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I recently shared my super painful debt story on Chain of Wealth Podcast. This interview inspired me to create this series: Rise From Rock Bottom. It tells every story from my failure years - and how I overcame each one.
After college, I struggled (probably more than most people) to find a job.
In fact, after achieving straight A's through college, I was rejected from every medical school I applied for, fired from my first job in a doctor’s office after only two weeks, and was swiftly sent an "unfortunately we don’t think you’re a good fit” email from every company I sent a resume to.
I decided to go to grad school to give myself a second chance at "getting it right" because I was drowning in my own depression, inundated in my growing insecurity and suffocating in my steadily increasing credit card debt.
Why Go Back To School At All?
I'm often asked how in the world (after my first trial at higher education was such a huge fail) could I go back to school and take on more student debt to get yet another piece of paper.
Yes, I know. It doesn't seem to make sense.
There was no guarantee that the degree would get me an interview, much less a job.
Why was I so willing to take that chance?
Because I wasn’t taking a chance at all.
The first time I went to school because that was expected of me. The second time I went to school with a clear head, a clear motive, a focused outcome and a hell of a lot of research.
In this post, I'm going to walk you through every step of my decision-making journey, and show you exactly how I decided on which industry to pursue, which Master's Program would be worth my money and how I planned to make ever dollar of my student loan debt worth it.
I choose to go to business school to get a degree in marketing analytics after A LOT of research.
A few months prior to enrolling, I had stumbled upon an article about how big the data industry was growing. Exponentially. Which basically means the need in the industry for analysts was going from 1 Million, to 10 Million, to 100 Million very quickly. But there were not enough experienced people in the industry to fill all the jobs that were rapidly being created.
Then, I researched the salaries in that industry and learned they started off at $75K+ at entry level.
That piqued my interest (a lot!) and I decided to do more digging before making a commitment.
Here's the research I went through before officially deciding to go back to school:
I looked for an industry that was growing rapidly and undergoing a lot of innovation.
Competition for Jobs
Your competition would be the other people fighting for the same jobs that you're applying for. Are there tons of people fighting for these jobs? Or are the jobs fighting for people?
Entry Level Salary
Will it be enough to cover your student loans? Will that salary make the time you spent in school worthwhile? How long would it take you to pay off your loans? Could you live a decent lifestyle while still paying off your loans?
The School’s Career Services & Employment Rate
When I left undergrad, I realized getting a job wasn't a cake walk like I thought it would be. To help with my post-college job search, I called up my school’s career services office. I told them that I was a recent grad who was struggling to get a job. The career services worker pulled google up and gave me a link to a job event in DC because they didn't have any school job fairs on campus.
I could’ve done that from the comfort of my own home.
I decided right then and there that I would never attend a school that didn’t have an amazing career services office, with a great reputation and recruiters from top companies who visited the school frequently.
When looking for the school you'll be going to, ask yourself:
Is the name recognizable?
Do big name companies fight to come here?
How frequent are the job fairs? Which companies attend?
Do they have an active career services office?
Graduate school can cost A LOT of money. Many people have to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt in order to afford an education.
Talk to alumni about their experiences. (Alumni will tell you whether their school did anything for them or not! I NEVER talk about where I went to undergrad. If someone happens to ask me about the school on their own, I tell them to RUN!)
The Program & Opportunities
The program you ultimately choose will be a huge decision point. Make sure that the coursework is comprehensive and covers all of the basic knowledge you'll need to start working right away after graduation.
Look to make sure that classes are taught by professors who also have working or consulting experience with large companies that you'd be interested in working for.
Additionally, look through the website to find different hands-on opportunities that exist there.
Is there a way that you can gain experience while in school to show that you're proactive? Some school also offer opportunities to provide research or write your own white paper. These are great opportunities to show how your hard work can make an impact on a company. Look for a school that has a lot of these opportunities available to you.
The Graduating Class Employment Rate
How many graduates get jobs when they leave?
With all of those things working in my favor, I was confident that a Marketing Analytics Master's Degree was the right investment for me.
I chose an accelerated 9-month program which gave me two advantages:
The accelerated program cost less than the other program options. (It was $40K.)
I would be out of the workforce for a shorter period of time.
I then turned my focus to other opportunities that I had to either save money or make more money:
I moved in with my Mother to reduce my financial burden.
I worked on campus in exchange for a stipend, which I applied to my student loans.
I worked as a freelancer while in school for a few hours a week.
I used my freelance money to pay my phone bill, transportation costs and for networking happy hours. Any additional freelance income was applied to my student loans. By the time I graduated, I only owed $25K on my loans.
Side note: Networking is very important, especially if you're trying to switch industries. I ultimately landed my job because I clicked with someone at a networking event who helped me get an interview.
Before I graduated, I had over 10 in-person interviews lined up with top companies. (I had zero interviews before that... and they definitely were not with top companies.)
My first offer out of grad school was $75K. I lost that offer because of my bad credit.
My second offer was $65K and I was too afraid to negotiate any higher. I probably could've pushed for $70K, but I didn't want to call any attention to myself after losing my first offer.
Side note: No matter how afraid you are, you should at the very least ask for a raise, especially as a woman. The worst that can happen is that the recruiter says no and then you’re no worse off than what you were initially offered.
The Debt Payoff Strategy
I've been working for officially 2 years now.
I had $42K in loans when I started my job. $17K of that came from my undergrad that I was never able to pay off because I never made enough money. The remaining $25K came from grad school. In the first six months, I paid off my consumer debt and was ready to tackle my student loans.
I had a 2-bedroom apartment with a $1600/month rent bill, which made it difficult to pay off my student loan debt. I took an opportunity to let my friend's grandfather who was visiting from Africa live with me for 6 months. He paid $500 in rent, which I put directly to my student loans.
Once he moved out, I decided to use more drastic measures. I lowered my expenses by getting rid of anything I didn't need to survive:
I sold my car (which meant no more gas, car maintenance or car insurance payments).
I moved in with an Aunt who charged me less than half of what I previously was paying for rent, and I didn't have to pay for internet or utilities.
I only allowed myself $150 of “fun money” to spend from each paycheck - everything else went towards my loans.
It's been 17 months so far, and I've already paid off $18K in student loans!
I plan on paying off the remainder by the end of the year. I also have accumulated over $19K in savings and investments - while paying off my debt. I am currently $5K away from a positive net worth. (I started off with -$38K net worth in January of last year so this is HUGE!)
Going back to school is a difficult decision because it's a large investment that can eat up your time and money (and possibly put you deeper into debt). However, if you do your research and make a solid plan, you can put yourself in a position to positively change your life forever.
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Chantl founded Thrive Lounge to give women the kick in the pants they need (lovingly, of course) to uncomplicate their goals, stop making excuses, get productive and start living the life they always wanted. Her book, Goal Doing: Practical Advice For Goal Setting, Action Planning and Achieving Your Dreams, gives women a step-by-step guide to create, plan and achieve their grandest goals.