Author: amandamiller (page 1 of 7)

I’m Admitted, Now What? Housing Part Three: Neighborhoods to Consider

This time of year, it seems like I have a conversation about housing at least once a day. The truth is, the Boston rental market is one of the most competitive in the nation, due in large part to the vast numbers of students who live in Boston (more than 150,000 students, two-thirds of whom don’t live in university provided housing). When you’re looking for housing in Boston, it can seem like you’re competing with every single one of those 100,000 students, and if you’re not from the Boston area, knowing which areas to look in can be extremely frustrating or confusing. This blog post is my attempt to help: these are the neighborhoods that I would recommend checking out if you’re moving from out of state (although keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list and is just based on my experiences and conversations with students).

If you don’t have a car:

Waltham. Starting off with the obvious here, Waltham is a popular choice for many students who attend Brandeis. Because it’s outside of the city limits, it’s more affordable than what you would find in the main Boston area, and it’s also relatively easy to find roommates among your fellow Heller students or even other Brandeis graduate students. There are plenty of buses and Brandeis shuttles to help you get around the area and to your classes.

Somerville/Cambridge. Porter Station in Somerville is on the same commuter line as Brandeis, making this a really convenient area for students without a car. Harvard Square, in Cambridge, is connected to Brandeis by a university sponsored shuttle, giving you a really affordable option to get to campus. The neighborhoods of Union Square, Davis Square, Winter Hill, Spring Hill, Magoun Square, Powder House and South Medford are all within walking or biking distance from either Porter Square or Harvard Square. These areas (especially Union Square and Davis Square) are all pretty desirable areas since there are great restaurants, shopping, and activities, so expect to pay a little more than you would in Waltham.

North Concord/Concord/Acton. Okay, I’ll admit: these are not the most popular places for graduate students at Brandeis to live because they’re further out from the city and don’t have as many apartment buildings, but I’m here to advocate for them as an option. These towns are also connected to Brandeis by the commuter rail and have a lot to offer in terms of culture. Because they’re atypical places for students to live, you can sometimes find really surprising deals.

If you do have a car:

Jamaica Plain/Hyde Park/West Roxbury/Roslindale. This cluster of neighborhoods south west of the city is a really popular place for graduate students and young adults to live in Boston. The Jamaica Plain are has definitely gotten more expensive over the years, but the neighborhoods surrounding the area are still affordable and give you the same access to the city as you would have if you lived in Jamaica Plain. Although not linked to Waltham by a major highway, it’s very easy to get to these areas, with commutes around 30 minutes.

Allston/Brighton. These neighborhoods, located just east of the city, are really popular places for students of all ages to live. You can definitely find some more affordable housing in this area, especially if you live with roommates, and you’ll be more in the center of Boston nightlife. These neighborhoods are right off of 90, so you can get to Brandeis in under 20 minutes with no traffic.

Arlington/Medford/Malden. Again, these are probably not the most popular neighborhoods for Brandeis students to live in, given that they are further out than the other options I’ve listed here. However, I would not ignore these places as an option: you can take Highway 2 to 95, which will take you right to Brandeis, so it’s actually very easy to travel from these areas to Brandeis, and you can usually get to these areas in under 30 minutes. They’re also relatively close to Somerville and Cambridge, which are great areas for dining, shopping, and entertainment, while having a lot of restaurants of their own, not to mention the natural beauty of Mystic Lake and Middlesex Fells.

Like I said before, this is no means an exhaustive list, and there are tons of neighborhoods and housing around Boston. But if you’re finding yourself lost as to where to start, take the time to explore some of these options and see if they might be right for you!

Quiz: Which one of our programs is right for you?

What color are you? (Purple) If you were a pizza topping, what would it be? (Olives) What gemstone fits your personality? (Emerald) As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with taking personality quizzes. From Buzzfeed to Seventeen magazine, there wasn’t a quiz that I wouldn’t take. Well, the time has come for me to make my own quiz to help you decide which of Heller’s programs is the best fit for you. Like any responsible quizmaker, let me get a quick disclaimer out of the way: this quiz is just for fun, so don’t take your results too seriously. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, grab a pen and paper to write down your answers. At the end, the letter you chose the most will give you your results. Ready? Here we go!

Which classes sound the most interesting to you?

a) Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in Social Policy; Policy Advocacy, Protest, and Community Organizing;  LGBTQ+ Justice: A History of Pride, Prejudice, and Policy in the United States

b) Social Justice, Management and Policy; Managing the Triple Bottom Line; Leadership and Organizational Behavior

c) Principles of Ecology for Development Practitioners; Environmental Justice and the Human Effects of Climate Change; Gender and Development in the Context of Neoliberalism and Globalization

d) Development, Aid and Coexistence; Kingian Nonviolence and Reconciliation; Women, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding

e) Intersectionality and Bioethics; Microeconomics in Global Health; Management of Health Care Organizations

f) Foundations of Social Theory: From the Early Twentieth Century to Critical Race Theory; Economic Theory and Social Policy

Which of these words most appeals to you?

a) Strategy

b) Influence

c) Growth

d) Balance

e) Health

f) Research

Which job(s) would you most like to have?

a) Director of Communications for a local politician; Program Manager for a non-profit that benefits LGBTQ+ youth; Town Administrator for your hometown

b) CEO of a sustainable athletic line; Senior Analyst for an impact investing non-profit; Sustainability Consultant for a for-profit company

c) Director of Development and Operations for an NGO; U.S. Foreign Service Officer;  International Trade Advisor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

d)  Associate Reporting Officer for the United Nations; First Secretary for an Embassy; the Communications and Operations Manager for an international NGO

e) CDC Public Health Advisor; Program Analyst for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Immunization Technical Consultant for an International Vaccine Access Center of a hospital

f)  Scientist for a research institute at a college; Director for a Center for Policy Research; Director of research for a thinktank

How would your friends describe you?

a) Analytical, practical, driven

b) Entrepreneurial, innovative, energetic

c) Creative, adaptable, passionate

d) Patient, empathetic, good listener

e) Problem solver, responsible, systematic

f) Thoughtful, dedicated, methodical

What reading would you find most interesting?

a) The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander

b) Changing Business from the Inside Out, by Timothy J Mohin

c) Ten Reasons Not to Measure Impact –and What to do Instead, by Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan.

d) BIASED, Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, PhD.

e) When Things Go Wrong: How Health Care Organizations Deal With Major Failures, by Walshe & Shortell,

f)  Qui Bono? – Explaining – or Defending – Winners and Losers in the Competition for Educational Achievement, by llen et al .

 

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Mostly As: Master of Public Policy

Mostly Bs: Social Impact MBA

Mostly Cs: MA in Sustainable International Development

Mostly Ds: MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence

Mostly Es: MS in Global Health Policy and Management

Mostly Fs: PhD in Social Policy

Moving to Boston? Put these on your to-do list

The location of your graduate school can play a huge role in your experience, and in my (perhaps slightly biased) opinion, the Boston area is a great place to be during graduate school. There are tons of cultural events and attractions, and there’s never any shortage of things to do, both in the city center and the neighborhoods and suburbs surrounding Boston. Here are my top five picks of places to visit once you move to Boston:

1. The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum

Every time a friend or relative visits me in Boston, this is at the top of my list of places to take them. It’s unlike any museum I’ve ever been to— the lush courtyard in the middle surrounded by beautiful Venetian architecture as well as it’s unique blend of Asian, European, and African art make it feel completely separate from the rest of Boston. As an added point of interest, it’s also the site of the largest art heist in history. In 1990, thieves stole $500 million works of art, including pieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt. As you explore the museum, keep an eye out for the empty frames that the museum has left hanging.

2. The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation

This museum may not be as well known as some of the larger museums on this list, but I consider it a hidden gem. I hadn’t visited it until I started working at Heller, but it soon became one of my favorites. It’s the site of America’s first factory, and the museum holds artifacts of the industrial revolution from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and provides insight into Boston’s role in the Industrial Revolution, as well as a look into Waltham’s history.

3. The Peabody Essex Museum

While not strictly in Boston, the Peabody Essex Museum is one of my favorite museums to visit in the area. They have an eclectic collection featuring artists from around the world and often have immersive, experiential works that make visiting it worthwhile during your time in Boston. Currently, you can view their collections of Chinese, maritime, Oceanic, African, and Native American art, including photographs, sculptures, paintings, and jewelry. Fashion aficionados will also appreciate the Alexander McQueen dress on display— there really is something for everyone!

4. The Boston Common and Public Gardens

While this isn’t a museum, it’s certainly worth a visit while you’re in the Boston area as an important historical site. The Boston Common was originally founded as a common grazing area for cattle (hence the name), but eventually developed into the first public park in America. Over the years, it has been used for numerous protests, from the American Revolution to Black Lives Matter protests, and both Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II have delivered speeches here. Across Charles Street lies the Boston Public Garden, which is part of the Emerald Necklace string of parks designed by  Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed Central Park in New York City). During the spring, tulips lining the walkway to the George Washington statue and blooming cherry blossoms make for an amazing photo opportunity.

5. Brandeis’ Rose Art Museum

I would be remiss if I didn’t feature Brandeis’ very own Rose Art Museum. They always have thought-provoking exhibits, but I’m particularly fond of their permanent collection, The Undisciplined Collector. It’s a wood-paneled room filled with artifacts and artwork that’s meant to evoke the feeling of stepping into a 1960s living room. If you’re a fan of mid-century furniture or design (or maybe just really liked Mad Men), be sure to check this one out.

BONUS: I asked my co-workers where their favorite places in Boston are, and here’s what they had to say!

Hannah Locke, Associate Director of Admissions: I recommend getting out of Boston to check out the various New England islands in warmer weather – Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Block Island, RI; and Deer Isle, ME.

Jill Maley, Senior Assistant Director of Admissions: Although I don’t get into Boston often, I love to visit the Andala Coffee House (which is technically in Cambridge) for a strong cup of coffee that’s perfect for either sitting in the cheerful cafe, or wandering around Cambridge.

Ellen Driscoll, Admissions Coordinator: On a sunny day, I enjoy walks along Boston Harbor from South Boston, to the Waterfront, and to Charlestown. And don’t miss our newest park, the Greenway, which rests atop our tunnel through downtown Boston and connects the North End neighborhood with Quincy Market and the Financial District.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Preparing for your Program

Students come to Heller from all walks of life:  in one Heller classroom, you could find a forty-two year old father of two sitting next to a twenty-five year old who has just returned from her time in the Peace Corps, and sitting next to her could be a thirty-six year old Nigerian doctor who has brought her husband to the United States with her. The funny thing is, is that if you were to talk to each of these imaginary students in the months before their program began, I bet they would all tell you that they feel really unprepared for graduate school. The father of two may be worried about how he’ll balance being a parent and being a student, or worry that he’s been out of school for too long; the twenty-five year old may be concerned that she lacks the life experience of her classmates and doesn’t have the financial stability to be successful in graduate school; the thirty-six year old might fret about different academic standards in a new country or that she’s never taken a statistics class.

All of this is to say that if you’re worried about entering graduate school, you’re definitely not alone. The good news is that at Heller, you have a lot of support to make this transition, and today I’ll be talking about two of our stand-out programs: The Summer Institute and the Summer Career Academy.

The Summer Institute

The Summer Institute is an online platform built by Heller faculty for incoming students to meet, prepare for courses, and share support resources. It’s free to enroll and is available starting June 15th to all incoming students who have accepted their offer of admission, made a deposit, and created a Brandeis email account. Through the Summer Institute,  students can take a Professional Writing Course with Heller instructor Evie Sessions, guide themselves through a self-paced learning opportunities tailored to your academic program,  meet your future classmates, take an Avoiding Plagiarism refresher tutorial, and get information on DEI initiatives at Heller like the near-peer mentorship program. From quantitative tutorials to learning how to cite something in APA formatting, the Summer Institute will give you the building blocks to get you ready for graduate level coursework.

Summer Career Academy

The Summer Career Academy is 4-week, self-directed, online career preparation program designed to give students the opportunity to jumpstart their career planning and preparation, to access career resources, and to learn more about themselves, resumes, and networking tools among other career essentials. Like the Summer Institute, it is available to all graduate students who have accepted their offer of admission, made their deposit, and created a Brandeis email account. Starting the week of July 25th, students will gain access great lessons on Career Development Center Resources, Self-Assessments, updating your resume, how to effectively network, and how to leverage LinkedIn.

I know the transition to graduate school can be really overwhelming, but taking on a few extra things now can help you build up your confidence and ensure that when fall does come around, you’ll be ready.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Avoiding Housing Scams (for 2022!)

I’m following up on my recent post on finding housing while in graduate school with a special post about avoiding scams while looking for housing. According to a recent survey conducted by College Pads, approximately 15% of students encounter a rental scam when looking for housing— unfortunately, it’s much more common than you would think! Although some scams are easily weeded out with just a little bit of investigation, others can be quite convincing, so it’s important to do your homework and keep these tips in mind.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Before you fall in love with a 2,000 square foot studio apartment with sweeping views of the Charles for only $500 a month, ask yourself if the price lines up with the other apartments you’ve viewed. Although there are certainly good deals to be found, Boston real estate is notoriously expensive, and anything significantly less than the average for the area should be treated with caution. With roommates, you should expect to pay between $500 and $800 in rent in the Waltham area, and between $600 and $1,000 in Boston or Cambridge. If you’re looking to live alone, most studios in Boston start at around $1,600. Anything significantly lower than that should be treated with caution. You can check average rental rates on websites like rentbits.com.
  2. Do a grammar check. Once you start communicating with a landlord or realtor, pay special attention to the emails you receive. Poor spelling, incorrect grammar, excessive punctuation, or language that seems overly “robotic” should all be red flags that the listing may not be legitimate. If the signature of the realtor contains a company website, check that out too; company websites should also look legitimate and use correct grammar and punctuation.
  3. Make Google your best friend. Always, always, always, do a search on the person or company you’re dealing with. If a scammer is targeting you, chances are that it’s not the first time they’ve done this, and you can usually find negative reviews and comments online. Remember that people can pay for positive reviews and delete negative comments on their websites, so look for third-party review pages (like Yelp or GoogleReviews) and look past the first few comments. If there are multiple people complaining about their experience with the landlord or real estate company, treat that as a red flag.
  4. Know your rights. In Boston, landlords are not allowed to charge you an application fee, a credit check fee, or a fee to ‘hold’ the apartment. If they ask for any of these, that should be a huge warning sign. Once you sign a lease, you may be asked to pay first, last, and a security deposit on an apartment, but you should only do this once you’ve signed a lease or seen the apartment at the very least. You can find more information about your rights as a renter on the City of Boston’s website.
  5. See the apartment if at all possible. For students coming from across the country, or even internationally, this may not be an option, but if at all possible, try to see the apartment. If you’re not able to visit the apartment, see if one of your roommates or another close friend in the area can visit it on your behalf, and ask them to take a video of their walkthrough of the apartment so you can see it. This is slightly complicated by the current pandemic, but most landlords are now showing apartments; at the very least they can do a video walkthrough for you (ask to see the apartment from the outside to verify the address and ask them to state your name or the date so you can verify they’re not showing you an old or out-dated video).

In addition, here are some tell-tale signs that the person you are speaking with may not be legitimate:

  • refuses to speak to you on the phone
  • asks for your social security number or other personal information
  • says they are out of the country
  • asks you to pay a deposit before you see the apartment, or
  • asks you to wire money. Also avoid using PayPal’s “My Cash.” It does not protect you from scams.

Unfortunately, if you have been scammed, it’s often difficult to get your money back, so if possible, pay with a check so your money can be traced and you can cancel the check if something goes wrong. The good news is that if you follow these tips and use good judgement, you’ll be able to weed out the vast majority of rental scams. Happy apartment hunting!

 

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Housing Part 1 (for 2022!)

For the latest in the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series, I’d like to talk about some steps to take after you’ve made your decision and sent in your deposit. Some students may live close enough to Brandeis to commute, but for many, a new graduate program means a new city! I myself moved from Atlanta to Boston for graduate school, and I remember the mixture of excitement and nervousness that comes with taking this next big step. Here are some things that I learned along the way, along with some Brandeis-specific tips, that I hope will help you in your journey:

Location, location, location. Most Heller students choose to live in Waltham, because they prefer to be close to campus; it’s so convenient to be able to walk back to your home in between classes to grab a textbook, have a snack, or (let’s be honest) take a nap. Waltham is a great historic town right along the Charles River, and there are a ton of great restaurants along Moody Street (I love Moody’s Delicatessen for a quick lunch and Sweet Basil for a special-treat dinner). Waltham is also less than half an hour from Boston, so getting into the city is really easy, but rent in Waltham is generally a little more affordable than in Boston or Cambridge.

However, if you are looking to move to Boston or Cambridge because you want the experience of living closer to the city, I would recommend researching the Somerville, Allston/Brighton, or Jamaica Plain neighborhoods. Somerville is popular amongst Brandeis graduate students for its proximity to North Station, where you can board the commuter rail line that will take you right to campus, and the neighborhoods around Porter Square and Davis Square are especially fun, with lots of shopping, restaurants, and cute cafes. Allston and Brighton are common places for students to live in Boston for their great restaurants and nightlife options; for those without a car, it’s easy to take the MBTA to North Station. Jamaica Plain isn’t as good an option for Heller students without a car, but for those that do, this neighborhood is a great mix of students and young professionals and has plenty of great food along Centre Street. Just south of Jamaica Plain you’ll find Roslindale, which is another good option: although it’s a bit further from the city, it’s still only a twenty minute MBTA ride to Downtown Crossing and about a thirty minute drive from campus (it’s where I live myself!).

Mix and match. Unless you’re from the area or are moving with your family, you’ll most likely need to find roommates. There aren’t very many affordable studios or one bedroom apartments in Boston (usually starting around $1,600), so roommates are definitely recommended as a cost-saving measure. The Brandeis Graduate Facebook group has a lot of great information and apartment postings, and many students use it to find roommates. Brandeis also hosts a Grad Housing listserv where you can sign up to get emails about available apartments or students looking for roommates, so I would also recommend subscribing to that. Many Heller students choose to live together; having a built-in support group in your program can be really helpful to students new to the area. Living with other students in your program can lend itself to group study sessions, but having students outside your program can often add a new perspective, so don’t be afraid to mix and match with classmates both inside and outside your program!

Timing is everything. Many apartments in Boston have leases that start on September 1st, but I would recommend looking for leases that start on August 1st or August 15th, so you’re not rushing to set up utilities and get settled in during the first week of classes. Boston housing fills up fast, so I would recommend starting to look as soon as you are able; Brandeis’ Graduate Affairs Office has a great website with a lot of different resources for finding short-term and long-term housing. It can also be very competitive, so if you find a place that you like, be prepared to commit that day: have your documents ready, your checkbook on hand, and a co-signer lined up (if necessary).  During the COVID-19 pandemic, most realtors started offering virtual tours, which can make it easier to decide on an apartment even from far away (and an effective tool to weed out scams!). If you’re renting an unfurnished apartment, make sure you’re also budgeting enough time and money to find furniture; there’s an IKEA only thirty minutes away, and a Target less than fifteen minutes from Waltham, but there are also a lot of thrift stores along Moody Street and Main Street where you can dig up a lot of great finds for very low prices. I

I hope these tips are helpful as you start your housing search! I’ll be sharing more housing tips in the coming weeks, so make sure you subscribe by entering your email address in the sidebar to the right.

Hear from our Commencement Speakers!

For the first time in three years, Heller students, faculty, and staff came together for an in-person diploma ceremony. The graduates — 195 master’s degree recipients from 2022 and 41 doctoral degree recipients from 2020, 2021 and 2022 — represent seven programs and more than 40 countries, speaking over 35 languages.

Each year, each Heller program selects one student to speak on behalf of their program, and this year’s students were nothing short of extraordinary. I’ve included the speech of COEX’s Commencement Speaker, Jan Afza Sarwari, MA SID/COEX’22, below, but I encourage  you to read all of the commencement coverage, including the other commencement speeches, on our news page.

COEX Commencement Speaker, Jan Afza Sarwari, MA SID/COEX’22:  “Thank you, Dean David Weil, the members of the board of advisors, respected faculty, friends, family and the COEX class of 2022 for giving me the honor of speaking with you today.

When in the hot summer day of July 2019, my parents hugged me goodbye in the crowded Kabul airport, I did not know that it would be our last goodbye for so many years to come. As the airplane was gradually taking off, I could look down at the spectacular mountain views of Kabul from the small airplane window reflecting on my dreams, bigger than the heights of those mountains. I could reflect on the question posed by the Fulbright committee when I applied for the scholarship, asking, “What will you do for your country when you return back to Afghanistan?”

As I reached Brandeis and we came together under the same roof of the Schneider building at the Heller School, I realized that the world had been a terrible place for almost all of us. Through our journeys here, we also carried along with us the heavy weights of different struggles in our home countries; from genocide to racial inequity, from gender inequality to gross human rights abuses, from corruption to war, from poverty to economic disparity, from climate catastrophe to increased global warming and so much more. But one thing was certain. We came together to stand against all these sufferings and difficulties impacting our world and be the face of social justice as Brandeis and the Heller mission states.

For me, however, the burden of carrying my share of struggles was huge. I am a Hazara, an ethnic group in Afghanistan who have been persecuted for over a century making it as harsh for them as the Holocaust for Jewish people during the World War II. I was born during Afghanistan’s civil war and the Mujahedin period. I started going to a secret school during the earlier Taliban regime, walking two hours each way every day when girls were not even allowed to attend one. I fought patriarchal norms and ethno-religious discriminations to have the power and the opportunity to stand here in front of you at this very moment.

Unluckily, the burden is still huge, when in almost all our classes at Heller, we were taught that girls’ education is a “silver bullet” to sustainable growth, to eradicating poverty, and to eliminating conflict. However, today also marks the 247th day in which millions of girls across Afghanistan are banned from going to school. The burden is still huge when women’s and minorities’ voices calling for justice and respect for their basic human rights are being muted, detained, and killed. The burden is still huge when more than 90% of people in Afghanistan live below the poverty line, making it the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The burden is immensely huge when your answer to the question of “What will you do for your country when you return back to Afghanistan?” remains on a piece of paper, as for now.

While I struggled with all the hardships during the last year, the Heller School taught me one thing; no matter what you face or what you feel, there is the wonderful Heller and Brandeis community that lifts you up, cherishes you and your achievements and motivates you to move on with hope and resilience and be the face of social justice no matter where in the world you are.

Finally, as we celebrate our accomplishments and the end of a rewarding yet challenging chapter of our lives, I would like to wholeheartedly thank the Fulbright Program and the U.S. taxpayers for their generosity, Brandeis University for giving me a home away from home, my professors, and fellow classmates for providing me with knowledge and courage, my parents for their prayers, family and friends for their unconditional love and support throughout this learning journey.

May we achieve worldwide peace. May we not forget the women in Afghanistan.”

Congratulating… The Heller Class of 2022!

This Sunday, the class of 2022 will be participating in the first in-person graduation that Brandeis has held in three years (the classes of 2020 and 2021 can join a Re-Commencement ceremony). This is an incredibly exciting time for all of us here at Heller, but for those of us in Heller Admissions, it also means saying good-bye to some our wonderful graduate assistants, including Hannah Lougheed and Daniella Levine. To celebrate their accomplishments, I’d like to take a moment to curate a “best-of” for both of them; below, please find some of my favorite blog posts by these two talented students.

Daniella Levine

Hannah Lougheed

Feel free to read the rest of Daniella’s and Hannah’s blog posts, and enjoy the coverage of last year’s commencement, where you can listen to student speakers from each of our graduate programs. Congratulations, Heller class of 2022!

I’m Admitted, Now What? Student Loans

Look, I get it. At this point, everyone on the planet who owns a TV, a smartphone, a computer, or has even glanced at a newspaper is aware of the student loan crisis in America.  Choosing to either go into debt for the first time, going into debt after having paid off an initial balance, or adding to existing debt can feel like a particularly scary prospect with news stories declaring that student debt has reached a record high.

However, in all of this, it’s important to remember why loans exist: whether it’s a car loan, a home loan, or a student loan, you take out a loan because you are making an investment. With a car or a home, it’s pretty clear what the investment is, but student loans can feel a little more nebulous. I would say that when you take out a loan to pay for graduate school, it is an investment in you and your career. The advantage of that? Unlike a car or a house, once you make that investment, it can’t really be taken away or damaged. Just think: your car could be in an accident the day you leave the dealership, or your house could be flooded the day after you sign, but once you have your graduate degree, it never goes away or lessens in value.

With that being said, the best way to make sure that this is a worthwhile investment is to ask yourself the same questions that you would ask when making any other major investment. Questions like…

What does the return on investment look like? I started to address this above, but I think one major benefit to student loan debt versus other debts is that the value of your investment doesn’t depreciate (like a car) and cannot be damaged (like a house). Regardless, there are other questions that you can ask during your search to ensure that the return on investment is high. What are the job titles of recent graduates like? What percentage of students are employed within six months of graduation?

What is this investment in, and how much is that worth to me? Okay, I know I said above that it’s an investment in you and your career, but to get even more granular, you should consider the entire package of graduate school, even the things that can’t be easily quantified. How much is it worth to you to make connections with faculty, your fellow students, and alumni? Are those connections that you could make otherwise? How much is it worth to you to have access to a dedicated career center for the rest of your professional life? How much is it worth to take some time to pursue a career that you’re deeply passionate in? Considering these things can help you remember the value of the investment you’re making.

What are the terms of the loan? This is a big one, and I really can’t overstate it enough. I will admit that when I went to graduate school, I did not think enough about the actual terms of my loan: I took out the maximum amount and didn’t even consider paying it off while in graduate school. If I could go back, that’s something that I absolutely, 100% would have done differently: take any loan counseling you get through your school seriously, and make sure you understand all the details of your loan including the origination fee, the interest fee, when it begins to accrue interest, and when you have to begin repayment. Plug those numbers into a student loan calculator to see how your situation will change depending on how much you borrow.

I totally get it: student loans are scary (I have them myself!). But at least in the case of federal student loans, student loans aren’t the worst investment you  can make, since they come with competitive fixed interest rates and plenty of repayment options. It is a deeply personal decision, however, so take some time and carefully consider how to minimize your debt and to ensure you have a reasonable plan to pay it off.

I’m Admitted: Now What? Financial Aid

After you decide where you’d like to attend graduate school, it’s likely that your next question is going to be, “How am I going to pay for it?” Today I’d like to dive a little deeper into how to evaluate your financial aid package and how to find additional ways of financing your graduate school education.

Read the fine print. When comparing graduate school financial aid packages, it’s important not to get stuck on the percentage of the scholarship you’ve received. Shorter programs, suburban or rural campuses, and internship support programs can all mean less-out-of-pocket costs for students: even living in Waltham over living in Boston can mean paying 4% less in rental costs, even though you’re still less than half an hour from the city! Additionally, some programs provide internship support; in Heller’s MPP program, students who secure paid internships can apply for matching funds of up to $2,500, and students who find unpaid internships can apply for support through Heller. These small differences can make a big impact over the course of a program.

Another factor to consider is what conditions your scholarship has: at Heller, tuition scholarships are not tied to required research assistantships or teaching assistantships because we reward you for the work you’ve already done. However, at many schools, scholarships are dependent on working as a graduate assistant, which may make it difficult for you to work for outside organizations during your graduate program.

Looking into all of these factors can take time and careful research; if you’re not sure where to look, I would suggest starting with your school’s Financial Aid page and the Policies and Procedures handbook for your specific program.

Start your search. Once you’ve compared your costs with internal scholarships, it’s time to start looking at external sources of funding. Here at Heller, we have a list of external funding sources for U.S. citizens and international students, which can be a great place to start. Fastweb.com and Funding US Study (for international students) are also fantastic resources for students looking to fund their graduate education. International students should also contact their local EducationUSA office; EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 430 international student advising centers in 178 countries and territories and can help you to identify other sources of funding.

In many situations, there may be smaller scholarships for which you might be qualified. These small scholarships can add up; don’t dismiss opportunities because of size! Think about how you identify yourself: this can lead to some smaller pockets of money that are designated to specific groups available through advocacy organizations and/or foundations, including women’s organizations, LGBTQIQA organizations, and ethnic organizations.

Get to work! Once you get to campus, you can also start looking for on-campus employment. I’d encourage you to start your search for on-campus positions in the first few weeks, as on-campus jobs are usually in high demand. Many colleges have websites where you can search for open student employment positions, so you might even start searching the week before you arrive on campus. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box (or in this case, your program); international student offices, study abroad offices, libraries, research labs, student employment offices, and athletic departments often utilize student workers. In fact, this blog is written in part by Graduate Assistants in the Admissions Office!

Once you’ve been in your program for a few months, don’t be afraid to approach professors about research assistantships or teaching assistantships. You can also reach out to your faculty advisor for guidance about how to approach faculty regarding your research interests or desire to teach while in graduate school.

Stay tuned, because next week, we’ll talk about student loans!

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