How much do you trust your S.O.? Do you trust him or her with ALL of your money?

In every serious relationship, you reach the point where you need to talk about money. This is one of the pivotal discussions you will have with a potential partner.

Part of this money talk involves discussing whether or not you will combine finances. This is a tough decision and one you have to decide on for yourself, based on how you and your partner feel about money.

There are advantages.

When you combine your finances, you truly form a partnership. Everything goes into a big pot. All your money. All your partner’s money. You pay your bills from the big pot. You set up joint savings and investment accounts. When you combine finances, it can have a big impact emotionally. You truly feel like one entity. It’s practically impossible to feel detached when you are sharing your finances.

Combining your finances can also simplify matters. You don’t have to worry about who’s putting what into the joint account for household expenses, and you don’t have to divvy up the bills or worry about whether or not your partner is actually paying his or her “fair” share. With combined finances, it all goes to the same place, and you only have to worry about paying from one account.

Finally, with combined finances, it’s all on the table. You can both see what’s happening with the money, and you both have equal access to it. A lot has been written about financial infidelity. (Go ahead, search it on Google. I’ll wait. Checked it out? Seen that it’s a real problem for some people? Awesome.) While combining finances can’t totally eliminate the problem, the reality is that it’s much harder for someone to hide his or her money issues when the S.O. has just as much access to everything.

For many couples, this is the way to go. In fact, during my marriage, we had combined finances. We had a big pot, what’s-mine-is-yours-and-what’s-yours-is-mine, approach. It made things simple during the marriage, but a bit of a PITA during the divorce.

But there are downsides, too.

One of the biggest issues with combining your finances is that you lose some of your autonomy. You don’t have complete control over your money; you need to consult with someone else before you make certain decisions. If you still like to have that measure of control over what you spend, and how you use your money, combining finances can be scary as hell.

When you separate your finances, you can also create a formula for deciding who pays for what. There are many ways to do this. In some cases, the person who makes the most might cover the biggest expenses, while the other person takes care of the smaller household costs. If you make close to the same amount of money, it can make sense to split everything down the middle.

Another way to separate determine your bills is by using a percentage. If one of you makes 70% of the money, you pay 70% of the shared expenses, while the other pays 30% of the household costs. Once those shared costs are covered, each of you gets to keep what’s left to use how you want. However, when you have separate finances, you each pay from your own account.

Keeping things separate can also provide protection. What happens if you aren’t sure about how your bae handles money? You can better protect your own financial situation by avoiding combining accounts. Your partner can’t raid your account if it isn’t shared. If you think your partner spends too much and you want to keep him or her from draining your resources, separate finances can make sense. Keeping things apart protects you.

Finally, separate finances are easier to manage in the event of a de-coupling. My ex and I had to go through our shared accounts and assets and divvy them up at the end of the marriage. On top of that, as I looked back on some of the purchases he made with our joint money, I was a little bitter.

While we are on good terms, and I care deeply for my ex, the reality is that combining finances and the aftermath left a sour taste in my mouth. Things are fine now, but they were a bit unwieldy for a while. Keeping things separate would have made things easier. In a world where many of these romantic relationships, whether or not they are marriages, come to an end, combined finances may not be the best choice.

How about making a compromise?

It’s possible to create a hybrid model. I know many successful couples who employ this method. Rather than keep things completely separate, they have some joint accounts. For shared expenses, like housing costs and paying for kids’ activities, you can open a joint account. Each of you contributes a pre-determined amount of money. You pay your shared expenses from the shared account.

Everything else, however, is separate. You have the feeling of working toward a common goal, but you also keep some things separate. This method can work for shared goals like saving up for a down payment on a home, going on vacation, or making a major purchase together.

When you use this plan, you maintain separate accounts. You can buy gifts for each other and make them true surprises. You also obtain limited protection. While there is no way to keep your honey out of the joint account, the bulk of your money is safe from pillaging in your own accounts. A friend of mine was fortunate that he used the hybrid model when his wife drained the joint account and then asked for a divorce. She couldn’t access his account and take that money, too, ahead of time.

How you manage your money is up to you. Have a talk about it, figure out what you’re comfortable with, and make a plan from there.

What do you think about combining finances? Is this something you are comfortable with?

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Start with this list. Focus on the essentials.

My last semester of college was during the fall months, and for the first time, I was living on my own, and not in a college dorm and not with my parents. No roommates, either, though that singular, private living situation wouldn’t last too long.

This apartment was a few miles off campus, past the entrance to the interstate highway, where rents were much cheaper. That’s exactly what I needed. My last responsibilities at college were student-teaching and preparing for my senior recital, the capstones to my music education degree. So I was still a student — a student without a job for at least a few months, without money being earned, and I don’t even remember how I was able to afford my rent.

The living situation was a big change from the dorm rooms in the preceding years. Everything is provided in the dorms — paid for along with tuition, naturally, but students never had to worry about outfitting rooms with basic furniture. At least a bed and a desk.

Somehow, I owned a bed and mattress. I have no memory of where they came from.

And that’s the only furniture I had in this apartment. Well, besides the bed, I had a television on the floor in the living room. I didn’t even have blinds or curtains on the patio door. If it didn’t come with the apartment, I didn’t have it. And nothing came with the apartment.

As a result, the place wasn’t exactly ideal for entertaining guests. I had no visitors so I wasn’t too concerned about the state of my domicile. All I needed to be able to do was sleep — which I did — and practice — which I sometimes did.

Maybe I had a lamp.

What would have been helpful to me is a guide that explains exactly what you need or should have in your first apartment, whether you have roommates or not.

Here is that guide. I’ve listed what you need, ranked in order of importance, by room. Many of the furniture items can be found on a budget. Always check second-hand stores or Craigslist.

You need these items for your bedroom.

1. Mattress. This is the most basic item. You need to be able to sleep relatively comfortably. A mattress will do the trick. If you’re on a budget, air mattresses can be quite comfortable these days, and much less expensive than a fancier typical mattress. A step up might be a futon. Unlike just about everything else, I would not buy this item on Craigslist or used at a thrift store.

2. Lamp. Shine some light in the bedroom. You’ll be thankful for illumination, especially in the winter when the sun sets early.

3. Alarm clock. Well, you probably have one on your smartphone. You may be living in your own for the first time and not sure how you’re going to pay rent, but I’m sure you’re managing your phone just fine. But having a real alarm clock as a back-up has saved me many times.

4. Window curtains. The one place where you don’t want neighbors peeking in is your bedroom. Maybe your place comes with blinds, and if so, curtains are further down on the list, but still good to have.

5. A bed. If you want to prop your mattress up a little higher than floor-level, you’ll need a bed. I lived in one apartment without a bed, though, so it is possible to get by without one.

You cannot have a bathroom without these.

1. Toiletries. Expect to brush your teeth every day. Grab all the basics including toilet paper, mouthwash, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, shaving items, and a first-aid kit or at least adhesive bandages (Band-Aids).

2. Towels. Drip-drying takes far too long. You can get by with one, but two would be better. Feeling fancy? Get one of those towel hooks that fit over the bathroom door.

3. A shower curtain. Most apartments won’t come with one. Shower curtains can be inexpensive, and they give you privacy and added safety in the bathroom. You may need to buy curtain rings separately. You may even need to get your own curtain rod.

4. A plunger and toilet brush. One is for cleanliness and the other is to prevent a big mess.

Let’s go into the kitchen. Who’s cooking?

1. Dishware and silverware. No need to get fancy here. My first set was inherited from a friend. A few plates, a few bowls, forks, spoons, butter knives, and if you’re ready, a sharp knife set.

2. Pots, pans, a spatula, a ladle, a slotted spoon, a regular spoon, oven mitts, and a can opener. Unless you plan to order in every day and every night, you’ll be cooking. No need to get anything fancy here unless you really love spending time in the kitchen. Just the basics will suffice.

3. Dish soap, napkins, and paper towels. And if you have a dishwasher, dishwashing detergent.

4. Trash can. You need at least one in your apartment, and if you do have only one, it should go in the kitchen.

Not everyone has a living room, but here’s what you would need.

1. Something to sit in. In my first apartment, this was the floor. Somehow I managed, but it wasn’t ideal. You can find at least a cheap chair. I eventually upgraded — in my third apartment — to a cheap sofa from IKEA.

2. Curtains or blinds for the windows or patio/balcony door. Again, privacy is the main concern here, and some type of covering might be required by your lease.

3. A television stand or mount. These days, fancier people are mounting televisions on walls. In my first apartment, I got by with leaving the TV on the floor.

4. A coffee table. Again, I didn’t have one until later in my adult life, but this is a basic piece of furniture that separates the barely-adults from the mostly-adults.

Beyond these items, everything else could be considered a luxury. Chances are good that you won’t be in this apartment for a long time. You can upgrade and add items one at a time. Living in comfort is a process, and when you first move out on your own, there’s no expectation that you have the best-decorated and best-outfitted apartment among your friends.

Save the money now. Take care of your necessities and put away any cash you have left over. You can take your time and ignore the pressure to have everything in your life and your living environment together immediately.

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Seeing your ripped bod fade before your eyes? There’s no excuse for that! Start getting healthy again.

Please note, this is a tongue and cheek confessional about my laziness and apathy. Like my pursuit of a singing career, this confessional may or may not be based on delusion.

Much has been said about the differences between straight fat and gay fat. We gay men can be a superficial gaggle of judgment. This is why many of us come equipped with our very own fruit fly. Put another way, this is why many straight women have a personalized GBF (gay best friend).

You see, many XXs have learned that asking their straight XYs for opinions on a hairstyle, a dress or an expensive pair of shoes (a.k.a. an investment) is an exercise in futility. Their straight partner simply wants to keep the peace. Their gay partner, on the other hand, wants them to look fabulous at any costs.

It’s from this vantage point that I confess that I cringe when I see the naked effigy of myself in the mirror. Who is he? From whence did he come?

The downfall of my hot bod.

It wasn’t long ago in the club-thumping 2000s when I could join my people in a shirtless display of diva-house music abandon. It was less long ago that I became too old for this to be my main form of merrymaking. Work and life happened. Working out six days a week turned into working out six days a year.

I just turned 43 and Linda Evans* has been telling me since I hit puberty that “40 isn’t fatal.” My career, my relationship, and my life are all great. There’s no reason why this 40-something qualifies for Celebrity Fit Club.

When I read Why 40 Is the New Age of Fitness, I was assured that my masterpiece of a dad-bod is my choice and not my burden. I’ve adopted a lazy, sedentary lifestyle nourished by processed flour and sugar. I never ride a bike without a helmet only because I never ride a bike. I only buy organic, fair trade, and gluten-free food that never gets within a 10-mile radius of a peanut, but this clearly isn’t serving my waistline.

I argue that most of us Gen Xers (yes, Millennials and Boomers, we exist too) have chosen our physical states. With advancements in technology and medicine and our greater understanding of human physiology, all of the sexy excuses we manufacture don’t negate the fact that many of us have no valid reason for letting ourselves go.

I’m not clinging to my 20s like an aging pop star. I just want to be in the top 20% of my cohort.

I lied in the first paragraph. This is both a confessional and an accountability statement. I can do better and, I argue, so can you. Save for a valid medical condition, and only you can know that, you can get better with me.

Here’s what I’m doing to get healthy and back in shape:

Eat healthy.

I avoided the word “diet” because a diet is temporary and a lifestyle is forever.

With all my weight fluctuations and my exercise physiology degree, I know that a well-balanced, vegetable-based diet that avoids processed foods and includes more fish and poultry and less red meat is the best diet.

I’m seeking clean foods, like something a sun-kissed Greek server would serve me on holiday in Mykonos.

Be active.

It turns out that couch-surfing does not burn calories. In fact, with couch-surfing related activities, couch-surfing increases one’s caloric intake. For most of us, it’s about calories in versus calories out. Let’s get off the couch!

I’m doing high-impact weight training for one hour a day five days a week. This is helping me gain muscle and strength. I started with low weights and am gradually increasing them.

High-impact weight training reduces the risk of injury, both exercise-induced and otherwise. It should also boost my metabolism. This means I’ll increase my caloric burn even when resting. These reasons are why weight training is important for women, too.

I’m running three to five miles a week because I enjoy it. As we age, however, our bodies produce more cortisol with longer aerobic activities. This is why many part-time running hobbyists struggle with weight loss. Adopt whatever aerobic activities you enjoy, even if it’s walking. Just move and be careful to not O.D. on cortisol.

I’ve started yoga, again, too. Yoga and I love each other “like a love song.” Yoga (and I) loves you, too. As we age, our muscles shrink and we lose balance. Losing balance, whether walking, standing or being active can cause injury. Our goal isn’t to go from the couch to the doctor’s table. Though, I guess that depends on the doctor.

Be zen.

We Gen Xers are entering or are in our peak earning years, have teenagers and college students, and have more exes than an NFL chalkboard. All are stressful.

I’m meditating. Oprah’s meditating. Somewhere in the great beyond Steve Jobs is meditating. Why? Because it’s good for us. Meditating reduces stress and taps into our feelings, those gut feelings that help us make better life decisions. Meditation can be a good part of a healthy lifestyle.

In fact, my husband and I follow Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning formula. This practice incorporates all the new-agey stuff many of the world’s most successful people do. Hal’s belief (and I agree) is that if the six practices outlined in his book are the most common practices of the world’s most successful people, surely one must work for us.

Choose happiness.

Being happy, like being healthy, is a choice that makes us healthier. I won’t get angry if I don’t get back into shape as rapidly as I did in my 20s. I won’t go off the rails if I see another wrinkle.

Victor Frankl said that between a stimulus and a response there’s a space, and in that space, we make a choice. If a concentration camp survivor chose to not let his circumstances destroy his happiness, I can do similar. This applies to every stimulus I receive and every response I choose.

This is how I’m proving Linda Evans right. Please support Linda Evans.

* Linda Evans in no way sponsored, endorsed, or even knows about me or this article.

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A single hospital visit can bankrupt you. What happens if you total your car and can’t afford a new ride? Make sure your assets are covered.

The idea of insurance doesn’t necessarily jive with the mindset of a young person. It took me way too long after college to really get serious about insuring my stuff. What’s life without a little risk, right?

In reality, that mindset doesn’t usually last through the first emergency or disaster that strikes while you’re uninsured. It’s easy to laugh it off when you’ve been lucky, but one bad day teaches you the importance of making sure you cover your assets.

Being a fully functioning adult requires that you be ready to protect what’s yours.

Why insurance is important.

Insurance is like wearing a helmet while you’re biking. You may not need it, but you’ll be glad you put it on when you take a tumble.

“Having quality auto, health, renter or homeowner, and life insurance is vital to protecting yourself and your family — or your future family — from the unexpected,” says blogger Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability.

But choosing an insurance company is hard work. First, decide what coverage you need. If you need both renters and car insurance, can you choose the same company and save money with a multi-policy account?

The two most important factors with insurance are the premium (how much you pay each month) and the deductible (how much you pay to file a claim and receive money from your insurance company). Your car insurance premium may cost $100 a month with a $500 deductible.

That means if you get into an accident and do $600 worth of damage to your car, you’ll have to pay the $500 deductible before your insurance covers the rest.

Car insurance.

Most companies offer a multi-car discount for families with more than one automobile. Premium rates vary based on how much coverage you have, so don’t base your judgment solely on how much you’ll pay each month.

For example, coverage for uninsured or underinsured drivers is optional, but often a good idea. When I got hit by an uninsured driver, my car suffered $3,000 worth of damage. My insurance company handled everything because I’d opted for that extra coverage.

This is a common theme in every area of insurance: risk tolerance. You need to toe the line between how much you’re willing to pay monthly, and how comfortable you are with the risk of being caught uninsured. In an ideal world, we could all afford comprehensive coverage in every area, but the real world is a little more restrictive.

Renters insurance.

Lee Huffman, who owns several rental properties, says he always recommends renters insurance to his tenants. Most renters policies cost less than $20 a month, but can reimburse you in case your valuables are stolen or damaged.

“As a rental property investor, we remind our renters that the landlord’s insurance covers the building only,” he says. “It does not cover any of the personal items of the renters, nor does it cover the renter in case someone gets hurt and tries to sue them.”

Take pictures of your most prized possessions and keep receipts for anything valuable. Those will help if they’re lost or damaged and you need to file a claim.

Health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act requires that you have health insurance or pay a fine. This year the fine will be 2.5% of your income or $695 per adult — whichever is greater. For example, if you have an adjusted gross income of $40,000, your fine will be $1,000.

One hospital visit can bankrupt you when you don’t have health insurance. You are your most valuable asset, so make sure that’s covered. Millennials in good health are often fine purchasing a high-deductible plan and paying a smaller premium. You can use a Health Savings Account in conjunction with your high-deductible plan for even better results.

Life insurance.

This type of insurance is vital if there’s someone relying on your income, like a spouse or child. If your spouse dies, can you afford to live without them? Can you pay the mortgage by yourself? Can you raise your child on one income? Single parents should consider purchasing life insurance so their children will have protection in case they pass away.

Rosenberg recommends term, not whole, life insurance for millennials. The younger you are when you purchase a policy, the cheaper it will be.

“You are never as young and healthy as you are today, which is the best time to lock in a 30 year policy,” he says.

Don’t let the unexpected ruin your finances. Cover your assets with the right insurance and you can shore up your finances from disaster.

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No one likes paying bills, but it’s a fact of adult life. Here’s how to make bills your bitch.

Paying bills sucks.

But proper adulting means you need to stay on top of your bills. Dominate them. Paying your bills on time can help you with your credit, and it ensures that you still have access to things like a place to live, your cell phone service, and electricity.

Your life will suffer if you get caught too far behind. When you don’t pay your bills, you can lose your apartment or house and all the other services you pay for. If you want to make your own decisions and live your life on your terms, you also have to be responsible and handle the business of paying bills.

You don’t have to do it on your own, though. Here are a few tools that can help you stay on top of your bills.

1. Make it automatic.

One of my favorite tools is automation. So many companies will let you automate you bill pay. My cell phone, Internet, car loan, and rent payment are all automated. Grocery delivery? Automatically taken care of each week. Same for the delivery from the dairy. Many power companies also set up recurring billing. I was even able to set up recurring automatic payments for the medical bills I incurred earlier this year.

The main downside to automation is that you have to stay on top of your bank account. If the money is coming out of your bank account, you need to make sure the money is in there and available. I like to use credit cards for most of my automated payments. This gives me a little breathing space when it comes to paying.

2. Use just any personal finance software.

If you aren’t tracking your spending and planning your bills, there’s a good chance you could wind up in trouble. Use personal finance software to track your income and expenses. You can also use it to plan ahead and test out how your bills will impact your cash flow later in the month.

My personal finance software (Moneydance) allows me to set up reminders and automatic transaction entries so I can look ahead and see what bills are coming up. You can also use your own personal finance software to remind you when bills are due.

3. Check out a calendar app.

paying-bills

There are plenty of calendar apps to set up reminders that can help you stay on top of your bills. Google Calendar and iCal from Apple are both good examples. If you do use these apps to pop up reminders for bills, set them to remind you at least 10 days in advance. You want to allow plenty of time for you to make your payment.

Whether you automate, schedule payments ahead of time, or write a check (really, though, who DOES that?), it’s important to look in and make sure everything is squared away. A little calendar reminder can be just the thing to keep you on top of the situation.

4. Designate a specific bill-paying time.

Pick a time of the week or the month to sit down and take care of money matters. I’m to the point where I mostly just check things out once a week. I have a specific time on Sunday (my least busy day) where I look into my accounts to ensure that there are no fraudulent purchases. Then I look in my personal finance software to see what bills are coming up. I verify that they are still on automatic withdrawal and that everything is on point. It takes me about 10 to 15 minutes.

Picking a time to have a sit-down with your money can at least help you pay all the bills due that week. You can also pick a bill-paying day and get everything paid for the whole month. Then you only have to worry about it one time each month, and that can help stay on top of your bills without a great deal of stress.

5. Ask for new due dates.

As you track your spending habits, eventually you’ll notice that sometimes it just doesn’t work out with due dates. Your bill due dates may not mesh with when you have money coming in from your job. If you contact your service providers, you might be able to choose your own due dates. Choose dates that allow you to get money in the bank so it all works out.

Paying bills is never fun, but it’s part of what you have to do as a proper (or even not-so-proper) adult. With a little help, though, you can get it done on time.

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Are you really adulting? Or are you checking things off a list? Just because you’re doing what others say you “should” doesn’t mean you’re truly adulting.

Now that most of my friends are close to 30, I’ve seen some pretty big changes in their lives: weddings, babies, mortgages. Our lives mirror our parents now more than they do our younger cousins: fewer frat parties, more 401(k)s.

It’s easy to feel like an adult as you cross off those big milestones. But all those changes don’t make you an adult. Being an adult is how you handle and go through life, not about the steps you hit on your way there.

Getting married.

A few weeks ago, I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in three years. We chatted over dinner and he said he couldn’t believe I was married. I told him that married life is not any different than living with my boyfriend, which we’d done for almost two years before tying the knot.

Successful marriage requires you to be more considerate and thoughtful of the decisions you make, but just being married doesn’t make you any more of an adult. I’ve seen so many people get married for the wrong reasons — even though they knew it was a bad idea.

Marriage doesn’t require any sort of special adulting hall pass. Walking down the aisle can seem like an adult decision, but the reality is that all you really need is $20 and a piece of paper.

Getting married does not make you good at relationships, it doesn’t make you more mature and it certainly doesn’t make you happier. It can give you a tax break and a whole lot of wedding gifts, but marriage is really something you do because it feels right, not because you’re at “that point” your life.

Buying a new car.

If you’re used to driving around in a used car or your mom’s hand-me-down, buying a new shiny car can feel like the most adult decision. But buying a new car is one of the worst ways to start off your adult financial life.

A new car loses its value as soon as you drive off the lot, and the monthly payments can impact your ability to save for retirement, an emergency fund, or something else you really want.

I know it can feel embarrassing to drive an old car after all your friends have upgraded. I still had my 1999 Toyota Avalon that while most of my friends were driving cars actually produced in this millennium.

But I didn’t want a new car. I wanted to pay off my student loans, save for an emergency fund, and travel the world. New car payments would have only made all these things impossible.

Adulting is about creating a life you want and you’re happy with, not one that’s based on other people’s decisions or what society says you should have.

Buying a house.

Buying a house is the ultimate purchase. Until you buy a home, you’ve been living somewhere that doesn’t belong to you. For most people, a home is the biggest asset — and a mortgage is the biggest monthly expense.

A mortgage is not just something adults “do.” It’s a huge financial decision that you shouldn’t take on if you’re not ready for it. Just because everyone around you is buying houses doesn’t mean you have to get one too.

Buying a home can change the landscape of your financial future. It impacts whether or not you can move somewhere else for a better job or if you can afford to work on the road. A home can be a great investment or it can cost you thousands of dollars.

Bottom line.

Nothing automatically makes you an adult. Being an adult is about taking care of your responsibilities while creating a life that has value to you. It’s about being a person you’d be proud to be friends with. Buying a house or car or getting married doesn’t make you an adult. What you do with it does.

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What’s the ROI on grad school?

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Someone with a graduate degree is more likely to have higher lifetime earnings than someone with a bachelor’s degree. The difference is even bigger when compared to someone who hasn’t been to college or who hasn’t graduated from high school. Even though grad school can be expensive, it might still be worth.

On the other hand, just because grad school is supposed to lead to a higher-paying career doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you. Grad school can be expensive, and it’s not always necessary. General trends may not apply to your specific situation. You don’t need to follow a path just because someone else marks it out, and you can’t assume that grad school will automatically result in more money.

Before you decide to go to grad school, carefully consider your situation. You need to do the research and carefully consider the options before you determine what makes the most sense for you and your situation.

Concepts

  • What are some of the reasons that grad school is considered a natural progression?
  • Understanding the factors that make a grad degree “worth it.”
  • Reasons to go to grad school, and reasons to avoid it.
  • What role does the prestige of the school play in determining whether or not grad school is worth it?
  • Consider the cost of grad school, and your return on investment.
  • Ways that grad school can impact your life, from family and relationships to your time availability.
  • How to determine whether or not you are ready to tackle grad school.
  • Tips for be realistic as you explore the idea of grad school.

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Resources

Georgetown UniversityGeorgetown study on college
PayScaleGraduate degree salaries
CNBCLaw school ROI

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