Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Grad School Family Series: Choosing a School

I wanted to write this series for a while...like two years, and just now I'm getting around to it.

I'm actually really excited for this. I was reading a blog a few weeks ago about how mommy blogs only write about what their kids are doing and not about their lives. Well, this was a huge chunk of my life for the last two years. I'm really proud of it, and I've learned so much, and I really want to put something on the internet that says, being married in grad school can be awesome.

I just want to start and say Matt and I are so happy - like legitimately content and at peace with our lives. 
That is such a relief to us because, according to the internet, 
happiness + graduate school + family = misery and impending doom. 

There are so many articles about divorce rates, cheating, eternal debt, and insurmountable stress during graduate school, and very few about families enjoying those years.

This was awful for me to read right after we got married. I swore if this whole grad school thing worked out, that I would write something positive on the internet about families and grad school. So here's me carrying our what I promised myself a year ago.

So here we go...

I started to look into graduate schools a year before Matt's applications were due.
As I said, the whole idea of grad school stressed me out, and around this time, I was debating if I wanted to go to grad school, work, or have an offspring, so I started looking into the process of choosing a grad school.

The first thing we did was make a list of things that were important to us.

List of things that are important for grad school
A good education
A livable stipend
Cheap housing
Reasonable health insurance
Doable work expectations
A few potential advisers
Trader Joe's, Cheesecake factory, and mall within 10 miles
Private school that was not in California

After we did that, I spent 4 months screening the top 50 schools for our requirements, while Matt studied for the GRE and subject GRE. I had found a timeline for him to follow kind of like this. (We used MIT's chemistry one, but apparently they took it down.) This actually didn't take much time. Many of the schools, I could cross off within a minute or two.

By May, we had his chem GRE score and he was just about to take the general GRE.
At this point, I knew he had a good shot of getting in almost anywhere.
(Gradcafe was so much help for this. We used their results page to figure this out.)

I submitted to him 15 schools that we could afford and had a TJ, Cheesecake factory and mall near by.
From those, he picked 9 of these.

Harvard, MIT, Yale, University of Wisconsin, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern, and Scripps were our final 9.

While Matt slaved over his personal statements, school, and research, I hammered out detailed budgets for each of these schools. I found each school's stipend, along with reasonable housing options, health insurance, standard cost of food according to local grocery ads, and car and renters insurance. I also started to see what it would be like to live in these places the best I could without actually going there.

We wrote the mock budgets on the white board in our room, debating pros and cons of each school.
In the end, Matt only applied to six of these, and he got into all six.

At this point, I stopped caring about which one he picked. I knew I could be happy at each of these places and that we would be fine as a family (Here's the blog post about how I saw myself living at Princeton). The final choice was completely up to Matt, which of course in the end he chose Princeton. 

The reason I tell this story is all of this pre-work of choosing a school has greatly reduced the stress of living here. The mock budget we had made up over a year ago, we now follow almost to a t. When we found out our housing prices were going up, we were pretty prepared for it, and with a slight tweaking of our projected budget, we're going to be fine.

 On top of that, all those places that I mentioned in this blog post, I have been to dozens of times. I was sure that even if I didn't make a single friend here, I would at least have good food to eat and lots of free places to go. That has been a lifesaver on many occasions when Goobie and I get bored. We mall walked many times during the winter and many of our family dates are to local free events that I had looked into before we came. People made fun of me for my superficial list of stores, but I knew Matt was going to live in a lab no matter what school he went to. I was the one that would have to live with the city or town we were going to live in, so I made sure that at least my favorite stores would be around. :)

So here is what I'm thinking for this series
Choosing a school
Our budget
Buying furniture and clothes
Menu planning and food management
Shopping for food
Affording a baby
Making friends
Family Time

I hope you all find something to take from this. I've learned so much through this process.

1 comment:

  1. Michele, you are brilliant! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and information. This weekend I'll begin to look into potential grad schools that Ben might attend and you are so organized and thorough that it will be a great huge help to me! I could use all the advice and stories of experience you have to give. I think it's so coincidental and funny that you happen to be putting this together EXACTLY when I'm starting to do it myself! Thank you again for sharing this with the world! <3