Life Enrichment
Dare to Dream, Again

Dare to Dream, Again

Returning to school for a career reboot

By Jennifer Colosimo

If Megan Callihan had been a teacher from the start, she’d have a road map already perfected by her mother, aunt, grandmother, and even her sister. She’d already have tenure and she’d probably be debt free. But the 31-year-old wanted to be different. She pursued a career where she could stand out from her family, climbing the corporate ladder in hospitality management.

If Megan Callihan had been a teacher from the start, she’d have a road map already perfected by her mother, aunt, grandmother, and even her sister. She’d already have tenure and she’d probably be debt free. But the 31-year-old wanted to be different. She pursued a career where she could stand out from her family, climbing the corporate ladder in hospitality management.
“We spend our childhoods dreaming of what we want to be when we grow up,” Callihan says. “But often once that era arrives, we’ve winded our way down a different path. The doctor or astronaut dreams are forgotten, and whatever job we get becomes life. … At a certain point, my priorities began to shift. My husband and I started talking about our future and it became apparent that the career path I was on didn’t line up with what we wanted for our family.”

Callihan’s path is a familiar one for many people, one that starts to get bumpy somewhere along the line and introduces a yearning to do something different. Thus, a large part of adult society is going back to the classroom. This guide offers encouragement to adults who are looking to find their “thing,” a field they’re passionate about, happy in and proud of.

1. Figure out why you want to change careers.

In 2020, nearly 20 percent of college and graduate students are expected to be over the age of 35, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. If you’re going to be one of that growing number, make sure you know the reasons behind your restlessness.

The most common reasons to go back:

  • Seeking a change in work-life balance
  • Re-entering the workforce after raising a family
  • A result of early retirement and the need to keep doing something
  • To open doors for advancement opportunities in a current field
  • To establish job security in a current position
  • To do something different

Amanda Young, director of admissions and student services at Belhaven University-Atlanta says, “The decision to change careers or go back to college has a lot to do with [individuals] being at a point in their life where they feel the freedom to pursue what truly interests them.”
But, buyer beware. Hone in on those reasons before you quit your current job, or pay for more schooling. Debbie Aiken, director of extended learning in the Office of Admission at Oglethorpe University says, “Changing careers can be a very personal decision, but it can take time for a person to discover their true passion, or pinpoint their professional strengths.”

2. Start asking questions.

According to “USA Today” and HuffingtonPost.com, in 2025, employers will need roughly 23 million more workers with degrees than the country’s colleges and universities are producing at their current rate. With the right credentials, you could be a hot commodity when it comes to filling those positions. Start prepping now by seeking out professionals who are already in your field of interest and ask a lot of questions.

  • How did they get to where they are?
  • What kind of schooling did they go through?
  • What is their current experience like?
  • What is the average starting salary? How much can you make in their field?

3. Do a lot of research.

Based on the answers to those questions, find out where you can go to get the training, certifications or degree that is required for your potential new job. And even before you apply, look for ways to immerse yourself in that new field so that you can get hands-on exposure and a reality check on how committed you are to a career change.

  • Check out The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the O*NET Resource Center to survey expected skills required for the job you want
  • Attend events or seminars to expand your knowledge
  • Get an internship that offers face time and hands-on experience with professionals in your new field

4. Make connections.
Networking not only provides a resource for asking questions, but it will help you meet the people you need to make connections with in hopes that they can assist you with landing a job later.

  • Get to know your teachers/instructors
  • Meet and harbor relationships with pros already in the field
  • Join professional groups related to your career

5. Get trained.

Whether it’s attending college and taking courses, a weekend-long certification, or any type of training program in between, you’ll have to develop the skills to become a competitive candidate for a new position. Consider the following:

  • Online schooling
  • Continuing education programs
  • Certification courses

P1Michelle Girage, assistant dean of the College of Continuing and Professional Education at Kennesaw State University says, “Employers value the time, effort and commitment individuals make through continuing education programs that provide students with practical, hands-on experience.”

It might be impossible for you to attend traditional school hours; instead, seek out institutions that offer programs created specifically for working adults.

Deciding where to take classes is important, but getting organized for your second go-round can make the end result a perfect fit.

  • Dig up transcripts to credit toward your new degree, if applicable
  • Get to know your adviser, so you take only the courses you need
  • Map out your schooling, so you know how long it will take to graduate
  • Know what you need; in some cases, a degree isn’t necessary. When a candidate already has an understanding of the subject matter, a professional certificate program can get you job-qualified, in some cases, without stressful (and expensive) semesters

6 Make sure you can afford it. 

According to Student Loan Hero, Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt.
“It’s important for students to do their research about salary expectations and managing student debt,” Aiken says.
That said, there are several options adults can seek out when paying out of pocket is just too expensive.

  • Look for employer-paid tuition
  • reimbursement options
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Check eligibility for alumni discounts
  • Pay attention to education benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Ask about flexible payment plans
  • Research the various types of state and federal aid available and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Taking advantage of the resources around you can help make your career transition a successful one. And while juggling school, life, and expenses can be challenging, putting time into thoughtfully planning your entrance into a new profession can make all the difference.

 

Resources:
Debbie Aiken, Oglethorpe University, Oglethorpe.edu
Michelle Girage, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw.edu
Amanda Young, Belhaven University-Atlanta, Atlanta.Belhaven.edu

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