Category Archives: Education

Be a Smart Shopper When It Comes to Higher Education


According to research done by the Associated Press, the average Gen Xer with a bachelor’s degree is paying $400 a month on student loan debt.  Does this seem wrong to you?  The federal government says this is more than the average household spends on groceries a month.  You need a bachelor’s degree, right?  So what do you do?

Everyone and their brother has a bachelor’s degree

We’ve been told that a bachelor’s degree is a must-have in today’s society.  But, let’s look at the numbers.  In 1970, the average income for a recent college graduate in their 20s was about $42,000 in 2013 dollars.  In 2013, that same average income was only $40,000.  Yet the bill to acquire said degree has sky-rocketed.  Is this really money well-spent?

The master’s is the new black

So, maybe a bachelor’s just isn’t cutting it anymore.  Maybe the new shiny object is a master’s degree.  Since 1970, the income of recent recipients of graduate degrees has increased by $4,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.  That’s good news, right?  Well, you have to factor in how much a master’s degree costs – $40,000 – versus $20,000 for a bachelor’s degree.  It just doesn’t seem like you’re getting a whole lot of bang for your buck.  Are there any other options?

I’d like a plate full of hands-on experience, please

If you’re planning to become a scientist, doctor, or researcher, yeah you’re probably gonna need a degree, and then some.  But, if you’re looking at getting into something like sales, software development, or business, you’re really gonna need to get some good old fashion hands-on experience.  The same goes if you’re looking at getting into a trade like carpentry, engine repair, or electrical.

So, how do you find experience?

1) Apply for entry-level jobs or internships.  Even if it’s not exactly what you want to do, get a job somewhere.  Once you’re in, put in some extra hours with people that are doing what you want to do.  Observe what their doing, ask questions, and offer your help with some of the more menial tasks.

2) Work on projects at home.  If you want to be a software developer, get on your computer and start coding something.  If you want to be in sales, start going door-to-door and sell something.  If you want to be an electrician, start re-wiring something.

3) Sign up for a vocational trade school.  Unlike 4-year universities that offer classes from a more academic or theoretical point of view, trade schools provide practical training geared specifically for the job you want.  Plus, they typically far cheaper to attend than a 4-year school.  And, according to Mike Row, blue collar jobs can pay pretty well.

4) Start your own business.  Even if it’s just helping out your neighbors with some odd jobs, you can learn a lot about how to run a business by trying it out yourself.

Full disclosure

I have a bachelor’s degree and I’ve taken several post-graduate classes.  But, I did it on the cheap.  I went to Community College for my first two years and paid for it entirely out of pocket. Then, I finished up my bachelor’s with two years at an inexpensive public state school.  I didn’t start taking post-graduate classes until I worked full-time for a few years and, even then, it was free because my company had a tuition reimbursement program.  I did take out a loan for my undergrad degree, but I paid it off in 5 years.

Would I take out a loan to get my bachelor’s again knowing what I know now?  No.  Would I even get a bachelor’s degree?  I’m not so sure.  I’ve found that, at least in my line of work, employers value experience far more than any degree.

A Message to Graduates: Sometimes it’s Good to Ignore a Few Wrong Way Signs

Wrong Way Sign

On the road of life, you’ll see many signs telling you how fast to go, when to stop, when to take a detour, and when you’re going the wrong way.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to ignore those signs posted by society and go your own way.

1. Society will tell you to buy a brand new car before you have the money

It might sound tempting when you hear things like “No money down”, or “only $150 a month”, or “only $5 a day.”  Don’t do it!  Save up cash and buy a cheap, used A to B car with no payments.  Until you have the cash, walk, ride a bike, take the bus, or use Uber.  When you finally buy a car, set aside around $150 per month to cover maintenance and repairs.

2. Society will tell you to spend as much money as you can on a house

Don’t rush into buying a house.  It’s okay to rent until you know where you want to put down roots.  When you’re ready to buy, don’t take out a loan that’s more than 15 years long and don’t commit to a payment that’s more than 25% of your monthly income.  No matter what the bank says, too much house payment makes life harder than it has to be.

3. Society will tell you to use a credit card to get what you want now

A good credit rating is important for things like insurance rates, low interest rates on home loans and even getting a job.  But, use credit wisely.  Get a credit card or two, not because they have the best airline miles or cashback, but because you need them to maintain a credit score.  Always pay your bill off completely every month.  I can think of much better ways to spend 20% of your credit card bill than paying interest and late fees to the card company.

5. Society will tell you to go to the most prestigious (usually the most expensive) college you can

How about just going to a community college?  Unless you know you want to be something that requires the fancy education like a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist, you generally don’t need a pricey four-year degree.  What you really need is experience.  If you do decide to get that degree, shop around for deals and look for scholarships.  Choosing a high-priced private medical school over a cheaper state school isn’t going to make you a better doctor.  Also, be careful how much money you borrow to do it.  Student loans are with you for life – they won’t go away, even if you declare bankruptcy.

6. Society will tell you to find a nice, secure, well-paying job from which no one gets fired

Don’t be afraid to try out many different kinds of jobs until you find the one you like.  If the one you like doesn’t pay well, find a way to make it pay well.  Work harder, start your own business based on that job, or take on a second job to support the job you love.  If you’re not sure what you want to do after high-school or college and aren’t afraid of some hard work, try a trade school.  As Mike Rowe points out, there are quite a few good paying blue-collar jobs out there.  Some of which can lead to six-figure incomes.

Often times society will tell you to join the crowd and take the easy route, or to go down the slide.  Don’t be afraid to go up the slide, even if the people across from you are yelling, “You’re going the wrong way!” (Thank you Planes, Trains and Automobiles)

Master’s Degree? None for me, Thanks

This morning I was working out, listening to Pandora when an ad interrupted my station (yes, I use the free version) trying to convince me to get a Master’s degree.  Incidentally, I don’t have a Master’s degree.  Instead, I’ve been surviving on just a Bachelor’s degree in Economics.  A fact that some might find strange because my day job is software engineer, but that’s a post for another day.

There was a time when I wanted a Master’s degree.  You see, a few years ago I worked for a company that offered to pay the full tuition bill.  As long as a I maintained a “B” average, I could take free classes.  I decided to take them up on their offer and start pursuing a Master’s in Computer Science.  I had no plans for what I would do with my new degree, it just seemed like a good idea at the time.  Well, more than 10 years later, I’m glad I never finished the program.  I like my day job and I’ve come to realize that in my field, a Master’s degree would actually just slow me down.  I feel like I’d be stuck spending time learning about general computer theory using outdated technology, while missing out on valuable on-the-job experience with the latest and greatest tools and techniques.

There are more reasons I choose not to pursue a post baccalaureate degree…

It costs money

I no longer work for a company that will cover education expenses and those degrees are expensive. MBA programs can cost between $40k and 60k per year.  Holy cow!  I don’t think I would get a very good return on my investment.  Other people might be able to work out a deal with their employers to cover all or part of the tuition, but even then there may be strings attached.  For example, your company may want their money back if you quit or get laid off.

It takes time

Usually two years, but maybe more if I’m trying to squeeze classes in at night and don’t have all the prerequisite undergraduate work done.  Are you ready to commit your nights and weekends to studying?  I’m not.  I have a blog to write!

There’s no guarantee it will get me more money or a better job

Maybe it would be different if my company came to me and said, “We’ll pay you x percent more if you get a Master’s degree.”  But, in my field it’s more about your experience and skill than it is about your degree.  I’m not about to shell out $50k with nothing but a hope and a prayer that the investment will pay off.

Society is too pushy about it

I just feel like there’s this general push by society to go out and upgrade your life by getting a Master’s degree.   It’s like the new Bachelor’s degree.  It will unlock a glorious new world of higher pay and career advancement.  And if you don’t get that degree, you’ll limp along, unable to compete with everyone else and their mother who already have a Master’s degree.

I’ll admit that some jobs require a minimum amount of post-graduate education: Doctors, lawyers, scientists, and college professors.  If any of these jobs are your ultimate goal, then by all means go forth and learn.  Otherwise, can you get to where you want to go without a Master’s degree?  If your goal is to move up the corporate ladder into management, have you considered starting your own business instead?  You don’t need a degree to be an entrepreneur.

What do you think?  Is getting a Master’s degree worthwhile?