The Winner of the November 2015 Call to Action!

The Winner of the November 2015 Call to Action!

Blonde woman smiling into cameraIn December it’s easy to get caught up in the laundry list of things you have to do before the new year rolls around.

Whether you’re transitioning out of a job, maximizing your cash flow with some critical year-end money moves, or even deciding which charities to donate to—we get it, the clock is ticking.

But here at LearnVest, we think it's important to press pause on your to-do list in order to acknowledge that we're in the season of gratitude. That kind of reflection led us to pose our November Call to Action question: What’s the most valuable employee benefit you’ve ever had—and why?

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We received a myriad of responses describing perks that range from flexible hours to great medical coverage. One reader even completed her first marathon because her company covered a portion of her race registration fees. Special thanks to those who shared!

And congratulations to our winner, who will receive $100 to put toward her financial goals: Lauren Alexanderson, a public health consultant from Washington, D.C.

Lauren's passion for health communication led her to want to learn as much about the field as possible—which meant going back to school while working full time. Fortunately, her company was willing to foot part of the bill for getting advanced degrees in her specialty.

Here's her story.

"It was when I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma—a type of cancer—at the age of 10 that my interest in health communication first sparked. While I was thrust into the health care system, I paid particular attention to how doctors, nurses and my caretakers communicated with me about my health. My parents made sure that I was an active participant in making health decisions, and there were a lot of them!

As an undecided college student later on, I took classes on doctor-patient communication and community health, and gradually that interest became more concrete. In 2006, I received my undergraduate degree in community health from Brown University.

After spending a few years in the industry, I decided I wanted to get an MBA when I realized that some of my strongest professional mentors had one. They were effective managers, innovative project leaders, and talented at their job.

When I learned that Johns Hopkins University had a unique dual program that would allow me to get both my MBA and my MA in Communication, I was ecstatic. Even better, my company offered tuition reimbursement: $2,600 per semester, which would amount to $20,800 in total help to complete my degrees. I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I started the program in May 2012 and will finish in May 2016.

My company also contributes 10% to 15% of my salary to my 401(k), so I can redirect some of my own finances to tuition without falling behind on retirement savings. Both the tuition and retirement benefits have been tremendously helpful and made it possible for me to reduce my student loan debt.

To take even more strain off my finances, I downsized from living in a large house on Capitol Hill to a small apartment walking distance from school. I find that I walk most places now, which saves me a lot of money. I also started using meal delivery services to better regulate my budget on a monthly basis.

The degrees have certainly helped me grow professionally. During my time in the MBA/MA program, I have risen from a junior staffer into a managerial role on a large, high-profile project. I've been promoted as a result of the skills I've learned through my schooling, namely managerial training, budget training and project management.

The financial advice I would give to those considering a graduate degree is twofold: First, really think about why you want that degree. Talk to people who have that degree and ask them what they learned. Second, do whatever you can to minimize your student loan debt. Holding a full-time job while going to school isn't for everyone. For me, it made the most sense financially and allowed me to continue to develop professionally.

Now that I'm nearing the end of my dual-degree program, my big-picture career goals are to shape health systems and initiatives that enable people to manage their health care more easily and effectively. With health, communication and technology being my passions, I am eager to see how I can integrate the three."

Thanks for sharing, Lauren!

RELATED: 3 Wannabe Grad Students Ask a CFP: ‘Is Going Back to School Worth It for Me?’

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