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A Grad Student’s Guide to Going Back to School

Contemplating heading back to university for grad school? This blog breaks down the obvious and hidden costs while providing tips to manage the change.


Here I go again!

Just when I thought I was done with being a student, I’m heading back to university, but this time as a business grad student at the University of Calgary.

Back in June 2020, I made the decision I wanted to go back to school to complete my Master’s Degree in Business Administration. This decision is one I didn’t make lightly as it comes with some big costs, sacrifices, and a lot of life changes. From the moment I made the decision to accept my spot into grad school, I spent many hours thinking about why I wanted to do this, what I wanted to get out of it, researching various schools, studying for the entrance exam, preparing my applications, and doing interviews.

After being out of school for so long you forget about how much time and money it takes to even just apply.

3 things to know before applying to grad school

This new adventure hasn’t come without some big changes. I’m living in a new city, balancing work and my studies, and managing the pressures of increased financial demands. Depending on your situation, you might find yourself in a similar situation. But if it’s the right path for you and something you are determined to do, then in the end, its worth it.

Here are three questions that helped me determine that this was the right path, complete my applications, and prepare for all the changes that were about to come:

  1. What are the financial demands?

To put this simply – graduate programs are expensive! However, every program and school are different and there are many options available to lessen the financial load. It’s important that you understand what to expect for tuition, student fees, books, etc. so that you know what supports you might need and how much you’ll need to save.

  1. What’s my why?

On top of the financial demands of a graduate program, they are also quite intensive and require a lot of time in and out of class. Knowing your “why” will ensure going back to school is the right decision for you, assist in choosing what classes you want to take and help give you that push to study when your motivation is running low.

  1. What program is right for me?

There are endless options when choosing a program. Once you choose a discipline, you’ll also have to map out your specialization or focuses, executive programs, accelerated programs, part-time/full-time course load, etc. Make sure to do your research and tailor this experience to you.

Costs to consider

When I was thinking of going back to school, I immediately considered all the obvious costs like tuition, books, and student fees. What I didn’t expect were all the expenses that would come before I even got in. According to Stats Canada, on average a Master’s in Business Administration costs roughly $27,000 and that only includes tuition. In the table below, I break down my expenses from applications to tuition.

 

Note: My program is accelerated meaning it has fewer classes. If I was applying for a typical MBA at this school, the total costs would be approximately $7,000 more.

On top of the costs that come with school, I also had to consider the costs that would come with this big life change. Including:

  1. Moving to a new city
  2. Lost income

Not being from Calgary meant I would be moving. These costs include rent or the purchase of a new house, moving costs to rent a U-Haul, packing boxes, and all the fees that come with it. For some, it will also mean lost income. For full-time programs, you are typically required to take three classes at a time and they tend to be during the day, making it much more difficult to work.

Tips on managing the costs

While all the expenses outlined above can seem overwhelming, there are lots of resources available to support students:

  1. Look into scholarships and grants – do this early and do your research!
  2. Employer education programs – talk with your employer to see if they offer any supports to employees looking to further their education.
  3. Student financing options – such as student loans or student lines of credit.
  4. Personal savings – if you can, start putting money away each month into a savings account.
  5. Look into part-time programs or executive programs – both are designed to allow students to work while completing the program.
  6. Ask yourself, where can I start cutting costs now to save more? Consider your wants versus needs.

In the long run, depending on your career goals, going back to school is worth it. But it doesn’t come without an adjustment period. Just remember, make sure you understand the financial demands, know your why, and do your research to find the right program for you.

Recovering Canceled Travel Costs During COVID-19

This year travel came with all the stress and none of the excitement. For many, it meant cancelled trips, leaving most feeling disappointed, concerned and wondering about refunds. After months of planning your dream vacation or weekend getaway, you are now having to spend months scrambling to recoup costs. Here’s some of the best ways – and how to make the most of staying home!


Cancelling a trip due to COVID-19

Let’s be honest, 2020 hasn’t gone as planned for anyone. Especially those who finally saved enough in their piggy banks to take their dream trip. Unless you were lucky enough to travel in January or February,  you’ve spent 2020 cancelling travel plans and refreshing refund policy web pages for updates on how you will recoup your costs. I was a part of the group who were hopeful for a travel resurgence in the Fall and Winter seasons who are now realizing our trips are suffering the same fate as those who booked in the first half of the year.

Travel is exciting and fun but it can also be stressful and a lot of work to plan but typically it is always worth the work. *sighs* But when you throw in a global pandemic, now the time you took to plan the perfect getaway is being rewarded with more work to undo it with the hopes of losing the least amount of money as possible. Navigating refunds from travel plans you’ve spent months assembling can be overwhelming and tough. Here’s what I’ve learned is the best way to recoup these costs:

Flights & Accommodations

For the travel and hospitality industry, COVID-19 has posed as a huge threat. Many flight and travel companies are having to rethink and change their policies to accommodate the safety of their guests and staff, but also the influx in cancellations. Travel service providers, hotels and rental companies worked quickly to address the impacts of COVID-19, posting information and making updates as new information was communicated. Luckily, most made the right decision to shift to more relaxed and flexible refund policies.

With so much information being shared it can be overwhelming. A resource that I found particularly helpful was this article that outlines the  current policies for major airlines, hotels and rental companies.

Another great place to start is to review your travel insurance, if you had any, the terms and conditions of your booking and refund policies. This will help you understand if you need to talk to someone or if you can easily cancel online. If you are having issues finding this information in your booking documents, visit the company’s website. Most companies have created a “COVID-19 Updates” page on their website, making it easy to find the information you need. Finally, if all else fails, pick up the phone and call them. They’ll be able to bring up your information and communicate their refund policies. Plus, many times these agents will be trained to offer exceptions, personalized solutions and even future discounts in order to rectify a situation so sometimes it pays to talk to someone directly.

Tickets

I’m guessing that if you booked an expensive getaway, you likely had some things planned in your destination. Whether it is sports games, concert tickets, art shows and all things in between – most of these attractions would have been purchased in advance. If it’s a concert, you might get lucky as many artists are just postponing shows to the following year instead of cancelling. However, if it’s a sports event or show it might look a little different.  Here are some of the most common ticket sale channels and how to recoup costs:

  1. StubHub
  2. Ticketmaster
  3. Vivid Seats

If you booked tickets outside of these services or you didn’t find any luck through these resources – give them a call. Like I mentioned before, many service providers understand the threat of substitutes in their industry and any unsatisfied customer is a risk to the main thing that keeps them afloat: their reputation. Pick up the phone and explain your situation to them – chances are they will work with you to ensure you leave the conversation satisfied.

Staycation anyone?

Although it hasn’t felt like anything good can come from 2020, life is what you make it! I’m sure you just rolled your eyes a little bit, but I mean it. I once heard that if you want to make progress, you need to create an uncomfortable environment. I don’t know about you, but 2020 has made me pretty uncomfortable. So let’s lean into it and make the best of what life has thrown our way. You know what they say, when life gives you a global pandemic and takes away your dream vacation, make lemonade by turning it into a Saskatchewan Staycation!

Staycation

This new normal has provided perspective and has shown us – it’s okay to slow down.

So, use your vacation days and take some much needed R&R to yourself. Sleep in, read a good book, binge watch that Netflix show, order in from your favourite local spot and truly disconnect from the chaos of the world. If this is exactly what you did during quarantine and your house is feeling like a prison – this is a great opportunity to explore Saskatchewan.

Travel within Saskatchewan 

Saskatchewan is often overlooked because we’re small and don’t have the mountains. As someone who is born and raised in Regina, I even find myself overlooking my own province – thinking ‘I’ve seen it all’ or going back to the same spots because they are familiar.

When we travel, something takes over and we are more open to trying new things and exploring, so I challenge you to take that challenge and go explore the province! I dare you to reacquaint yourself with those little forgotten gems or find somewhere new. Last summer we posted a MONEYTALK blog that helps you travel Saskatchewan on a budget. Just because travel is restricted doesn’t mean you are fenced in to your own backyard.

When you travel within Saskatchewan, you aren’t just exploring something new, you are also helping to fuel our economy. COVID-19 has had major impacts on our economy, by staying and travelling in our own province, you are helping to improve this.

Here are some other great resources on recouping costs and travel information:

What to know about credit card chargebacks

Government of Canada: Travel and Tourism