ask.spoonah


on school vs. work
October 18, 2010, 9:16 am
Filed under: advice, career, education, financial, life | Tags: , , ,

Spoonah,
So I’m 24 and its about time I get my act together. I am little to no credits towards a degree because I have always been worried that If I don’t work full time I won’t be able to pay my bills. I’m really at a point in my life where I would love to work minimally and be able to dive into school full time. The problem at this point is that while I qualify for student loans, thats about all I qualify for. I know there are a ton of scholarship options I could look into but I don’t see anything being susbstantial enough to not have to take on full time work. I don’t qualify for private student loans on my own and don’t have a co signer and my federal loans are not enough.
Where should I go from here?

Thanks!
Wanna be educated

hey wanna be educated,

an age old question, one I have fielded many times. a tough one to be sure. the answer is not any gentler: you will probably have to keep working, or stop going to school.

if you do not have the ability to get private loans (which, by the way, I think are basically the devil incarnate and tell everyone not to get, even if it means it takes you 10 years to finish school), and no scholarships, your only option is to supplement federal loans with hard-earned cash. you can apply for grants or work study (typically you are entered for these when you fill out your FAFSA), but other than that, there isn’t much to be done. there is no real magic bullet, short of a sugar-daddy, that will pay your bills for you. if you want to go to school full time and not work, then you’ll have to find a school (and life) cheap enough that it can all be paid for with about $3500/year in stafford loans. if you find that, please let me know. I’ll be right there. otherwise, you’ll have to work.

every solution to this is a little different, depending on your situation. I’ll tell you a little about what I did to give you an idea. when I was an undergraduate, I went to school usually 3/4 time and worked part or full time. depending on when your classes are, you can sometimes find a job with flexible hours. I worked at AAA in the emergency roadside department, which is open 24/7, so I was able to work nights and weekends and save my days for classes. I have also found a surprising flexibility with employers in terms of hours (assuming it is the sort of things with shifts, such as retail or call centers) when you are going to school. now that I’m in graduate school, I supplement my loans and scholarship (which luckily, cover almost all my expenses) with petsitting and more petsitting. another nights & weekends gig, usually. check out care.com and sittercity.com to find dogjobs. they also have listings for child and elder care, housekeeping, stuff like that. if those sorts of things aren’t your deal, I recommend selling your body on the streets.

so all that said, I wish I had better news for you. now is a good time to think long and hard about your long-term goals. do you need to go to college to achieve them? could you do an apprenticeship instead? college is a very expensive way to figure out what you want to do in life (just ask my student loan companies). if you’re not sure you need it, put it off for the time being. if what you really want is to not have the job you have, or the life you have, college isn’t necessarily the answer. check out my previous post, on college, to see my views on this, as an overeducated and underemployed person. a word from the wise: I am just a few months away from my MBA, and I’m pretty sure I just want to move into the woods and make crafts and have some goats after I graduate. except I have $999999999999999999 in student loans, so now I can’t. let that be a lesson to you.

spoonah

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on what you should be, now that you’re all grown up
February 14, 2010, 9:12 pm
Filed under: advice, career | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear Spoonah,

I’m a 32 year old college graduate. I got my degree in electives (general studies) but I’ve never known what I “wanted to do when I grew up”. I really want a career path, or direction or something, because I just don’t feel like I’m doing the work that I was destined to do in life.

I’ve thought about seeing a career counselor, or maybe even a psychic? I seem to be terrified of going back to school ie: I keep signing up and then backing out.

Do you have any advice for someone who has been in the work force for 10 years but needs a drastic change?

Thinking Rearranging Aspirations Viciously In Situationo

dear thinking,

I think there are a lot of ways you can approach it, but all of them start with some serious self reflection. there are a lot of resources out there, as well, that can help make this a little easier. a great book (if a little cheesy) is What Color Is My Parachute by Dick Bolles (can we just talk for a second about how this man’s name is Dick Bolles?). this is a book you can get at any library and the really great part about it is the practical exercises it suggests. I’ve seen these exact same exercises as the basis for semester-long “focus your career” workshops offered at universities that are well known for their career prep skills. in fact, I just participated in one, and it helped a lot! but you don’t need a workshop to do the exercises. they’re easy, not embarrassing, straightforward, and really helpful. basically they ask you to think about things you’ve liked doing, and see what they have in common, with a little more discipline. I definitely recommend that as part of your game-plan. don’t overlook non-work things too (like volunteer things, hobbies, etc.)

as far as tools go, there are a lot of good ones out there. one that I’ve used and been really happy with (particularly as far as depth goes) is CareerLeader. now, on it’s own this costs $95 to get a report done and have access to it for 60 days (you can print it, as well). however, a lot of college/university career centers license access to it so that their students (and alumni!) can use it for free. I’d contact your alma mater and see if they have this (or something like it) available for you to try out. there are also thousands of free online career tests (but much much less in depth).

other things to try out are general diagnostic tools for figuring out your work style, personality, skills, etc. myers-briggs tests are strewn all over the internet and are generally pretty good at giving you an idea of the types of environments you like and the way you operate, which often can point you in a direction career-wise. skills-inventories are usually helpful, as well (google has a million). I personally have a whole inventory of these things that I’ve done, and found them pretty helpful, but I’m just that kind of gal. one great one (that is free and doesn’t require any googling) is to just make a list of 10, or 20, or 30 job titles you think you’d like, regardless of what you think you’re good at or are qualified for. when I did this, it made me realize I would never be happy as an accountant (goodbye, admission to a world-renowned accounting master’s program! goodbye, six figure salary! hello, nonprofits!).

yet another great way to figure this out is to do some talking to people that know you well, i.e. your friends and family, or co-workers. they are in a unique position to tell you how they see you operating, and what they remember you enjoying (maybe as a child, for instance, or a work setting), and what they think you’re particularly great at. often we are too close to our own experiences and selves to really see clearly what we are like and what we are skilled at. keep a list going of things they say, and things you think of. then maybe ask some people (possibly some of the same ones, plus some professional contacts you may have, or a career counselor) to look at what you’ve come up with and see if they come up with anything you hadn’t thought of.

you might also take some classes without enrolling somewhere, officially. you can do this by taking adult ed classes, auditing courses, or simply signing up for one or two classes at a local college. if matriculating (officially enrolling and stating your intentions to pursue a degree program) is what is scaring you, this can be a good way to get your feet wet and try out some “crazy ideas” for what you might want to do and see if you actually like it. take a guitar lesson, a basketweaving class, or a grant writing seminar.

one more! if you have friends (or friends of friends, or friends of friends of friends, use that network!) who have a job that you think you might like (or that has aspects of it), see if you can do a job-shadow for a day or two. most places are totally open to this unless the job is dangerous, very technical in nature, or interacts with confidential information. chances are, there is someone (or several someones) in your network that has a job that is like one you might love. can’t hurt to ask, right?

the basic rule is this: explore things you already know you like, figure out what they have in common, find something you love, and then get gung-ho on it. worst case scenario, you’ll keep doing what you’re already doing now.

happy learning!

spoonah



on college
January 5, 2010, 10:52 pm
Filed under: advice, career | Tags: , ,

dear spoonah,

I am a pretty smart person but am not sure what I want to do with my life. my parents and friends all think I should go to college .  what do you think?

signed,

pretty smart person in atlanta


dear pretty smart,

I guess my advice to you is “no, don’t go to college.”  I recommend college under two circumstances: you are going to college because you are really really sure you want to be a _____ (nurse, teacher, accountant, whatever) and you can’t do that thing without having gone to college first.  the other situation is that someone else is paying for college.

If you are like totally sure that you want to be a nurse, for instance, then go to college.  you basically can’t be a nurse any other way.  but be totally sure because if you take out a bunch of loans and go to school to be a nurse and then are like WHOOPS I WANT TO BE A PHILOSOPHER guess what? you’re not going to be a philosopher, and you are going to have to pay those loans back anyway.  believe me, I majored in sociology.  I love sociology, but how many people do you know whose job title is “sociologist”?

On the other hand, if someone else is footing the bill (parents, grants, work, or any other *free* money–loans do not count), then by all means.  go to college.  personally I loved college even when it was terrible and dramatic and I didn’t get a job after.  or at least not a good one.  college is a fantastic place to figure out who you are and what you like and don’t like, what you’re good at and bad at, and how much alcohol you can drink in 24 hours without having to call an ambulance.  It is good for teaching you to finish semi-long term projects, how to do things that matter, whatever.  I got really involved in social activism in a way that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.  I learned a lot about life and I use those skills in work situations (and now, in grad school).  but unless you’re not paying for college or going to a fantastic school, or going for something that is very likely to get you a job, it’s just a really expensive time out.

so, pretty smart, I’d say get a job, see what you do and do not like about it, change jobs, rinse and repeat.  It’s common for young people to change jobs a lot even if they’re not in school so this shouldn’t look too sketchy, especially if you are able to say that you were taking time to find the perfect job and learn about yourself.  you can always go to college later, if you feel like having $30-100K in debt and the same job you could have gotten out of high school.