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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Six Grad-School Tips for a Productive Summer Break

1. Volunteer
Summer is the perfect time to develop areas of your resume that may be lacking due to your busy schedule during the year. Of course, part-time jobs and internships make for great work-experience, but if you want your time to be more flexible or meaningful consider volunteering. Find a program where you can utilize and develop your unique skills. Coaching a local football camp will help hone your leadership and motivational skills. Language and STEM students will find that their expertise is in high demand for volunteer reading programs. Sociology students can look for volunteer work in community organizations that address local issues. And while some volunteer programs may require some long-term commitment, many opportunities allow people to work and participate as they are able leaving you free to work and play.

2. Set Some Goals
The school year can be intense, and it can be easy to develop bad habits or fall into a hectic work schedule. But during the summer you have the chance to reboot your life. As the semester comes to a close, assess the past year and figure out what worked and what didn’t. Did you pull too many all-nighters? Are you subsisting on a diet of cereal and take-out? Are your notes in a shambles because you never took the time to develop a workable system? Identify areas that need improvement and begin practicing good habits. Even a small goal, like taking a 30-minute walk every day will improve your mood, concentration, and energy levels, and if you establish good habits in the summer, it will be easier to keep them in the fall.

3. Read Widely
If your summer reading activity consists of filling your beach bag with paperback novels and magazines, and then promptly falling asleep under an umbrella, take a moment to reassess. If you’re like most grad students, you probably spend a lot of time reading during the school year and unless you’re studying literature or theater, your reading material probably leans more toward the academic side of things. But even if you need a break from primary sources or technical manuals, don’t waste your summer not reading. Go outside your comfort area and read things that will enhance your understanding of the world.

4. Consider Summer Semester
Of course, you need a break from classes, but summer semester can be the perfect time to earn some extra credits or take a class that you wouldn’t otherwise attempt. And summer courses tend to be smaller, more personal, and more diverse than regular semester offerings. Take the opportunity to learn the basics of German or computer engineering. Explore an area of your field that is outwith your research scope. Or if you want to max out a summer semester – enroll in a short-term study abroad program. The best part of summer courses is that they’re often condensed, which means you can get a semester’s worth of studying done in just a few weeks and still have time for relaxation.

5. Try Creativity
Summer productivity doesn’t have to be academic. Down-time from classes is the ideal time to explore your creativity and innovation. Just like developing new habits, exploring your creativity can have big payoffs once the school year starts. Do you have a small business idea? Put it into motion and you could have a small, but reliable income in a few months time. Hobbies and sports will broaden your social horizons and give you an outlet for stress once the pressures of the semester start to take hold. Explore blogging and social media to find modern ways to share and market your skills. Find something you love or something that sparks your imagination and use the summer to master it.

6. Enjoy Your Summer!
Whatever you do, remember that summer holidays are a time to relax and regroup after the stress of the school year. Spending your summer stressing about productivity, or a lack thereof, is counterproductive. Set reasonable goals and stick to your plan, but don’t forget to leave room for spontaneous hiking adventures, late-night bonfires on the beach, road-trips with friends, and the occasional day spent in a hammock.

Why You Might Need a Master’s Degree

1. MAs are the New Bachelors

Thirty years ago, a bachelor’s degree in most subjects was the ticket to a job where you could gain experience and progress to higher levels of expertise. In fact, in the past job seekers with graduate-level degrees may have been considered overqualified, but things have changed. It’s not exactly a bad thing, but with increased college enrollment over the last few decades, the market has been flooded with skilled and qualified undergraduates. Now, employers are looking to hire graduates with advanced degrees, and while there are still plenty of positions that will accept bachelor’s degrees, some of the most desirable positions are going to recent grads with masters-level qualifications. A Masters will help you to stand out from the crowd and will show prospective employers that you have advanced skills and subject-expertise.

2. They Can Be Required

While many sectors favor post-graduate degrees, there are several fields in which a master’s-level degree is required. Obviously, education for doctors and lawyers goes far beyond that of a normal bachelor’s degree, but if you’re considering a career in therapy, library or museum sciences, economics, architecture, or various medical professions, you’ll find that an advanced degree isn’t optional. Speech and language therapists in the US need a graduate degree and accreditation. In the UK, ‘architect’ is a protected title and in order to practice students must complete five years of study as well as work experience. In the US, a growing doctor shortage means that there are more jobs for Physician’s Assistants (PAs) but you’ll need to earn a master’s degree from an accredited program first. While it may seem demanding, these positions require advanced training, specialization, and dedicated professionals, all of which can be developed through post-graduate study.

3. They Can Lead You Further

Some people decide to pursue a masters-level degree because they thrived in university studies and aren’t ready to enter the ‘real-world.’ While this isn’t a great reason to earn a master’s, if you have a knack for academia and are considering a career as a professor or researcher, then a master’s degree is a fantastic idea. Most PhD programs require candidates to have completed an MA or MS in a related subject, and a master’s program will give you the opportunity to find out if focused research and academic life are right for you. Remember that master’s studies are very different from undergraduate degrees. Students are often more independent and research-focused, and the course-work requires in-depth knowledge and original ideas. Master’s studies are harder and more stressful, but they’re often more exciting because you can focus on subjects that interest you.

4. They Help You Specialize

In fact, one of the biggest benefits of master’s-level studies is that you have the chance to focus your knowledge and hone your skills. This can be a huge benefit in the job market because industries and employers are often looking for highly-specialized candidates. It’s one of the reasons that Master’s of Professional Studies degrees (MPS) are in demand, but traditional MS and MA degrees are also attractive to prospective employees in a variety of fields. While some students enter into post-graduate studies directly from undergraduate degrees, many established professionals enroll in master’s programs in order to advance their careers or develop new skills. Lawyers often acquire advanced degrees (on top of their law degree) in order to focus on specific legal sectors, while MBAs are a sure-fire way to achieve success in the business world, especially if you focus on much-needed skills like technology.

5. You’ll Earn More

Money shouldn’t be the only reason that you choose to pursue a master’s degree, but it might be one of them. In some sectors, employees with master’s degrees earn up to 20% more than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees, andwomen with degrees have a smaller pay-gap than those without. And while graduates are, in general, less likely to be unemployed, those with post-graduate degrees have even greater rates of employment. But while some post-graduates have the potential to earn more after they finish their degree, it’s important to remember that graduate school isn’t always free. Though some graduate-level programs offer tuition waivers, stipends, and even subsidized housing and health insurance, a master’s can take between one and three years to complete. And though it’s not impossible to work while studying, it can be difficult. So consider carefully before enrolling. A master’s degree in engineering will give you excellent credentials and improved your marketability, but you might also leave with increased student-debt and three years of lost earnings.

Stressing Over Student Debt?

1. Pay Down the Lowest Balance First

While there are a variety of strategies regarding the best way to pay down different kinds of debt, the “debt snowball method” is one of the most popular avenues recommended by financial experts for paying off debt.

According to this approach, you simply pay off the accounts with the smallest balances first. While this may seem to run counter to common sense if you have larger debts with higher interest rates, the psychological benefits gained from making progress add up to peace of mind and forward momentum.

After all, while making payment after payment toward chipping away at a large balance may want to make you throw your hands up and give in, there’s great satisfaction to be found in paying even a small debt down to zero and crossing it off your list.

2. Check For Repayment Programs

If you’re dealing with loan payments which have become unmanageable, several federal repayment programs exist aimed at offering relief, including graduated, extended, income-based, and pay-as-you-earn repayment plans.

One thing to keep in mind about these programs? You’ll still have to pay back your loans, which may end up costing you more over time due to the total interest paid. In the meantime, however, you’ll enjoy invaluable breathing room while you explore avenues for getting caught up.

Don’t qualify for a federal loan? Look into private lenders instead.

Regardless of the repayment program you choose, one element is critical: keep your loan servicer in the loop. If you are in danger of falling behind on your payments or not making a payment at all, inform your lender immediately. Think of it this way: They don’t want you to default on your loans any more than you do.

3. Know Your Loans

All loans aren’t created equally. The more you know about your loans, the more you’ll ultimately understand about how to repay them.

In the U.S., for example, students have several handy options for tracking their loans. The National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) maintains a convenient database of all federal student loans, while credit reports reflect all private loans. In order to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, maintain an updated list of all of your loans, lenders, balances and repayment statuses.

4. Consider Consolidation

If you’re struggling under the weight of multiple loans with high-interest rates, loan consolidation may offer a money-saving solution. While consolidation is not likely a solution for recent borrowers, it can be a life-saver for those with lingering loans.

However, be sure to do your research and read the fine print before accepting a consolidation loan to spare yourself any unpleasant surprises in the future.

 5. Resist the Urge to Panic

Dealing with any amount of debt is no fun, but dealing with crushing debt during a time of emergency can send you into a full-on panic attack. If health problems, unemployment, or other issues are interfering with your ability to pay your loans, don’t freak out. There are resources available to help you, including deferments and forbearance. While neither of these may be ideal, they may be the temporary solution you need to get back on your feet.

6. Get Creatively Employed

Finding the right job can offer unexpected relief from student loans. For example, full-time public service employees in the U.S. may qualify for Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Additionally, some private sector employers will also consider including student loan repayment reimbursements as part of your benefits package or as a replacement for tuition reimbursement programs.

Although choosing a job based on whether it will offset or eliminate your debt may involve you taking an unexpected career turn, it can also offer critical relief — which may make the detour well worth your while.

The truth is that student loans are a fact of life for many students. However, overwhelming stress from dealing with these loans doesn’t have to be part of the equation. These six steps can help you wrangle your loans into positive strategies for debt relief and financial freedom.

Four Reasons to Get Involved With Alumni Associations

1. Networking opportunities

We’ll start with the obvious reason. One of the main purposes of alumni associations is to support a network of former graduates who will, in turn, help to raise the profile of the university. Just like most other university student organizations, alumni associations aim to bring together like-minded individuals. But unlike sororities, fraternities, and other student organizations, alumni programs are open to all graduates and offer a broader networking scope. If you’re heading to graduation in a couple of months or have just finished your degree, joining your school’s alumni association is a good way to get a foot (or three) in the door. Contact your alumni association to see what sort of networking opportunities they offer. Some school’s host job fairs. Others have mentor programs for graduates that pair outgoing students with alumni in similar career fields. And remember that with alumni associations, quality can definitely trump quantity. In fact, many small, private liberal arts colleges have some of the most active and effective alumni associations.

 2. Career building tools

One of the things to remember about alumni associations is that they want you to succeed. Of course, they’re hoping that you’ll use your success to help the association and university, but successful graduates are a university’s best asset. It’s no surprise then that most alumni associations offer a variety of career services. These can be anything from the aforementioned job fairs to things like resume workshops, job postings, and online resources for job-seekers. And most of these services are offered free of charge to alumni members. Remember the mentor programs we mentioned? These can be great tools for building your career or finding ways to maximize your earning potential.

3. Benefits

But alumni associations aren’t just about jobs and recruiting new students. When you were a student at your university, you were part of a community that offered all sorts of exciting perks – free concerts, student discounts, poetry readings, art exhibits, library access, sporting events, and numerous other things that made your university unique and dynamic. And university alumni associations understand that even after graduation, many students continue to feel connected to their university, or associate a part of their identity with the institution. That’s why many alumni associations continue to offer former students ways to keep their connection with the university. Many associations host special alumni social events, and others give members free tickets to university sporting events, life-time email services, insurance and banking services, and, of course, discounts. You might expect that alumni would get discounted university merchandise, but alumni associations often offer discounts on other things like hotels, rental cars, restaurants, and other services around the world.

4. Give back

But remember that your university provided you with numerous educational opportunities and that your alumni association isn’t just about discounts and job offers. Whether you know it or not, your school’s alumni association was probably instrumental in your success, and while most universities hope that their students’ successes post-graduation will promote the school’s reputation and encourage others to consider matriculation, one of the main purposes of alumni associations is to recruit new students. Plus, alumni associations are great resources for incoming students – many award scholarships (funded by donations from alumni) and the strength of a school’s alumni association can be a deciding factor for incoming students. And alumni associations aren’t just for domestic students. Many universities with aspiring international programs depend on their alumni to spread the word, and alumni recommendations carry a lot of weight with prospective students. So whether you sign up for membership, send a generous donation, or offer to serve as a mentor, there are many ways that your alumni association will help you help your school.