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One of my cousins is heading to a Seven Sisters college this fall. I am unbelievably excited for her. When we were little, I’d braid her hair and play dress-up. One summer, we made tents in the family room with chairs and sheets, and “camped” at night. How the years have flown.

In college, I didn’t have a good idea of details of personal finance and investing – all I knew was to spend less than I made. I had an emergency credit card that Mom cosigned. Senior year, I got my own credit card to begin establishing credit. I worked part-time as a research assistant, and I was fortunate enough that the money I made can be used for discretionary purchases.

There weren’t that many things I would’ve changed in college, but if I can go back in time and counsel my 18-year-old self, this is what I would’ve done a little differently:

1. Opened a Roth IRA earlier. It would be nice to have another thousand or two in Roth right now. Although I can’t feel too badly about this one. I opened, and maxed out a Roth the first year I was able to. Frankly, despite PF tributes to the amazing wonders of compound interest, there’s usually not a huge difference if you started saving at 20 vs. 25, especially if most kids have only savings in the hundreds or low thousands. Earlier is better, sure, but it’s definitely not an insurmountable amount.

2. Valued money less. Let me explain: in college I won a fellowship to study in Europe for a summer. While I was there, I had the chance to visit a friend in London. I didn’t take that trip because I thought it would’ve cost too much. If I can go back, I’d hop on a plane in a heartbeat. That’s not a mistake I lose any sleep over, exactly, but I knew it would’ve been a great, great experience with a good friend that now I’m no longer close to.

3. Taken even more time to get to know professors as people – as really successful, top-of-their-field professionals who have found their calling and who somehow manage to be good and genuine at the same time. One of my professors still give me alumni contacts when I have questions, and wrote me a thank-you card for a measly $10 donation that I made. Another one of my professor is a phenomenal woman who speaks 5 languages, has 3 kids, and is by far one of the most eloquent and thoughtful speakers I’ve ever known.

4. Stop stressing out so much. I once called Mom in tears because I was certain that I failed an economics exam (luckily, I didn’t). But in the grand schemes of things, feeling stupid because I didn’t understand a lesson or feeling bad because I got a B+ on a presentation when I expected at least an A- or feeling worried because I had the worst registration time in my class didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had amazing classroom experiences, did to the best of my abilities, and made some really good friends.

5. Taken more time to ponder. Think about not just how do I make a living, but also, how do I live a life. In between the classes and internships, I wish I would’ve spent just a bit more time thinking about the “bigger questions”: What kind of person do I want to be? How do I define success? And how can I achieve it? What do I need to do to build the best life that I can?

College has taught me a lot. But as I’m discovering, many of the lessons it is still teaching require perspective to appreciate and understand. As I move farther away from my college experience, I imagine I’ll be learning that much more.

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When I was preparing for my test, I’d frequently go to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Starbucks, or Borders to study.

Often I would be too distracted to study at home. The libraries around my apartment would close at in the early evenings… that’s way too early considering I usually got my studying in between 9PM and 11PM.

At $3-$6 a sitting (I’d usually get a drink, sometimes I’d splurge for a sandwich), these study sessions aren’t cheap. I went out to study at least once or twice a week. Assuming an average expenditure of $10-$20 a week, I was spending $50-$80 a month on coffee drinks alone!

I don’t know how I got into studying at coffee shops – it’s a habit that started in high school when I first started cramming for statistics at a Starbucks.

Mentally tallying up all the coffee money I’ve spent in the name of studying…. wow, must’ve been in the hundreds.

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Or, all the money that went to College Board / ETS and GMAC over the years.

As a veteran standardized-test-taker who have recently (and happily) said goodbye to standardized tests, I’ve decided to take reader S’s suggestion and tally up all the money that went into this little 1-person enterprise of standardized test-taking.

The numbers will be an approximation (to the best of my memory + googling) for the tests I took in high school.

  • 10th grade: PSAT:
    Cost to take: $10-$14 (?)
  • 10th-12th grade: Advanced Placement Tests (5 total)
    Cost to take: $135 each = $675 total
  • 11th grade: SAT I (taken twice – I might be showing my age, but when I took it the full score was 1600, not 2400)
    Cost to take: $25 each = $50 total
    Cost to send top score to colleges (12 colleges) = $8 each = $96 total
    Test-Prep: $0 – my high-school counselor somehow got me into a class that a prep organization was doing as a pro-bono project.
  • 11th grade: SAT II (3 tests, each taken twice)
    Cost to take: $25 each = $150 total
    Cost to send 3 top scores to schools: $8 each = $18 total
    Test Prep: $500-$1,000? I was sent to tutoring every day after school for a couple of months.
  • Post-college: GMAT (taken twice)
    Cost to take: $250 each = $500 total
    Test Prep: ~$1,800 – this includes a formal 9 week prep class and a couple of additional workshops.

Adding up all the numbers… comes to out to around $4,000. Just on testing and test-prep alone.

There are some people who are innately good at standardized tests. They study for two weeks and get a 99.999th percentile on the first try. They are the ones who get 780s on GMATs and 176s on LSATs. (Yes, I know people like them. I try not to hate too much. 😉 ).

Then there are people who really struggle with standardized testing in general – they may be very smart individuals who are just not good at these types of tests.

I think I fall somewhere in the middle – I usually score better than median on the diagnostic just as a benefit of the education I have received to date (and as an avid reader my verbal skills tends to rank fairly high off the bat), but I definitely need to study over a consistent period of time to get a good score.

That’s where test preparation (and the financial resources it required) has helped me a great deal.

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Parting is such sweet sorrow – except in this case.

Finally took my test today.

Before the test and during breaks, I kept repeating to myself – just do what you know how to do. I knew that if I just did the questions that I know how to do – if I just performed at my ability, I’ll get a score I’m happy with.

And I did. 95th percentile! Not the 98th or 99th percentile that I know people gun for, and frankly I could’ve gotten a few percentiles higher in the Verbal section (although I did much better in Quant than I thought I would) – but you know what, it’s okay. I’m truly happy with what I got.

Hey, I won’t be lowering the average of any school. 🙂 This brings me a HUGE sigh of relief. The score is good for five years, so I won’t have to worry about it again.

Speaking of standardized testing, it’s been a long road paved with study guides, prep books, and three-ring-binders full of notes and practice problems…

Here are all the standardized tests I’ve taken throughout the years (not including state-mandated testing):

  • 10th grade: PSAT, AP European History
  • 11th grade: SAT (twice), SAT II Math Level I (twice), SAT II Writing (twice), SAT II US History (twice), AP US History, AP Statistics, AP English Language
  • 12th grade: AP English Literature, AP Calculus AB
  • College: Blissful, standardized-test-free four years
  • Post-college: GMAT (twice)

Now I’m DONE. Standardized tests, we’ve had our time together, but it’s time to part ways. Truly.

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Circle O (see below) has center O, diameter AB and a radius of 6. Line CD is parallel to the diameter.

What is the perimeter of the shaded region?circle1

The perimeter will be the length of the arc CAE and the line segments CB and EB.

Calculate arc CAE

Step 1: Angle X = 30 degrees, because they are alternate interior angles

Step 2: Angle CBE = 2X = 2*30 degrees = 60 degrees

Step 3: Angle COE = 120 degrees because COE is a corresponding angle of the inscribed angle CBE. Corresponding angles = 2x inscribed angle’s measure

Step 4: arc = (120 degrees / 360 degrees) * circumference = 1/3 * 2(radius)pi = 1/3 * (2)(6)pi = 4pi

Calculate lines CB and EB

Step 1: Triangle ACB is a 30-60-90 triangle because one it’s in a semicircle. Angle C = 90 degrees.

Step 2: 30-60-90 triangle = x – rad3(x) – 2x

Step 3: line segment CB is opposite 60 degrees, so the length is radical3(x) = radical3(6)

Step 4: line segment EB is the same as CB, so EB = radical3(6)

Add them together:

perimeter of shaded region = 4pi + radical3(6) + radical3(6)

perimeter of shaded region = 4pi + 12 radical3

*after the timed practice test & looked at my notes, but still. I RULE (for one, brief, shining moment).

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Can I say blah?

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately.

I feel tired and frustrated. Most days I battle the twin evils of wanting to go to bed at 8PM and the guilt of not-studying. You’d think it’d all be easier if I’d just STUDY, right?

Right.

It was so easy in college. ALL I had to do was to study and do fun extracurricular activities. Sigh. This is another reason why I don’t consider a part-time program – working and studying for the GMAT is unpleasant enough, I can’t imagine what it’d be like working 8+ hours a day and then going to a class on Modeling Consumer Behavior for 3 more hours.

Okay. I’m going to quit complaining and hit the books.

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I’ve been spending a lot of money at Starbucks, where I study. (<– see how the “where I study” is correctly modifying “Starbucks”?)

I’ve been interested to see all the changes that Starbucks has been going through: the closing of hundreds of stores, the introduction of a membership card and the same-day coupon, and the offering of new summer drinks. (<– again, can we just note the parallelism of the sentence and the correct use of the colon?)

Anyhow, I LOVE the new Pinkberry Sorbetto. If I’m going to study, I might as well have something yummy to drink! But I miss the availability of a free study place. Oh to be a college student again.

P.S. Lately, I’ve felt that I don’t have much to write about… because nothing different is happening in my financial life. So if you have any suggestions for blog posts, please let me know. Maybe I’ll be inspired. 🙂

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