Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Internships: The Essential College Experience

I believe we have all sat through a class in high school, college, or even graduate school and thought, “Why am I even learning this?…When will I ever use this?...or Who uses this in the real world?” While the answers to these questions are always going to be as debatable as the courses in question, I think what we are really asking for is relevant knowledge and experience. I mean who wants to drop a butt load of time and money on something irrelevant?
That’s why I wanted to write and highlight my experiences with college internships and how important I think they are to students. For the past five summers, I have had a summer internship which helped me gain experience and a much better wage than a regular summer job. I worked my way up over the years, starting out doing menial tasks for my hometown’s engineering department to taking on significant responsibilities at a Fortune 30 company. In all, I had internships with four different organizations and gained a more diversified experience background from the average college student. Below, I’ve listed all the reasons and advantages that I think make internships an essential college experience.
The Money:
Somewhere online I had seen a statistic pointing out that college internships pay more on average than the normal summer job, but alas I could not find it again. From personal experience I believe this to be true and I was able to increase my summer wage every year. You can see in the table how I was able to increase my summer wages each year and how they compared to minimum wage. I’ve also given a realistic example to illustrate the difference in wages over the estimated 1000 hours worked each summer. A combination of student loans and scholarships have put me through college and being able to earn a solid income during the summer definitely kept me from borrowing even more money. With more spending cash in hand I was also able to do more things in college. I was able to go on some pretty awesome trips with my fraternity over the years which are some of the most treasured memories I have from college. “Mo’ Money” might mean more problems for some, but not for this college student. 
(Not showing any taxes being taken out, but I think you get it)

The Experience:
There’s no price you can put on the experience I gained from my internships. Even when I was doing tasks and projects that I didn’t enjoy, I was finding out what I didn’t want to do with my future (people understate the value of this). Every summer seemed to bring on new challenges and tasks which helped me grow in so many ways. I made mistakes and learned how to own up to them, I gained experience working with co-workers and customers of all ages, personalities, and backgrounds, and built confidence in my abilities. Working in an environment with elevated expectations of your performance will do wonders for building character and an appreciation for delivering quality work. I have had numerous comments in the past on my résumé because of all the organizations I have been involved with in college and all my internship experiences. With the economy being as tough as it is, everyone leaving college can benefit from having some experience under their belt when competing for the few jobs out there. I’m banking on an employer appreciating the experiences I have had and putting increased value on me as a job candidate.   

The Perks:
I think there are a number of advantages to internships that are not always pointed out in similar blogs or articles. I encourage everyone to comment with any other “perks” that you’ve seen or experienced when it comes to internships.

*Yeah I’m Awesome: You had a cool and interesting job over the summer that you can talk and brag about.

*Future Jobs: You have gained critical interview material for future internship or job interviews. No need to struggle with those generic situational interview questions when you have personally dealt with those situations.

*Job Search: Searching, applying, and interviewing for internships will make you more prepared to face these challenges once out of college and you are looking for that first full-time job.

*Making connections: I’m always surprised by the network I’ve built through my internships and how they can come in handy.

*References: Nothing like having solid references from bosses and former co-workers when applying to that first or second big-boy/girl job. 

*Free Stuff: Hats, t-shirts, pens, padfolio, mugs, trips, food, drinks, rain gauge, bags, thermos, a Tervis, chapstick, rulers, sunglasses, flashlight, stressballs, calendars, and books are all things I’ve gotten for free over the years from my internships. (It’s the small things that count in life right?)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Yes, I Made Money Getting My Master’s Degree

No it wasn’t a scam I actually came out ahead financially with earning my Master’s degree. How did I accomplish this incredible feat you ask? Well, it might be worth explaining why I went to graduate school in the first place.

I graduated on time from a four-year university with a dual degree and a minor in May 2011. While the job market is not much better today I feel like it was even worse then. That was incentive number one. When I was debating the idea of graduate school as my application window approach I talked to several friends and people I respected about it. Everyone I talked to without an advanced college degree said they wish they would have pursued theirs straight out of their undergraduate degree. Once they started a career and possibly a family there just wasn’t enough time or enthusiasm to go back to school. So why wouldn’t I take what people often do not…good advice. The state of the economy in 2011 only further persuaded me to work on my degree for two years and hopefully the economy would be better when I graduated. Fat chance.

The second main reason I pursued my degree was to learn more about a field I was passionate about. The minor degree I picked up in undergrad was in agricultural economics. I was required to take a few of these classes for my major degree plan and really enjoyed the professors and material. I enjoyed them so much I just wanted to learn more about the field. Additionally, a lot of people have seen income statistics based on degree level earned. Master’s degree holders are expected to earned $400,000 more over a Bachelor’s degree during their working career, not too bad.

So back to the actual story, how did I come out ahead with my Master’s? Let me first say that looking back I would have to estimate that it would have cost me easily $24,000, all financed with student loans. That estimate includes tuition and my living expenses on things like rent, food, and utilities. My first semester was financed with student loans, graduation money, and income from my summer internship at a cost around $6,000. Yet, before the end of the semester I was approached by a faculty member who wanted to pay me to complete a project for her. The project was actually right up my alley and came with some awesome perks. The project would pay for the following semester’s tuition as well as a biweekly income of $500 before taxes. That was more than enough to sustain the  needs of a college student, especially a frugal one. To say the least I was very appreciative.

I knew the project would only subsidize my education for one semester so I soon sought out other opportunities for the next school year. To make a long story short, I was diligent in expanding my network within the department and secured a teaching assistantship with similar benefits. My whole last year I was able to help teach a class I really enjoyed with two faculty members I really respected. I gained a lot of extra experience and knowledge outside my regular class schedule and it didn’t cost me a dime.

I know not every graduate program has the opportunities that mine did, but in my experience more research oriented programs have more opportunities for graduate students. I have seen several articles that essentially demean graduate programs because they can often rack up additional debt for students with little short-term enhancement for career opportunities. But not all programs are created equal. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I got to go on a few free trips through my department to conferences and competitions in Orlando, Chicago, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 I would encourage anyone that is thinking about pursuing an advanced degree to seriously look at the demand for those degrees and decide whether you are willing to move to the jobs. Also, look for employers who will help you pay for your degree through tuition reimbursement programs. Using student loans to pursue a degree with no employment demand can put you in serious financial hardship down the road.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Brave New World: Starting of a Personal Finance Blog


I wanted to use my first post on Our Personal Economy to talk about why I decided to start blogging, what I intend to write about, and everything in between. As I am writing this post I am in the middle of large life transitions which should make for some interesting future posts. Right now, I am finishing up my Master's degree, I'm in the middle of a "career" hunt, and I am getting married to my lovely fiance in September! I told you there would be a lot to talk about.

So why did I start Our Personal Economy? Well I would have to say that I have always been careful with money and my Dad always encouraged me to save when I was a child. But, within the past year I have really ramped up my interest in personal finance topics. I think it was spurred by the realization that I would be entering the workforce soon, had student loans to pay-off, and I would have to care for my new family. Luckily, my thesis advisor/mentor was quite the personal finance whiz himself and had a small library of books that I could borrow. I also took to Twitter as a resource to supplement and hasten my education. Inspired by the content of several blogs and realizing I had several blog-worthy topics going on in my life I decide to start my own blog. I have no background in web design, computer programming....nothin. So, I decided starting with a simple Blogger account would be a great place to start.

So why the name Our Personal Economy? As an economics enthusiast I like to make connections between our textbook understanding of economics and how it conveys to our personal life. We all have supply and demands, our own monetary policies, deficits, surpluses, and interest rates so on and so forth, which influences how we spend and allocate our money. I like to take a microscope to the financial decisions in my life and I intend on using actual numbers and calculations in my posts as opposed to general advice. 

A little background. I was born and raised in a small town in Kentucky and lived the typical American life. Upon going to college I quickly realized I didn't have the engineering mindset I thought I had and switch my major after the first year. I still was able to finish a four-year degree in four years (not a common as you would think) with a dual-degree in Leadership Studies and Political Science. I also picked up a minor in Agricultural Economics which spurred my interest in economics and agriculture. (Side note: I am part of the first generation in my family to grow up off the farm, but we still own several acres in my home county). With the global financial crisis raging at graduation, I decided to pursue my new found passion into graduate school (more details to come in a future post).

What's next? Now that school is wrapping up we are looking for jobs and trying to figure out where we are headed in life. In the future I'll be covering topics like my student loan strategies, making an actual income, starting to invest, taking on retirement, buying a house, being frugal, and whatever else comes up. I'm looking forward to covering a variety of topics as we make this life transition and I'm look forward to everyone's comments and advice.