Congress plans to raise taxes on graduate students

There are basically two kinds of graduate students. One type pays tuition. The second is someone for whom tuition is waived, in full or part. The new tax law proposed by congressional Republicans plans to raise taxes on graduate students. Both types of graduate students will be harmed.

If you work while paying for grad school…

Graduate students currently paying tuition will be affected by proposed rollbacks in a few tax credits and deductions for educational expenses. For example, you may have enjoyed a tax credit (up to $2000) for costs to you associated with your graduate degree. That’s gone. If your employer is paying for your graduate school, their tax credits will disappear, too. Also, changes in itemization rules will limit the deductions you can take for educational expenses and for interest paid on student loans.

If you are a TA or in a research position…

The new proposal repeals Section d of US Code 117 . Taking away that little tidbit of goodness could make all the difference for many. Graduate students who work as TA’s or in research groups usually receive a  working stipend (usually around $12,000-$30,000 per year, depending upon field) which is already taxed. They also tend to receive tuition waivers, due to their quasi-employee status. PhD students are usually recipients of these waivers, but many master’s students get them also. These waivers are officially referred to as qualified scholarships for tax purposes. If the new law passes, the value of the tuition waiver will ride on top of that stipend for tax purposes. In other words, students will be taxed for a cash-less benefit in addition to their stipend income. Ugh

Here’s how one such student figures it will affect him:

Write your congress persons now

Let them know how you feel about this issue. Getting through grad school is hard enough. Making it harder, in this way, is unnecessarily punitive and counterproductive. Perhaps you have other thoughts and reactions?

The most important thing you can do RIGHT NOW is email your US Congressman and both of your US Senators.  Be nice. Be respectful. Be professional. And be firm. Your input matters.

Register to vote

The other most important thing you can do RIGHT NOW is register to vote. And then never stop voting for the rest of your life. The people who make these laws count upon your apathy.

Read this twitter thread for more info

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Stay safe

Hurricane Harvey the night of Aug 25, 2017

One of my many obsessions are tropical storms. They’ve always fascinated me as such dramatic examples of nature’s power. The closest I’ve come to their power was Opal, which swept up to Atlanta from the gulf coast in record time. It still packed a lot of punch and we lost some trees in the yard.

But that’s nothing at all compared to what’s happening now.

My thoughts this Saturday morning are with all the gradschoolmatchers down in Texas and Louisiana-our folks at Baylor, Houston Baptist, UT-San Antonio Health Sciences, Tulane, UL-Lafayette and LSU. Not to mention those up in Dallas and over in Austin. Then, of course, all of our student users who are living down there. We wish you all well.

I doubt most people realize what’s at stake for many people in these great institutions. For example, a lot of researchers –from PI’s to grad students– are at very high risk of losing years of painstaking work from the damage this storm looks like it will cause. This one is going to be costly.

The next few weeks are going to be very tough. Stay safe.

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How many graduate school applications can you expect in the coming year?

As Yogi Berra (probably should have) said, the only sure way to know what will happen in the future is to get the past behind you. Instead of waiting for your 20-20 hindsight to kick in, though, we wanted to share our (sobering) predictions for the upcoming graduate school application seasons to help you better prepare.

We’ve spotted five troubling trends aligning on the horizon that are likely to slacken demand for graduate school–significantly–beginning this year. The conspirators are:

1) Unfavorable demographics

The average number of baccalaureates awarded in the US during each of the past few years has been very stable, at about 1.8 million. Traditionally, about half of every graduating class ends up in an advanced degree program at some point over the following few years.

Source: NCES

While that may sound like a good thing, a flat rate of college graduate production is actually problematic for US graduate schools, which over the past several decades have relied on steady annual growth in the numbers of fresh baccalaureates, which in turn drive growing graduate admissions. That growth trend looks to have finally plateaued.

If your job is to predict demand for graduate degrees at your university or college over the next 5-10 years, the best leading indicators to look at are high school and undergraduate enrollment numbers. Spoiler alert: the numbers are sobering.

2) Reduced influx of foreign students

Historically, foreign students have nicely filled some of the excess capacity in graduate schools left empty by US students. Indeed, in recent years foreign students have been responsible for the lion’s share of the positive growth rate in graduate enrollment. Today, there are troubling signs that foreign applications to US graduate schools —largely in STEM fields— may decline sharply.

Although the Trump administration’s hostile posture against foreigners (e.g. the infamous travel ban) deserves attribution, that’s probably not the full story. The improving economies of China and India, in particular, are providing better employment opportunities at home for the high quality students who would have otherwise emigrated to the US for graduate school.

3) Student loan burden

It’s not news that recent college grads bear a heavy education debt (over two-thirds of US baccalaureates leave school with student loan debt averaging nearly $30,000), but that may have reached a tipping point.

Here’s why: The standard financial advice they’re given is to graduate with a total student loan debt less than their expected annual starting salary. An advanced degree may double (or triple or worse) that debt burden, which is increasingly incompatible with that advice. While people with advanced degrees generally out-earn those with undergraduate degrees in the same field, for many–especially women who are impacted by the “gender tax”, and who comprise close to 60% of all graduate students–the earnings differential is not enough to justify the exorbitant debt of an advanced degree.

4) Chaotic federal policy

US higher education policy is in pure chaos. The uncertainty is undoubtedly affecting those who are considering graduate school today because a lot of this federal policy directly impacts student’s pocketbooks.

The Trump administration  has proposed extreme cuts for the federal agencies that fund scientific research and humanities programs on US campuses, not only threatening coveted research training programs, but also putting at risk a HIGHLY  significant source of revenue at universities where most graduate training occurs. They’re rolling back Obama-era protections against exploitative practices, such as those in the for-profit university sector. They’ve attacked university affirmative action practices that threaten to reverse hard-won improvements in attracting under-represented groups to advanced degree programs. They’ve even threatened the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program, affecting the over half-million current enrollees and anybody who is considering using this program in mapping out their career.

If all of this isn’t bad enough, current federal student loan policies look to be reconfigured in some way. By design, graduate students are likely to be the big losers in any loan policy restructuring.

Few could be blamed for deciding to wait for some of the dust to settle before applying.

5) Improving job market

Graduate programs have always had an ambivalent relationship with the jobs that recent college graduates hire onto. On one hand, many programs insist that their applicants have relevant work experience. On the other, graduate programs compete against employers for those very same people.

As the US unemployment rate returns to pre-Great Recession levels, the only allies graduate programs likely have in an improving economy are stagnant wages. Any wage improvement will further strain the ability of graduate programs to lure prospective students out of employment.

Summary

As Yogi Berra (probably should have) said, it seems hard to keep up with the status quo when it keeps changing. Graduate enrollment is entering a non-growth phase. Applicants, who have always been in the drivers seat simply because they choose where to apply and enroll, will have more control over their fates than ever before.

Passive recruitment practices (e.g., waiting and hoping for enough good applicants to roll in) are less and less likely to provide most graduate programs the students they want and need. This is a good time to adopt proactive recruitment practices. We recommend outreach–that you invest a little in letting people who are thinking about grad school know that your program exists. Engagement with the prospects before they even apply is not only good mentoring, it is also a proven way to successfully drive applications and enrollment.

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Tweet of the year

Same applies to graduate programs. If you’re marketing, you’re not mattering.

Market less. Mentor more.

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Applying this Fall? Know the 8 Things You Must Do This Summer

With the start of the summer officially behind us, it’s time to get serious about what you’ll be doing to prepare for application season (a.k.a. fall). If you’re applying later this year, set yourself up for success by doing these 8 things this summer. The next chapter of your life starts now!

1. First things first: create your application timeline

Even if you’re not 100% sure of all the schools you will be applying to, it can’t hurt to get an idea as to when you should be working on certain things. Grab a piece of paper and write down all of the important deadlines for the schools you might be applying to and start backing out your own deadlines from there. 

Application due early September? Make yourself a few self-imposed deadlines in July, August and September for the first few drafts of your essays and build in some time to have AT LEAST one other person read them before you submit. Break down each big scary deadline into smaller subtasks (so that you’ll actually get them done) and set smaller deadlines for yourself before the big due date. The same goes for financial aid, standardized tests (see #2) and other related deadlines.

Things to include in your timeline (for EACH school):

  • Essays
  • Transcripts
  • Recommendation letters
  • Financial Aid forms
  • Test Prep

Pro tip: Put all of your dates in a calendar and block off chunks of time leading up to each deadline. Even if you end up having to move those blocks around within a week or month, you’ll at least remember to set aside time for that task. It probably goes without saying, but also included in this category is actually doing the work and meeting said deadlines.

2. Find yourself an accountabilibuddy!

One of the main predictors of success is accountability. Not in the way your parents kept you “accountable” growing up by nagging you and punishing you – think more along the lines of someone you trust and respect to check in on you and measure your progress. Applying to grad school (and so many other things) are much easier with an accountabilibuddy!If you know someone else applying to grad school, perfect! Ask them to be yours because misery loves company they’ll know exactly what you’re going through ;). If not, ask a friend, family member or coworker who you can check in with regularly. Here are a few more tips on how to find a good accountabilibuddy.

3. Get to know the programs you’re considering

See if any admissions events are happening in your area over the summer, and plan to attend them (obviously). Connect with faculty, current students or alumni from the program by reaching out to them on Gradschoolmatch. You’ll learn more from these folks than anything you’ll ever find on a website (plus, you can ask VERY specific questions and get VERY specific answers from them!). Visit schools as well as the towns and cities where you might be living (you’ll be too pressed for time when it’s time to make a decision). TAKE NOTES! The more information you have on a program, the culture, the town, etc. when you’re applying, the better you’ll be able to write highly-tailored application essays.

4. Prepare for standardized tests

If you’re still looking to improve your score or haven’t taken these at all, it’s a good idea to use your time wisely over the next few months. Spread your studying out over a few months instead of cramming. If you decide to Prepare for standardized tests before you start applyingtake a course, find out if you can sit in on one free class to see if the curriculum works well with your learning style. If you go it alone, make sure you get organized and stay accountable to your plan (see #2). Whether you choose self-study or a course, set dates for yourself to take practice exams and get comfortable with the format. By the time you go in for the real thing, you’ll be ready to pass with flying colors.

5. Make your recommendation letter action plan

The kind folks you’re asking to write your recommendation plans are probably pretty busy and important people, and your recommendation letter is just one of the many things they have to do. Plan for this process to take a few weeks, otherwise you’ll probably end up frustrated and maybe with a few bald spots. Be respectful of their time (remember, they’re doing you a favor) and make it SUPER easy for them to get you what you need by the time you need it. Following these steps should do the trick:

Step 1: Do a little research

Talk to friends, family, coworkers, etc to uncover your strengths and unique assets. (Hopefully some of these characteristics are the same ones that the programs are looking for, but it’s good to have some that differentiate you too).

Step 2: Prepare your packet

Using what you learned from your conversations (and what you know about yourself), prepare a recommendation packet. It should outline your strengths and provide examples of instances in which you displayed that trait prominently. Ideally, it’s one your recommender could know on their own (not totally out of the blue), but may not recall off the top of their head (remember, these are busy folks). Lastly, attach your resume/CV to this document so you can provide your recommenders all of the information they’ll need.

Step 3: Meet with your recommenders

Set up a meeting to talk with them, either in person or over the phone. Explain your goals and how grad school fits into that. Helping them understand why you’re going will help them understand what to highlight in their letter. Share with them your deadline and your packet to help them prepare a strong letter of support.

Step 4: Follow up!

Follow up with them after after a few weeks. Take the pressure off them to remember your deadlines and make yourself available to answer any questions they have.

6. Organize your finances for your applications and life as a grad student

Spoiler alert: applying to grad school can be kind of expensive and the costs add up quickly. Also, grad school isn’t exactly high-living time. The goal here is 

Get all of your finances organized before you starting applying to grad school using Mint.com

to start grad school with no debt and as much savings as possible. Make a plan to pay down debt and develop a budget you can stick to this summer. Mint.com is a personal favorite to track your spending habits and set financial goals for savings and debt payment. Other people swear by You Need A Budget, so go with whichever looks best for you and your needs – just make sure you actually pick one. Pay off whatever debt you already have even faster by using an easy round-up debt payment system like Qoins. Save all you can before 

Applying is expensive! Use a financial service like ynab.com to get your finances in order before starting your applications to grad school

school since you’ll be foregoing at least 2 years of income and there’s only so much pizza you’ll want to eat while you’re getting your degree. Grad school is stressful enough on its own, so eliminating additional stress from finances is really helpful.

7. Get to know the process of requesting transcripts and submitting letters of recommendation

Little known fact: getting copies of your transcripts sent to grad programs is more annoying than you think. You don’t want to wait until the night before your application is due to do this only to find out that it will take 5 business days to deliver these. It’s an easy thing to do when you’re not hyper-stressed about applying. Find out how it works and how long it will take to get your transcripts delivered. Likewise, the process for submitting your recommendation letters could differ from school to school. The more you know, the better off you’ll be when it comes time to hit the final “Submit” button.

8. Get outside and enjoy the last few months before you start applying!  

Continue volunteering, your hobbies and everything that makes you an interesting human being. Don’t stop living and doing some of the Applying to grad school is much easier with a clear head and a full heartthings you enjoy, or you’ll burn out before you reach the finish line! Grad school applications are just the beginning; it’s going to be an intense few years, so make sure you keep your spirits up and your mind clear.

P.S. When you’re about ready to sit down and do the darn thing, read our post on how to avoid the 10 most common application mistakes. Then, go forth and prosper!

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Enrolling This Fall? Here’s What You Should Be Doing This Summer

Summer’s just around the corner and we want you to make the most of yours!

Whether you’re graduating from college or working in the real world (where summer breaks aren’t a thing anymore), you’re surely aware that summer is right around the corner. Summer means longer days, shorter nights, and that fall (aka Back-to-School season) is also on the horizon. There’s no shortage of ways and places to spend it, but here are a few things you SHOULD be doing this summer.

And so the [grad school] adventure begins

Here are 7 things you should do this summer to make starting grad school in a few months fun, exciting, and easy. 

Or at least easier – grad school isn’t supposed to be easy.

1. Stop for a moment to celebrate your accomplishments.
Take time to acknowledge your achievements and thank the people who helped you get where you are, including those who helped you get into grad school. If you just finished undergrad, use some of your newly-found free time to reconnect with friends and family (before free time is a distant memory). Make time to give thanks to your recommenders and advisors over coffee or write thank you notes (by hand). You’re about to set off in the noble pursuit of knowledge and it’s important to reflect on how you got to this point.

Celebrate your achievements

2. Take a break and be selfish.
Exercise, catch up on your favorite show (or ours), or spend time learning or perfecting your hobbies. You’re going to need good outlets for the stress that comes from being back in school and this is where healthy habits and hobbies will come in really handy. Now’s a great time to get your mind and body right for what will surely be a big transition.

3. Spend time outside.
Whether that’s at home or on vacation somewhere, enjoy the great outdoors. Depending on your degree of choice, you may be looking forward to a lot of time in the lab or in the library and you’re definitely going to need some memories of the time in your life when being outside didn’t make you feel guilty. (Plus, you’re going to need some #TBT material for those days when your current situation isn’t so great). Jokes aside, it’s incredibly important and beneficial to unplug and spend time outside. #ThisIsYourBrainOnNature

Get outside and explore!

4. Meet your classmates.
If you’re going into a bigger program, there’s a chance you’re not the only one from your city. Organize a happy hour at one of your favorite restaurants and get to know some of the people with whom you’ll be spending the next few years. You’ll be so happy you did once you need a study buddy or someone to vent to about #GradSchoolProblems.

5. Explore your new city.
If you’re moving for grad school, you may want to get there early. At the very least, visit once before school’s in session. You won’t have much time to figure everything out before you need to know it (e.g. where to study when you need a break from your cohort, where to go for late night eats after an all-nighter in the library, where to get your car fixed, or even where you’ll buy your groceries). More than that though, you should get to know what makes your town special! You won’t get to uncover these unique gems when you’re facing deadlines and cramming for tests and you’ll be able to better enjoy the city for what it is before the stress and assignments begin. Make technology work for you and start exploring!

Get to know your new city.

6. Read for fun.
And enjoy that freedom while you can because soon you will be inundated with articles and books that you won’t exactly get to choose. If you’ve forgotten what “reading for fun” is, here’s a list to get you started (which happens to include my favorite, A Man’s Search for Meaning)DO NOT try to get a jump start on your grad school reading! You’ll only burn yourself out before the hard work even begins and you’re going to need all that enthusiasm and stamina to get you through the hard days.

7. Get all the real life, adult stuff out of the way.
Ya, this one’s not so fun, but I wish someone had told me this before grad school. It’s a pain in the butt to find all new doctors, optometrists, dentists, mechanics, etc, in a new place and you won’t want to wait until it’s “do or die”. Make sure your finances are in order and that you’ll be able to bank from wherever you’re headed. If you’re taking a car, make sure your insurance covers you in your new city/state or start the process of getting new insurance. Do all of these things before you take off. I promise it will make your life in a new place THAT much easier.

Adulting is hard, we know.

Bonus: if you already know where you’re going to live, schedule your utilities/cable start date and set up mail forwarding so you have one less thing to worry about. #ResponsibleAdulting

Drop us a line (or two or three) and let us know what your plans are for the summer and where you’re heading to school. We’ll air high-five you from Atlanta and we may even have a celebratory drink on your behalf. 😉

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People research their grad school options for a long time

How long do people research their grad school options? If you ever wondered, now we have an answer for you, from some data we’ve managed to wrestle out of our system. The average person spends about 18 months researching where to go to graduate school for their masters degree or doctorate. Half take longer than that.

time spent researching grad school options
The average and median time spent researching grad school options is 18 months

Let’s give that some perspective. “Time to decision” is the bane of every academic’s existence. That’s the period between when you submit an article to a journal to when the journal accepts (or rejects) it for publication. Good journals tend to be pretty quick…they’ll take about a month for time to decision. It’s not unheard of for other journals to take as long as 3 months.

The average future grad students tends to take about 6 times longer to make up his/her mind about their grad school options then the worst least author-centered academic journal.

Whereas slow academic journals have process problems, the extended timeline for future grad students is almost certainly driven by uncertainty. They won’t make that decision until they’ve convinced themselves its in their best interests. As they should. They’ll know the right program when they find it.

The take home message: Graduate student recruitment is a long game that rewards the patient mentor, while punishing the quick turn marketer

The Gradschoolmatch hypothesis is not really complicated. When program experts reach out to prospects to explore whether there is a fit, they convey expert advice. Those prospects learn more quickly. That one-to-one interaction provides the help they need to shorten their timeline to a decision.

That’s just not something marketing can do.

Be human. Be yourself. Market less. Mentor more.

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