Style: 2017 Backpack Picks

Apparently now that I’m going to graduate school I need to do things like study and carry around textbooks. I was very disappointed when I saw that my econ textbook is the standard gigantic and expensive disaster that you think of when you hear someone mention college textbooks. I still have my backpack from undergrad but I’m not all that interested in using it. It’s a trusty old North Face that I bought in 2009, and on day one I packed a yogurt which, of course, burst and flooded the front pocket with fruity goo.

Here are some of the backpacks that I’m interested in purchasing.

  • North Face Jester in Black: I like the idea of getting another North Face because I know that it will hold up. This one is small, but big enough for a laptop and textbooks, and the $65 price point is great.
  • Herschel Little America in Windsor Wine and Tan: I love Herschel backpacks. They started to become a thing when I was still in undergrad and I was really interested in getting one, but didn’t see the point since I was graduating. I think that this one is super pretty, but I am a little bit concerned about the lack of zippers.

  • Rebecca Minkoff Julian Velvet in Pink: I probably won’t buy this because it’s out of my budget, but the color is perfect and I’m amongst the many humans who are obsessed with velvet right now. A girl can dream!
  • Herschel Dawson in Black: Another neat option from Herschel. I love black fabric and leather together as well as the big pockets. Why are these bags so cute??

  • Vera Bradley Iconic Campus Backpack in Grey: Vera Bradley is one of my favorite brands but I haven’t been a fan of their patterns in recent years. I like this bag because Vera Bradley uses quality materials, and the neutral color scheme really stands out. This backpack is in my top three for 2017.
  • JanSport Cool Student in Black and Tan: As an older student, I have fond memories of JanSport bags. I remember suddenly noticing that everyone I knew had a JanSport bag and excitedly getting one the next year. Looking at them now I feel a little silly, especially since the price point is comparably low, but they bring back memories and they’ve been around for years, so they must be a trustworthy brand.

Do you think you’ll purchase one of these bags? Do you have a go-to brand at back to school time? I am so excited to make this decision!


Summer Goals Update

Earlier this summer I made two posts with goals for the summer. The first was travel related and the second was related to personal goals. Since the end of July is coming up quick, I wanted to check-in on my goals to see what I have accomplished, what is still manageable, and what will probably need to be pushed back to next year.

For travel, my five goals were to go hiking at Devil’s Lake, get drunk in a cabin with friends, visit Door County, explore a new cave, and visit Canada. I have done 2/5, hiking at Devil’s Lake and getting drunk in a cabin with friends. Both were lovely experiences. I will not be able to go to Door County or Canada this summer, so I will save those for my 2018 summer bucket list. I will be traveling in August so will check with friends and family to see if anyone would like to check out a cave.

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As far as my personal goals, I wanted to break even on my net worth, lose 15 pounds, spend more time with friends, read a book, and prepare to do well in school. Since this section is a little bit longer, I’ll break each one down a bit more.

  1. Break even on net worth: I don’t think that I will be able to accomplish this goal. My networth was -4k at the beginning of summer and is now -3k. I’m a little bummed out, but I am glad I have made progress. I will keep working toward this goal in August and try to get as close as I can. However, I don’t have a job anymore so there is no way that I am going to be able to pay bills, pay for life, and pay off $3k in debt.
  2. Lose 15 pounds: I have not lost any weight but I have been maintaining which is a positive. I no longer have access to a gym and would like to find a way to work out in August. I actually feel pretty good physically so I am not super worried about losing weight at the moment.
  3. Spend more time with friends: I have spent a lot of time with wonderful people this summer. I have made more of an effort to be in touch with my closer friends, and have had lunches/coffee with people who I care about. I can’t spend all my time with everyone which is a bummer, but it’s been really nice to connect this summer.
  4. Read a book: I have read TWO books 😀 – I would like to finish the book that I am currently reading and find another good one or two to read while I am traveling.
  5. Prepare to do well in school: I have been medium on this. I’ve had a lot of anxiety about starting school but am starting to get it together. Mostly I need to get started on my summer math prep class so that I don’t fail stats this fall.

Lovely lovely. How are you doing on your summer goals?

The Grad School Series: Taking the GRE

One of the questions that I get asked the most about applying to grad school is, “How did you prepare for the GRE?” While I don’t think one way to prepare for the GRE that will work for everyone, I’m happy to share my experience and give some general tips and tricks.


Though I wasn’t 100% sure that I wanted to go to grad school last year, I noted when doing research which of the schools I was applying to required the GRE (all of them) and what the average scores were for each school. I knew right away that I would need to take the GRE but was assured by my friends who had applied that none of the schools I was interested in required impossibly high scores. After doing a little research, I noted that each of the schools required average reading/writing scores and below average math scores. Phew.

Graduate School GRE Score Research

Different schools listed their scores differently. Some listed the actual average score of the students they admitted, and others listed the average percentile. There are several websites that have fortunately done the work of converting the scores to percentiles and vice versa, for those of us who, you know, score below average in quant.

Once I knew that the schools required the GRE and what kind of scores I should shoot for, I started to look into what the GRE actually is. I knew that it was a test, but I had no idea what kind of material it covered, where to take it, what it cost, etc. Research was necessary.

The GRE is a standardized test required by most graduate schools. It measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. There are hundreds of locations around the country that administer the test (as well as other tests required by universities and professions) and they charge $200 to do so. In general, the tests shows that you can get it together enough to schedule, show up for, and sit through a long and tedious exam.


If you’re looking into and setting up your GRE exam a month before grad school applications are due, it’s already too late. It is important to give yourself time to schedule the exam, prepare for the exam, take the exam, and time for your scores to be transferred to and received by your schools. You may want to include an additional month (at the least) in case you do not do well and need to retake the exam. A good, safe GRE timeline is six months. A  pushing it timeline is three months. Less than that, and you’ll have to take what you get. 


I started studying the summer before I took the GRE, but I didn’t study consistently. The first thing that I did was turn to the commonly used vocabulary words sections and make notecards for any of the words I didn’t know. I flipped through them a couple times, but I have to say that I didn’t pick up very many words that I didn’t already know through the course of studying.

The next thing that I did was study test taking strategies. The strategies were helpful and I had never previously learned them or used them in a methodological way. I’m guessing that a lot of students learn these when taking the ACT/SAT in high school, but since I didn’t take those exams they were new to me. Some of the key strategies that I practiced were skipping questions, how to use scratch paper, elimination, ranking remaining answers, and using what you know about the remaining answers to make a decision. These were all helpful tools and are explained more in the books I’ll link to at the end of this section.

I focused the rest of my time (the month leading up to the exam) practicing math. I started at the very beginning of the math section of the book I was using and worked my way through. I did not have a very difficult time and felt fairly confident that I would do well.

About a week before the test, I started too look up examples of essays for the analytical writing section. I found it most helpful to look at essays that scored a 6, 5, 4, etc, to see what higher scoring essays had that lower scoring essays did not. It takes some time to understand what the differences are, but it starts to make more sense as you spend more time reading them and look at responses to different questions.

For practice, I used the following books.

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I also used the practice tests that are located on the GRE website. I printed them out and wrote ALL OVER the paper. I recommend using the practice tests on the website as they are previous questions and are most likely to reflect what you’ll see on the exam.


Taking the test ended up being a lot different from what I expected. I arrived at the testing center early. I realized when I got there that I had forgotten something at home that I needed afterwards and I called my mom to ask her to bring it to me. When I notified the prison guard working at the front desk (actually a nice 80 year old woman) that my mom would be dropping something off for me, she pretty much lost her mind and thought I was the most suspicious person on earth. Don’t follow my example.

Aside from that, the check in process was fairly easy. You check in and are assigned a locker where you are required to put all of your non-clothes belongings including watches, FitBits, and phones. If you have snacks, you’re allowed to leave them in a little kitchenette/locker area. I left my snacks (cuties and hershey’s kisses) here along with bottled water and chapstick.

Next you go into a room where they double check your identity, pat you down, and scan you with a metal detector. Real cool. They give you paper and you are reminded to be as quiet as possible while you are in the testing room. Then they take you to your chair and let you get started.

I don’t 100% remember the structure of the test but it was different from what I expected. There were several sections and it seemed to take much longer than I thought it would. I was extra upset when another math section popped up when I thought I had already completed the math sections.

The vocabulary sections were quick. They go by very fast and it is a little nerve wracking because in my case, I either knew them or I didn’t. I don’t like guessing.

The math sections were completely different from what I had prepared myself for. They were a lot uglier on the computer screen than they would have been written typed out on a sheet of paper. The formatting was weird. They were more complex than I expected. I probably got half right on each section.

The writing section was fine. You are given two essays to write. I highly recommend using your scratch paper to make an outline before starting and saving time to go back to edit / fluff with extra detail after initially finishing.

When I was done, I was done. I saw my scores for math and vocab and I was horrified.


I am not overly proud of my results and I know that there are things I could have done differently in order to do better. I also know that I could have tried to take the exam again to try for a better score. However, I also think it’s important that we share our experiences and be honest so that other people have realistic expectations.

public policy GRE scores

All of my scores were below average for the schools that I was interested in attending.  I was really upset and grumpy and cried to everyone around me about how I wouldn’t have a future. (Remember, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to go to grad school before I started this process.) A family member offered to pay for me to retake the test, but I wasn’t sure that I would do any better and I knew the results wouldn’t get to the schools in time. I decided to only apply to my top two schools, and I curbed my expectations by telling myself that it was very likely that I would not get into either.

I was very happy when I was accepted into both.


If you want to go to grad school, you have to take the GRE. How you do on the GRE is completely subjective and does not determine whether or not you will be a good graduate student. In my case, it didn’t even impact my acceptance. As far as I can tell, the only draw back is that I will not be receiving funding for grad school. On the other hand, if I do well my first year there will be plenty of opportunities to earn scholarships/financial support for my second year.

If your scores are due in December, I recommend the following timeline.

May – June: Research schools, find out if you need to take the GRE, figure out what scores they require.
July – September: Study regularly. Start learning new vocabulary. Take practice tests to get an idea of what you’ll score.
September: Schedule and pay for an exam in October.
October: Study daily, take the exam. If you don’t do well, immediately schedule a second exam.
November: Take a second exam if necessary. Make sure the schedule allows for the scores to be received by the application due date. Add an extra week in to be safe.

Please let me know if you have any other questions about the process, or any tips and tricks you would like to share.