Wellcultured - Well Cultured is a men’s online magazine with advice and reviews on fashion, dating, finances, health, music, movies and many other topics, as well as a robust message board and the Well Cultured Guide, a freely editable community wiki.

Grad School

August 16th, 2010

Is grad school really worth it if I have to pay for it? I want to get a M.A. in English.

Ehh. You’ve probably heard the usual warnings about grad school, but allow me to reiterate them just to address the issue.

First off, grad schools are almost universally flooded. Be it M.B.A. programs, J.D. programs, or even M.A. programs, there are just a lot of people hunting for degrees nowadays. Blame the advent of corporate colleges that pump out graduates — now everyone is getting degrees. This has a bad effect on the market — it virtually assures there will be a lot of overeducated underemployed types around fighting for jobs, making finding a job that much harder in this economy. Going to grad school nowadays is, very unfortunately, a lot about the status of the school, future job possibilities, and how cheaply you can ultimately do so.

With that being said, an old professor of mine in undergrad was very intelligent when he told me that in many cases going to grad school for non-professional types is not about where you go as much as it is about how much you spent to get there. Put in other words, it may be tempting to go to the best possible schools you can get into, but the increase in price (or the decrease in possible scholarships) may be simply too much to bear, especially considering how little your median salary would rise with a M.A. anyway. This applies in the professional world as well, in certain circumstances — it would be ridiculous to spend $250k+ on a M.B.A. from a decent school when you could spend only $50k on one from a slightly lesser school and make about the same amount of money.

Another thing to think about is if you really want to get a M.A. at all, or if you simply should go for a Ph.D. Certainly, there is worth in M.A. degrees, but from my experience with most English departments, Ph.D. programs are really where the rubber hits the road — unless you want to fill a specific position that asks explicitly for teachers with English M.A.s (like a teaching position or something), you should probably just go for a doctorate. Ph.Ds also have the benefit of sometimes having more scholarships/fellowships available — that is to say, you might be compensated more for being in a Ph.D program than in a M.A. program. I may be slightly biased as a professional school type, but I’ve always found that M.A.s feel like slightly extended B.A.s, whereas Ph.Ds are where the big kids go to actually master the discipline.

So, in any case, here’s what I’d do:

First off, determine what you want to do. Don’t just go for a M.A. unless you have a specific concept of what good it will do you. There are likely more scholarships and opportunities in the Ph.D track, if you are willing to suffer the vast leap in amount of study.

Second off, really seriously collect information on schools you have been accepted to. Fire out a bunch of applications to other schools as well. Apply for all scholarships you can, and really tally out how much it would cost you for the 1-2 years you would spend. Cross check this, if you can, with the level of reputation of the school and other intangible sorts of things. Further cross check this information with the possibility of getting into the specific job you’re gunning for.

Third off, I’d look at all the numbers and figures and seriously determine what your best path would be. By this point, you should have a good rough concept of the opportunity cost of the M.A., and ultimately what your best choice should be.

PC Building and Price

August 2nd, 2010

What do you think about building computers and buying them as a Well Cultured guy? How much is too much?

Odd question, but I will answer it.

The consumer computing world for years has been set up in such a way where two rules generally apply: building tends to be cheaper, and you pay a big premium for really expensive parts. These rules should be followed as much now as they were followed 10+ years ago.

First off, I think anyone with reasonable intelligence, time, and a desire to save money should build their own computer. Frankly, building a PC is not that hard — do your research, buy good parts from good companies, slap them into a nice case, and you’re golden. Joints like Dell and HP charge a small fortune and cut a lot of corners — you get a lot of value out of learning to build a PC and doing it yourself. Even better, in addition, you can gain knowledge building a computer that looks great on a resume.

However, there is a desire for most of us (myself included) to go for the “biggest and the best”. Just like with clothing and cars, a lot of guys have the inexplicable urge to go for the top-of-the-line PC parts when building a computer, a drive that usually ends up costing them a few thousand dollars. The small rewards they get out of this search are almost never worth it — and while stats on websites like [H]ard OCP and Toms Hardware are sexy, they are usually not quite as important as they seem.

Allow me to give an example: I have a good buddy who built what he called a “supercomputer” a few years ago — featuring a top of the line overclocked C2D, 4 gigs of RAM, two overpriced video cards in SLI, an array of hard drives, and the like. The price ended up being something close to $4,000 total, mostly thanks to an exorbitantly expensive PC case, a huge monitor, and the two ridiculously priced video cards. Now, about 2 years later, thanks to general aging and better parts on the market, this “supercomputer” is roughly the equivalent of a decent $1,000 computer you can build today. My buddy lost $1,500 a year in order to have the “best” PC for about one year. Had he been reasonable and spent no more than $1,500 on a decent PC two years ago, it may not have been quite as amazing, but he would have saved $2,500 in the process — enough for an entirely new PC down the road.

So basically, one of the big rules to remember is to simply be conservative about what you purchase. A well cultured person knows to be economical, not exorbitant.

Also, as an addendum, if you have time, try selling old/spare parts online (through eBay or something) or to local vendors. You’d be surprised how much cash you can get if you — for example, sell a slightly old video card (like a 8000/9000 series nVidia card today) to (partially) defray the costs of a new card.

Coming into Money

January 18th, 2010

I recently have acquired a significant sum of money. Now everyone is asking me to share or help them out. I really don’t want to. What do I do?

Easy: you don’t do it.

As is stereotypical with this sort of thing, whenever you suddenly find yourself having a lot more money than you did before (and especially when it’s noticeable- such as if you win the lottery or inherit well-known riches), people tend to come out of the woodwork and ask for money for anything and everything- from requests to pay off their loans to simply requests for raw cash.

In a sense, there’s nothing wrong with sharing the wealth with people you like and want to share with- that’s something you probably already know. If you’ve really come into a significant amount of money, it doesn’t hurt to purchase a family member a gift or something- but only if you want to. You are not, in any sense, obligated to give anyone money for any reason merely because you happen to have more than you had before.

As for avoiding conversations on the topic, I recommend doing two things: avoiding the topic and obfuscating information. For the former, just avoid mentioning anything about the money, especially pertaining to how much you have now or what you’ve done with the money, as the less you mention, the less it is in the mind of those whom you know. As for the latter, try to avoid being too direct with the money or allowing people to know who-got-what or what you used the money for: neither are appropriate topics. If someone directly asks you, use a phrase like “a good amount” or “just enough”. If they keep pushing, directly refuse to answer. Never share information about whom you gave money and/or gifts to. Just avoid the topic.

With that being said, just be prepared for a lot of questions and requests- it’s almost expected with money. Just learn to politely refuse people.

5 Ways to Save Money in College

December 12th, 2009

college_moneyLet’s not kid ourselves: college is expensive. Virtually all forms of higher education are. Even if you manage to get a number of scholarships to your school of choice, even affording to live near or inside of your college can be a massive problem. Of course, this inevitably means that most college students end up being “college poor”- and largely for no reason. With that being said, here are 5 ways to, for the next semester and beyond, save a little bit of money and afford something more than ramen noodles every night.

1. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

This is a fairly obvious tip, but few people realize it: in your average college town, a huge number of retailers and stores have some form of a “college discount” program to attract college dollars, something you should take advantage of as much as possible. From clothing retailers such as J.Crew to even grocery stores, a lot of places openly (or sometimes secretly) carry discount plans for those willing to show their student ID cards. Bigger purchases also count- if your university has deals with the respective companies, oftentimes computer companies such as Apple and Lenovo will offer discounts, as well as software companies such as Microsoft. While not entirely a discount, oftentimes banks and insurance companies will partner with colleges to offer better deals to students (though admittedly sometimes the deals are atrocious- do your research). Do not be embarrassed to ask for a discount virtually everywhere you go- though it doesn’t seem like much, it does make a big difference down the road.

2. Take Summer Courses, Aim for an Early Graduation

Unless you are in a major program that absolutely requires it, graduating in 3 years (or in 3 1/2) is far from impossible. Though it’s considered normative to stick it out through the traditional four years of schooling, graduating even a semester early is a very nice break from tuition, not to mention a nice way to get started with your job or grad school earlier. The easiest way to graduate earlier (other than simply taking a ton of courses each semester) is to take summer courses, which are often leagues better courses for much less money, if you can stomach not having a summer break. As many have found, summer classes (in virtually every discipline) are often much more relaxed, easier, and often more personal than their normal-semester counterparts, and they make graduating early incredibly easy. Do your research.

3. Live Off-Campus

This largely depends on the location and type of your institution, but many tend to find that living off-campus (even a couple miles away) can be leagues cheaper than staying in a dormitory. While this sounds rather ironic (one would think that being crammed in a tiny room would be cheaper), many colleges and universities in the US tack on quite a big price for what is largely a small hole in the wall- check what is available to you off-campus. When doing your research, remember to consider the cost of staying on campus as a package- not only what it costs you in terms of the dorm fee itself, but also associated food costs, living costs, and the like- it may be much more than you initially would suspect.

4. Buy Books Off Campus

This is a biggie virtually every upperclassman knows: as much as humanly possible, do not under any circumstances purchase books from a campus bookstore. Campus bookstore textbooks are infamous at any university for being overpriced and arbitrarily new, meaning that you pay quite a bit of money for something you inevitable trash or sell off the next semester. This is quite a racket at a number of universities, who not only sell you a book for an inflated price, but offer low-ball “buyback” prices for the books which they sell again for the inflated price. Don’t contribute.

My recommended method? Once you get the names of the books (copy down the ISBN numbers from the bookstore or contact the professor), go to a reputable online retailer such as Amazon.com, find the books, and then compare and contrast the prices available for the used versions of the books. For retailers like Amazon with sub-retailers, remember that sometimes bundling a few books from a similar location (i.e. one shipping cost) can be cheaper than buying slightly cheaper books from multiple retailers (i.e. a lot of shipping costs). Either way, you’ll save money.

5. Study something Worthwhile

This may be a bit late, but it’s the most obvious: study something worth going to college for.

This sounds quite morbid, but do it anyway: go to relevant sites with median salaries and look up what your degree is worth. Though your heart may be in something like Drama or Social Work, both of those degrees are ultimately very dangerous risks- especially in terms of paying back your college debts in the future. Like it or not, you have to be highly realistic about what you plan to do with yourself after your four-or-less years in college.

So, should everyone become Engineering majors? Of course not. Engineering is an incredibly difficult discipline for a select few. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t speculate and plan your own future. For most, the best option you can always pick for ensuring future earnings potential is to look into future education opportunities- professional degrees or graduate degrees. Professional and graduate degrees do not always guarantee money (lower tier law schools will actually harm you more than help you- “Go to Valpo, dine on Alpo”, etc), but that doesn’t mean you should find ways to further your worth in the job field.

In my opinion, however, regardless of your degree, the best thing you can do to ensure a relatively safe job hunt in the future is to simply get some experience and skill outside of college itself. Study as much as you can, but network, get to know people, and try to find part time jobs and internships- which often make you a much better candidate than any sort of studying.

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