Back in January, I shared that we’re ditching the status quo and embracing change in 2017 in the Making Smarter Decisions household. Both kids had college decisions to make, I had to decide if I was going to go back to work (again), and we had to decide whether to sell our house and downsize into a rental property we own. And we are even thinking about selling all of our rental properties to fund the gap in early retirement until I can collect my pension. Can you see why our “CHANGES” theme works so well this year? 😉
We’ve made two of the big decisions already and two more are in progress! My son’s final college decision comes this week and we’re crossing our fingers that our 22-year tenant is out of the rental house we want to move into soon. (This is the one where we had the flood last week!) It was bad timing but it definitely could have been worse! Trying to look on the bright side of all those storm clouds!
But the decision’s been made and I’ve finally cured my One More Year Syndrome. I won’t be going back to a full-time/permanent job! Only 48 more days of full-time work… And my daughter has made her graduate school decision too!
Yes, she’s getting paid to earn her Master’s degree as a West Virginia Mountaineer!
She may not end up with thousands in the bank when she is done, but she is getting a full tuition waiver and a stipend as a departmental Teaching Assistant of over $1200/month! That will cover her living expenses and even a little extra for some fun. We are all incredibly excited and proud of her! (And yes, a little sad she’ll be moving further away too!!)
Today she found out she’ll have a paid research position for the summer too! This will allow get ahead on her own research, while getting to know the area, the facilities, and her peers and professors before the fall term begins.
How did she do it?
I’ll briefly share our college search and decision-making process. We worked as a family on this and it paid off. We’ll share the positive things we did and where assumptions could have cost her tens of thousands of dollars. You might find it interesting that WVU wasn’t even on our radar when we first started looking and making graduate school visits!
The first post talked about how I had to seek out college information in the 1980’s and how colleges overwhelm students with information now. Students seem to get stuck on finding the best college now, rather than one that meets their needs. The second post shared my daughter’s decision-making framework for the first three graduate schools we went to visit. The framework and her ranked goals helped to organize all of the information we had for each school.
My daughter is finishing her undergraduate degree from an in-state university in May. She’s only gone to college for 3 years because she had a solid plan of study. She also brought more than a year’s worth of credit from her high school classes – Advanced Placement (AP) and a few community college classes that were offered in high school.
These advanced classes are offered in most high schools and community college classes can often be done online (and even in the summer!) Our community college even offers scholarships to high school students to take college classes! (If you have questions about the high school/college credit part of her plan – let me know through email or in the comments. I did the same thing 30 years ago! And my son plans on doing it too!)
Her career path requires an advanced degree. So last summer we searched out accredited Master’s degree programs within a 5 hour radius of home. And we went and visited three colleges that seemed to be a good fit.
A few weeks later, I wrote a follow-up post called Making Assumptions Can Cost You Thousands When It Comes to College. I have a Doctoral degree, two Master’s degrees and a Bachelor’s degree and I attended two different colleges. I’ve also taught at four colleges (two private and two public). And I still made assumptions when it came to choosing colleges and finances related to college. Those assumptions could have cost us a ton of money too! (So I hope what I’m sharing with you will help you make smarter college decisions!)
West Virginia University is six hours away. Just beyond the somewhat random driving time we had chosen. Luckily my son did a college visit there and we realized it might be a good option for my daughter too!
After her visit to WVU, she was excited to add it to the list of options (and she was really excited that they have a PhD program as an option too.) She also learned during the visit that most graduate students receive some type of funding to help minimize the cost of their advanced degree!
We added WVU’s information into the decision-making framework (shown below.) We also eliminated the only in-state option she had because it wasn’t a good fit in terms of the exact major she wanted. She applied to the three colleges and then had to wait for three long months…
She had interviews at two of the colleges and she was accepted into all three programs. A real honor because two of them were quite competitive! And when the financial aid offers came in – the answer was clear and it didn’t require the use of the framework (but we were glad we had it ready to use!)
If you look across the first row (extremely important), each college met the criteria in terms of program and accreditation. If you look across the second row (very important), the only college that would allow her to minimize cost (and even make a profit!) was West Virginia University. If you look at the rest of the table, the only drawback of WVU is extra driving. Since this was only ranked “important” – it didn’t matter as much as minimizing costs. The possibility of going on for a PhD at WVU would just be a bonus if she wanted to consider that in the future too!
It was a very easy decision! But we know that if she would have never considered WVU, she probably would be paying at least $75,000 for her graduate degree and living expenses. So be careful about your assumptions!!
I’d also point out that my daughter didn’t “fall in love” with a campus or a particular program – even though that would have been easy to do. She stayed objective and decided what she needed and wanted and she prioritized. She could have been happy at any of the schools we visited because she had spent time figuring out her end goals.
We also know that it takes a great deal of time to research colleges, make campus visits, and learn about resources that are available. And I’m glad we had that time. It certainly paid off!
Finding funding is a challenge, but it can be done for at least some majors. Many colleges and universities offer “TA” (teaching assistant) or “GA” (graduate assistants) positions that reduce the costs of advanced degrees. The positions require a lot of extra work (in addition to taking graduate classes,) but they can be a great way to keep costs down and minimize the use of student loans.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share her story (and the decision-making framework) with anyone you know who is thinking about earning an advanced degree. (The framework can also help parents coach their kids in making undergraduate college decisions).
I know some people don’t believe there is a need for advanced degrees, but there are still MANY career fields that require them – including teaching (in many states.) So let’s figure out ways to help people who choose or need to earn those degrees!
Have any of you readers enjoyed a reduction in costs for your advanced degree programs? Or have your employers helped pay for advanced degrees? Feel free to share your story or ask questions in the comments!
Photo Credit: Geoffrey Whiteaway@freerangestock.com