4 Questions You Should Ask Before Deciding on Graduate School

So you have a bachelor’s degree, but you’re wondering what comes next. Maybe you want to unlock the door to your dream job. Maybe you’re ready for a promotion and a raise. Or maybe you think the job market is still too weak in your field. There are lots of reasons to consider a graduate degree, but be financially wise about it. Here are four questions you should ask when making this important – and potentially costly – decision.
######
1. Do I need a graduate degree for my career?
######
The first thing to ask is whether your dream job even requires a graduate degree in the first place. Doctors, of course, have to attend medical school, lawyers _almost _always have to grind through law school (though legal apprenticeships are allowable in some jurisdictions), and top-notch academics generally have PhD’s. But, for many high level jobs, graduate degrees aren’t needed, and relevant work experience can be just as good.
We crunched some federal labor market data on management occupations (which are generally the highest paying jobs) to show you just how wide the differences are across industries. If your career is in education or health, you may want to seriously consider grad school to advance: 36 percent of managers have a master’s degree or above. It’s different in the hospitality industry, where only 7 percent of managers have been to grad school. Of course, the numbers are just the beginning of the story, and even within industries the needs vary widely. So do your homework, including talking with people in your industry who can attest to a degree’s value, and figure out what the norm is for your career.
2. Will graduate school give me a salary bump?######
Next, ask yourself how a graduate degree will likely impact your salary after graduation. Again, every situation is unique, but we recut the federal labor market data to show you a typical “salary bump” from an advanced degree. If you work in government or health services, having an advanced degree can open up jobs that pay you 50 per cent more. For all you urban farmers out there, be mindful that your graduate work on Socrates doesn’t necessarily make you a successful avocado grower: the typical advanced degree holder in agriculture takes jobs that pay less. So don’t assume graduate school will always translate into a huge — or immediate — raise.
######
3. What does graduate school cost – both in money and time?######
Many students rush to graduate school for the benefits – but make sure you carefully understand the costs too. Obviously there’s tuition (may range from $30k all the way up to $120k!), books, fees, and in some cases the room/board that you otherwise wouldn’t be paying. But there’s also what you give up to attend (what economists call opportunity costs): your old salary and career advancement. If you have to take out student loans to finance your education, these add interest costs and could impact your credit after school. Of course, you can lower the burden of these costs with scholarships, fellowships, and working in school.
Working while getting your graduate degree may mean you’ll be in school longer, and not every institution offers evening and weekend classes, but they don’t involve sacrificing salary or career advancement. Some companies may even set aside financial assistance for employees going to school; it never hurts to ask your HR department.
Think hard also about the length of your desired degree and the number of years you plan to work after graduating. A typical master’s is two years, while the typical PhD is around seven years. So even if a doctorate gives you a bigger weekly salary bump (which it doesn’t always), you still might make more over your whole career with a master’s because you spent less time in school. For similar reasons, you should investigate programs that meet on nights and weekends, letting you earn a regular salary and make progress to an advanced degree. Financially, this might be the better choice.
4. Are there better alternatives?######
Today, there are many alternatives to traditional grad school. If you explore these routes, consider their unique risks. Be particularly careful with for-profit universities or for-profit companies. Some are pioneering the future of education, and some are just making a quick buck.
A fast growing option is the online degree, many now offered by accredited and prestigious institutions. An online degree could give you the flexibility to earn credits while in school or taking care of a loved one. But also consider that you won’t get all of the benefits of in-person study groups, on-campus research facilities, and the ability to network with classmates. Taking classes online is also a different learning dynamic than in-person and may not be right for everyone.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) through sites like Coursera or edX are often low-cost and taught by faculty from top universities. These sites have also begun to offer certificates in specialized fields, which may be useful in demonstrating command of specific skills (such as a programming language). But so far these credentials aren’t really equivalent to a comprehensive graduate degree, and there isn’t reliable data yet if they affect your salary or your career advancement.
Skill-based boot camps are intense, on-site, 8-12 week programs that help you learn a discrete skill (particularly coding) fast. If you’re thinking about graduate school through the lens of _changing _careers then a boot camp may make sense, though understand that they are predominantly for-profit and still largely unregulated.
It may also pay off more to build up your portfolio of work on sites like Dribble, Github, or a personal blog. To some employers, especially in startups, real projects speak more than fancy degrees. Your personal projects also let you explore your passions, and passion can push many people to learn more than the fear of a bad grade.
######
There are many reasons to go to graduate school – professional, intellectual, personal, etc. But whatever motivates you, a careful, clear-eyed weighing of the financial costs and benefits should be part of your decision.
 
Shouvik Banerjee is the Founder and CEO of AverPoint, a platform to bring crowd-verified evidence into editorial and marketing content. AverPoint’s mission is to empower authentic, evidence-driven brands like Mint.com give individuals the information to make better choices.

How to Create Your First Budget

There are many milestones of being an adult. Signing your own lease for the first time, being able to rent a car, having someone call you ma’am.
But being an adult also means being responsible for your own finances. Like many things, you can’t have a successful financial future if you don’t plan for it. The best way to do that? Create a budget.
Creating a budget can seem daunting, but it just requires a series of steps. See below for help on creating your first budget.
######
Track your expenses######
Before you can start a budget full of limits, you need to know how much you’re spending right now. Take two or three months to spend normally and track your transactions in Mint.
Fixed expenses like rent, insurance and utilities will be easier to monitor than variable expenses, such as groceries, entertainment and travel, which will fluctuate month-to-month.
You should also write down what your income is. That amount will be the same every month for many people, but if you work hourly, on commission or are self-employed, tracking your income for a few months will give you a good idea of how much you take take in each month.
######
Write down your main goals######
Make a list of what you want to save for. Is there a friend’s wedding in Ireland in six months? Write that down. Do you want to buy a house in two years? Put it on the list.
Then, do some research on how much each of those goals will cost and write that amount down as well. Once you have the goal, the amount you need to save and when you want to achieve that goal, you can figure out how much you need to save per month to make it happen.
######
List your debts######
Once you have your goals, income and expenses figured out, it’s time to write down everyone’s least favorite part of budgeting: your debt. Write down what you owe, what the interest rate is, how many months you have left and what your monthly payment is.
While you have to pay the minimum each month, you also have two strategies to choose from when it comes to paying off debt early.
You can choose to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. This will save you the most on how much total interest you pay each month.
Another popular method is to pay off your debts in order from smallest balance to largest balance. This will help you knock out your debts faster and make you feel like you’re making more progress toward your debt.
######
Start a retirement plan######
One of the most important parts of budgeting is making room for a retirement plan. Ask your HR department if your employer offers a retirement plan and if you are eligible. Many 401k plans also have free matching funds so make sure to put in enough to receive the matching.
You can also start a retirement fund on your own if your company doesn’t offer one. Many people recommend investing in index funds through an IRA or individual retirement account. Robo advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront can create personalized retirement plans based on your age and other factors.
General recommendations say you should contribute between 10-15% of your salary toward your nest egg.
######
Put it all together######
Create a spreadsheet and add up how much you spend each month, what you should save for your goals, how much you should put away for retirement and how much debt you owe. If those numbers add up and are less than what you earn, you’re golden.
But for many people, that amount is greater than what they earn. That’s when they have to make sacrifices and changes to their budget. Maybe they need to move to a new apartment and save on rent or eat out less. Maybe you should postpone your goal of buying a house or take a break from traveling until you pay off that credit card.
The key is to make sure you don’t spend more than you earn and have a little bit extra each month just in case.
 
_Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.**

5 Tips on How to Negotiate an Entry-Level Salary

Now that you’ve crushed it with your cover letter, blown everyone away with your resume, and aced your interview, it’s time to do what half of all new hires never even attempt: negotiate your salary.
If you’re a recent graduate hunting for work or a twentysomething switching careers, the thought of telling a potential employer how much you want to be paid probably makes you feel a little uncomfortable. But negotiating your entry-level salary could be one of the most important conversations of your professional life, and it can actually be a lot less intimidating if you’re prepared.
Start a new entry-level job earning the paycheck you deserve with these five salary negotiation tips.
######
1. Identify your ask.######
Before entering into any negotiation, you’ve got to know what you want. Ask for a salary that’s too high, and you won’t be taken seriously. Too low, and you’re leaving money on the table. To find the sweet spot, get advice from friends in the industry or any job recruiters you might know.
Also check out sites like Salary.com and PayScale.com to learn what pros in your area are actually earning. You’ll end up with a range of results, and, if you’re confident in your abilities, assume you’re worth an amount on the higher end. Just be realistic about the number you land on, because if you don’t believe you’re worth what you’re asking for, neither will the person you’re negotiating with.
######
2. Be prepared to brag.######
Before talking about your salary, make a bulleted list of your qualifications and previous accomplishments. Highlight anything that increased sales, reduced costs, or streamlined processes for former employers, and include any unique skills that could give you an edge compared to other candidates.
If you’ve never actually held a full-time job before, jot down any notable internship projects or relevant experience you’ve acquired from extracurricular activities. The idea is to impress your potential employer by letting her know everything you’ve done that makes you qualified to fill the position.
Stand in front of a mirror (or with some patient friends) and rehearse your spiel until it’s perfect. When you’re finally sitting down with the decision maker, hand her a copy of your list and draw attention to whichever items are most relevant to the position you hope to fill.
3. Act like you’ve been there before.######
If this is your first time negotiating, keep that under wraps. It’s normal to feel nervous, but stay confident by remembering you’ve made it this far for a reason. Give the impression that you’re an experienced negotiator by acting like one. You don’t need to be some Don Corleone, making offers your would-be boss can’t refuse, but it helps to maintain good eye contact, a positive attitude and a firm tone of voice.
If you’re sending a salary negotiation email, be sure to express your enthusiasm for the company and the position. In either case, it’s a good idea to fire away with any insightful questions you might have—just be sure not to over-communicate. If you find yourself talking too much, shut the front door and wait for your interviewer to make the next move.
######
4. Don’t be first to mention money.######
When it comes to talking numbers, don’t be the one who brings up the topic, and never mention the salary you’d settle for. If you’re repeatedly asked to state the figure you had in mind, ask for 10 percent more than the number you settled on. This provides a solid buffer if and when your hopeful boss tries to talk you down. It’s also a good rule of thumb to request for a precise figure, rather than a nice round number. This is merely a psychological tactic, but it seems to work. In the case that your interviewer suggests an initial salary along the lines of what you had in mind, calmly restate the number then bite your tongue. More often than not, this approach results in increased offers.
######
5. Stand your ground.######
If the amount your interviewer offers isn’t quite what you had in mind, don’t get ruffled. Keep your emotions in check, don’t take anything personally and repeat the reasons why you’re the best candidate for the job.
If your potential boss simply won’t budge, find out if there’s flexibility as far as benefits are concerned. If you can’t afford to pass up this opportunity, ask what you can do to increase your compensation in the near future. Set a date to revisit the topic and ask your new employer to put it on her calendar. And if, in the end, you’re just not feeling the offer, don’t be afraid to turn it down. It’s better to hold out for the pay you want than accept an amount you’re not able to live on.
You owe it to yourself to negotiate for every penny you’re worth. This is especially true considering that many companies calculate raises and pensions based on an employee’s initial salary. So start your career with confidence and earn what you deserve. Good luck in your negotiation.