Yesterday I began posting my Q&A with Matthew Boutte, who has just completed his first year at Georgetown Law. In today’s installment, Matt shares his experience when it comes to managing finances, living in Gewirz, and maintaining a work/life balance.5. How are you managing the financial burden of law school education?
a. How are you funding it?
I had saved up a good amount of money, which got me through all of about half a year. My parents have also been loaning me money. I’ve made up the difference with federal student loans. There are basically three levels of loans: $8,500 at 6.8% with interest beginning to accrue after graduation, $12,000 at 6.8% interest accruing immediately, and up to $47,500 at 7.9% interest accruing immediately. [Note: The federal students loans Matt is talking are only open to Americans. If you’re an international student, none of what he just said applied to you.] This year I was able to cover everything with my savings, my parents lending me money, and the $8,500 and $12,000 federal loans. My goal was to not have to take any of the money at 7.9% interest, so I was glad to accomplish that.
I was a math major, so I spent quite a bit of time thinking through the money and the loans before committing. I made a big amortization spreadsheet that has been really helpful and would be happy to share with you if you’d like. I’ve been really surprised with how many people didn’t spend any time thinking about these things before starting, which I think is pretty foolish. It’s a lot of money and times are hard so a lot of people aren’t finding jobs. There have been a lot of articles in major newspapers this year about law school costs, debt, and employment prospects. It’s pretty scary stuff if you don’t have a plan and know what you’re getting yourself into.
Looking forward, I’ve been lucky enough to land a paid job that pays well and will last for the next two years of law school – full time during the summer and part time during the year. It should be enough so that I won’t have to take any of the 7.9% interest loans for all of law school, which I’m happy about.
b. How are you minimizing your variable costs while living in DC?
I’m not a budgeting fanatic, planning out how much I’ll spend per month per category or anything like that. I’m also not a big spender in general. But what I did this year was to keep track of every penny I spent. And I mean every penny. Mostly just as a way to keep track of how much money I spend on different things. It’s pretty eye opening and can lead to some helpful changes. For me, it was realizing how much money I was spending eating out first semester. So I ate out a bit less the second semester.
Keeping track of every penny was also helpful to see if I was staying under their suggested budget for the year. I was easily able to stay under their budget for the year by about $4,000 or $5,000, which was nice. And that was with going home to California three times during the year and up to New York for a few days for a vacation. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to stay even further under their suggested budget during my second and third year because Gewirz is a rip off. (It has it’s pros and cons. One of the cons is definitely the cost. But more on Gewirz later.) I’m living in a great place now and will be paying significantly less than Gewirz.
One thing that saved me a bunch of money was collecting the 20% off coupons for Bed, Bath & Beyond from friends and family before coming out to DC. They’re great. They’ll take them after they expire and you can use one for each item. There’s a BB&B right near campus, so it’s super convenient too. I think you can find the coupons online and print them out. It saved me a good amount on move in expenses.
6. How do you feel about your dorm experience?
a. Why did you choose to live there?
The pros for Gewirz are the convenience and the socialization. Different people handle walking in the snow or the humidity differently, but no one likes it. There’s nothing like being able to roll out of bed a few minutes before class and only having to spend 30 seconds in the freezing cold or in the swamp. Your classmates who live off campus will be jealous, even the ones who say they “couldn’t live in a dorm again.” And, for the record, it isn’t a dorm. It’s basically an on campus apartment.
Georgetown has a great orientation program at the beginning of the year, but it’s only a week long and then you’ll be starting class with 120 other section mates, most of whom you won’t know or recognize. Being in Gewirz is awesome for meeting other people and making friends. I know quite a few people who lived off campus, some quite a far away, and were pretty lonely. You can still meet people and go out and do things, it’s just that much more work.
Some of the negatives in addition to the cost are that the quality of the space and the furnishings is relatively low (except the desk, because it’s huge) and that it’s really dusty.
Overall, Gewirz was great for my first year and I would totally do it again. There are some 1L’s who apply to live there during their 2L year. I wouldn’t do that. It’s great for the first year, after that, no so much.
b. What were your start-up costs like?
I came all the way from California, so I didn’t bring much. Basically just two suitcases of clothes. I got almost everything at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I was also lucky because my apartment mate had lived in DC for the past few years, so he had all the kitchen stuff and I didn’t have to get anything for that. The nice thing about Gewirz is that you don’t have to buy too many expensive things. This year I’m going to have to spend more to furnish my apartment and stuff like that. I’ve gone up to IKEA once with a ZipCar and probably will do so again soon.
c. Are there any must-haves (beyond the obvious) that you’d recommend?
I don’t know if it’s a must have, but I would recommend getting a monitor for your laptop. It’s very convenient for outlining (I know people who use two monitors in addition to their laptop for this). Also, I didn’t have a TV so it was nice for watching movies with friends.
There isn’t any overhead lighting in Gewirz and the lamp they provide is ancient and ugly, so some lamps would be nice. Also, there isn’t much cabinet space or counter space in the kitchen, so a rack for food or pots and pans would me nice. Also, because there isn’t much counter space, a big cutting board to put on the table can be very handy.
A lot of people got foam pads for the mattresses because they aren’t that comfortable and are covered in plastic – basically like a mattress you’d find at camp.
d. How would you describe the dorm atmosphere around finals?
I know some people went kind of crazy, but I don’t think the atmosphere negatively affects anyone. I think people who study in the library may be negatively affected because everyone is there and it’s like a pressure cooker. A lot of people stop studying on campus around finals for that reason.
Finals really aren’t that bad if you put the work in along the way. I actually did more fun stuff then than any other time and it was the only time I ever heard of people (including myself) getting board. Finals week fall semester is when I learned what is probably the best piece of advice I can give. Put the work in along the way. There isn’t much incentive to study along the way, other than the fear of professors chastising you, which actually wears off pretty quickly. If you do all the work along the way, then getting ready for finals is just a matter of putting it all together, which I actually found to be a pretty enjoyable experience. The people who are going crazy are the ones who didn’t do the work along they way and now have hundreds, or even thousands, or pages of material that they haven’t even looked at.
e. Do you feel that living in dorms contributed positively to your first year, above and beyond the convenience factor?
It was great for meeting people. Now that that phase is over, I’m glad to be moving on.
Similar to convenience, it’s great not having to commute. People were always late because they missed their train, or the metro broke down, or there was a ton of traffic. Not having to worry about all that stuff on top of law school is probably an advantage.
7. What do you do to maintain a good work/play balance?
a. You’ve mentioned your exercise routine a couple of times on your blog. How do you think working out has affected your first year at law school?
That was a good piece of advice I received before I left that I should have mentioned above. A friend recommended the book Spark, which is about the connection between physical exercise and mental fitness, which I definitely think is true. So I made it a point before I left to work it into my schedule. I actually didn’t think it was that hard as long as I was in the mindset that it was part of my schedule. I mean, I’m in law school and my job is study law, nothing else. Basically I sleep, go to class, read, and repeat. Throw in grocery shopping, a few outings, and hanging out with people on the weekends and you don’t really need anything else. Fitting a workout in there isn’t that hard.
b. You also seem to keep in close touch with friends and family back home, as well as finding time for new friends in DC. How do you swing this?(!)
Haha. I’m from a small town and my community is very important to me. If it’s a high priority, it’ll get done.
Practically, the blog has been a great way for me to stay in touch with people. Whenever I come home they say it feels like I haven’t left (I’m not sure how that’s supposed to make me feel…) DC is also a great place to live because people are always coming through, so I’ve had a lot of opportunities to meet up with people from back home. I also try to make it a point to text a few people back home every day just to keep that connection and to let them know that I’m thinking about them and still want to be a part of their life, even though I’m 3,000 miles away.
I’ve also been lucky enough to know a few people out here who aren’t in law school. I think that’s important so that you can interact with people who aren’t crazy and aren’t in law school. Every conversation with other law students will always come back to class, the law, the professors, and other students. Every single conversation. Sometimes you need to break out of that. So I’ve made it a point to break out of that every once in a while and hang out with my other friends who are here in DC.
c. Which student groups did you participate in/belong to? How did you choose your activities for your 1L year? How do you feel this involvement contributed to your experience?
I wasn’t really involved in many student groups or anything like that. I went to Christian Legal Society regularly, mostly as a way to meet people and spend time with people away from class.
But all the groups have events and speakers and stuff like that that are open to everyone. They have an email each week with those events, so I’d go to the ones that I was interested in, which was nice. I think it’s really easy to get over involved in this area, especially because there probably isn’t too much direct payoff for the investment. I know some people who were in a ton of groups and were always just rushing from one thing to another.