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Graduate School

How to Get A Billionaire's Education

Forbes just published a report on "where the billionnaires studied," and it's somewhat similar to PayScale's recent report on which schools produce the highest earners in mid-careers: there's no shortage of Ivy League and highly selective school names on the short list of either list.Dartmouth

While Dartmouth College tops the list of mid-career salaries for the working public, Harvard, Penn, and Columbia, and Yale all occupy Top 5 spots on the Forbes' billionnaire's list.

I am not an Ivy League graduate myself, but I have worked in career offices at Penn, Dartmouth, and Columbia...My experience in what is frequently labeled as the "Ivory Tower" provided me with a first-hand glimpse of the wealth of connections, resources, and experiences that an "Ivy" education can provide.

It was a great experience to work in the Ivy League. I learned a tremendous amount and met many wonderful people. The commonly held assertion that an "Ivy League school opens doors" is true, but other schools and places do, too.

I remain firmly convinced that you don't have to go the short list of top ranked schools to get a top rate education or to make a great salary mid-career or to become a millionnaire. In fact, some of the smartest, most successful people I have encountered started their education at community colleges. Others, are "walking sponges"--furthering their education with all they see, read, and encounter along the way.

You can provide yourself with many of the same resources that would be available to you at an Ivy League school with minimal elbow grease. Here are three tips on how to get started:

1. Connect with others in your area of interest. From professional associations to groups and alumni clubs for your alma mater, there are countless opportunities to make friends and widen your circle.

Not sure how to start? Read Keith Ferrazzi's books, "Who Knows You Back?" and "Never Eat Alone." 

2. Take advantage of public access to career advice and resources. My colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania Career Services provide best-in-class resources on their website--and they invite the public to browse the site--for free! The site includes lists of recommended career resources and program summaries from industry specific panels. While in-person services and employer programs are restricted to students and alumni, you can receive a wealth of information simply by visiting the Penn Career Services website--and others like it.

3. Learn from others. You can't audit or attend lectures at MIT, but did you know that they share course syllabi and resource lists through their Open Courseware project? Don't have time for a course? Hop on over to TED and watch a few ground-breaking videos. You can also read transcripts of speeches and watch videos of lectures from college and universities websites and search for them on YouTube.

It's not what you have, it's what you make of it...You can open doors from anywhere.

To your success,

Why "Any Job" May Trump Grad School

For a majority of the 20th century, fashion observers could gauge the state of the Elephant_in_graduate_schooleconomy through women’s hemlines: When the Dow was up (think 20’s and ‘60’s), shorter skirts were in. A consistent downturn led to longer hemlines—and so it was in the 30’s and ‘70s. Today, we need only look to grad school applications to gauge the level of economic malaise.  With fewer employers on campus, many students in the class of 2009 are quietly re-evaluating their chances for employment success while taking steps to prepare for Plan B: More education. As of October, one Manhattan based testing preparation company reported that class enrollment was already up over 50% over 2007. Requests for FAFSA applications for financial aid are up 9%.

My friend and career strategy consultant, Sheila Curran, who coauthored the book Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding A Path to Your Perfect Career, calls the stampede towards grad school the “elephant in the room”: Riding out a dismal employment climate by continuing in school is a topic that is rarely openly discussed.  A former director of career services at Duke University and Brown University, Sheila advises students that they’d be wise not to follow the grad school pied piper before considering the following:

  1. How much is pursuing a graduate degree going to add to my burgeoning undergraduate debt? Note: Now’s a good time to sharpen those cost/benefit analysis skills.
  2. Do I really want or need to study this subject at a higher level, or am I just looking for an excuse to wait out the poor economy and please my parents?
  3. Will I be more marketable with this particular graduate degree than with an undergraduate degree and a couple of years’ relevant experience?

Sheila’s advice to college seniors:

“There is no substitute for due diligence—as victims of today’s marketplace will tell you.  You need the straight scoop on the career prospects for the degree you’re considering. Talk to knowledgeable alumni, relatives, or friends of friends to find out if there’s really an advantage to having an additional educational qualification.”

Sheila points out that recruiters have mechanisms to hire those coming straight out of college, and an employment division to hire those with experience, but often have no formal avenues to hire the person with a graduate degree and no experience. And, it turns out that employers have some strong opinions on the subject of further education.

Asked whether new grads should go immediately to graduate school, the employers Sheila consulted unanimously expressed a preference for more relevant experience rather than further education.  One employer went further, exhorting students to “get a job, any job, even McDonalds.”

I agree with Sheila’s conclusions. And I think it’s about time we started to talk about the elephant in the room—especially since it’s going to be increasingly difficult to get financial aid from cash-strapped universities. Campus may not be safe haven from the economic storm that many students and their parents suppose. Maybe it’s a smarter decision to work for McDonalds after all.

I am not saying that you should “settle” for flipping burgers after earning a college degree, but I do think that a job can set you up for career advancement. I, too, graduated from college during a recession and I recall talking to a friend of a friend who took the only job he could find—delivering pizza for Pizza Hut. Matt was a business major and fluent in German. After eight months, he was managing the store. Within two years, Matt worked in Operations for Pizza Hut in Germany and was on a fast-track for senior leadership positions within the company.  Sometimes it isn’t a matter of where you start, it is how you take advantage of the opportunity you have that counts.

Crash Course in Landing a Job: Position, Position, Position

My friends would tell you that I'm almost a perpetual optimist when it comes to the job search. I have a fundamental belief that if you work hard to identify:

  • your natural strengths and areas of work that you enjoy;
  • skills and experience that employers are looking for; and
  • strategies to align and present what you offer with what employers need...

        The end result of any given job search will likely be a positive one in the long-term.

(Though it is quite likely you will have to work very hard to make it all happen, and the search may take longer than you anticipate.)

This week I attended a two-day conference on the future of the recruiting industry, a mini-conference on Branding for Sustainability. and capped it off by time at the registration for desk for an International career fair and a conversation with a Communications Director of a Healthcare system. In short, I feel like I've taken a condensed crash course in the current state of the economy.

There are fewer silver linings in this economy than I would like to report. In fact, there aren't even any copper linings--in Philadelphia, many homeowners are reporting thefts of copper drainage pipes--the metal can be recycled and is quite valuable in a melted down form). From positions in the recruiting industry to hospital bed admissions, numbers appear to be down across the board.

Despite all of this, I remain optimistic that there are jobs to be had--and that the best way to claim them is to position yourself to take them. Here's a great post on how to do this, courtesy of Dan Schawbel and David Heiser, a college senior and current PR intern. Among Heiser's tips:

  1. Determine an area of expertise,
  2. Strengthen your knowledge of that Expertise
    (Educate yourself about the area in which you want to be known, and get advice from others who work in the space).
  3. Demonstrate your expertise.

David's a rock star and his approach to his career is--in my opinion--spot-on. It doesn't matter if restaurant numbers and consumer spending is down...he's positioning himself to be found by an employer who will value and appreciate his expertise.

I couldn't have said it better myself. So, meet David. Then share your story--and own tips to be known here!

The Grad School Factor (& How To Approach It)

Prior to "Fashion 2.0" and the return of gauchos,  women's hemlines used to be a good predictor of the state of the stock market: in good times, skirts were short (think flapper era). In hard times, hemlines fell. 

Today, a more appropriate predictor of the economy is the graduate school application rate: when the market goes down, applications go up. Today's market is no exception. As of September, the number of prospective b-school students taking the GMAT admissions exam is up almost 25 percent from 2006 (This is in stark contrast to 2004, when the Graduate Management Admissions Council published a white paper entitled "Where Have All the Applicants Gone?")

If you're considering a return to graduate school, here are five quick tips for the application process.

1. Ask not whether graduate school is a good option, ask whether it is the right choice for you...

Here's a great list of Pros and Cons from Heather Huhman at the Examiner.

2. Decide where to apply with your career goals in mind.

Conventional wisdom is often rankings-driven: "go to the best school you can get into."

In practice, additional factors also include: financial aid/affordability, faculty research expertise, and campus recruiting relative to your career goals. For example, if you are a Florida resident and hope to practice law in Miami, it may be easier to get a job--and less expensive--if you go to a state school than it is to go to Yale.

3. Benchmark your test scores--and practice before you take the "real thing."

Many graduate schools, especially law school and business school, require admissions testing. Save yourself the headache of testing and re-testing, and know your potential scores before you take a test "for scores." Testing prep companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review frequently offer a free practice test prior to enrolling in study courses. Study guides for the LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, and GRE also often include practice assessments as well.

4. Be a Great Applicant: Study Programs & "What Not to Do"

Shortly after I started a graduate school program in counseling, I learned that I had committed a near-fatal application error: I had written my admissions essay with the same thesis as 90% of other candidates--i.e. "I wanted to pursue a Master's in Counseling because I liked to help people." My professor rolled her eyes as she talked about reading our applications:

If you are a doctor, you are helping people. If you are a teacher, you are helping people. If you are a carpenter, you are helping people through what you build. There are so many ways to help people. If you want to be in this program, you need to answer other questions: Why counseling? And why this program?

Pretend you are writing a paper instead of an admissions essay: Study programs of interest, research faculty interests, and ask questions about outcomes. Then write your essays and connect your experience and interests with something specific that you have learned about the school--it will help you stand out.

5. Be Discreet About the Application Process

This article from Princeton University provides an interesting perspective on admissions officers and how they conduct online research on candidates. Key take-away: Admissions staff spend less time looking at applicants than employers, but prudence is still advised. It's a far better thing to comment about areas of interest to your course of study or to post news items of general interest than to say what schools you are most and least interested in...If you do decide to post in online forums on graduate school programs, use a screen name.