fair and talked to students about my job and what sort of work I do.  And I went to an event for women in engineering, where high school girls interested in science and engineering came together and learned about future career opportunities.  I really like telling people about all the cool things that you can do as an engineer or scientist.  Maybe that makes me a geek!

So, I think I’ll post every once in a while about materials and such.  It’s something I’m really interested in!  And I’d also like to mention that, while I’m not a career adviser or anything, if you have any questions about college/careers in science/engineering, let me know.  I know it sounds lame, but I really like helping people.  And so if there’s a student who wants to know more about colleges or majors, I’d be happy to help.

So, stay tuned for more posts, likely with more reasons for why I love materials!

p.s.  A really cool resource out there is OpenCourseWare, a program through MIT where material from classes taught at MIT is posted for anyone to read/watch/listen to for free.  Check it out!  And since I’m promoting Materials this week, you should definitely look at the courses listed under that major. (especially 3.091, an extremely popular class at MIT.  The professor, Donald Sadoway, is an exceptional scientist and lecturer, and the class is a good start on the topic).