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Work and class can mean better careers

  • Story Highlights
  • Economy sends more workers back to school for extra degrees
  • Many must balance balanced work, studies and their family
  • Seeking career advancement and marketability or following a dream
By Rachel Zupek writer
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Today's economy has many people returning to school in lieu of working full time, while others have chosen to enhance their education to make themselves more marketable to employers.

Many workers returning to school face balancing their studies with their jobs and families.

Many workers returning to school face balancing their studies with their jobs and families.

In a CareerBuilder survey of more than 8,000 workers, 21 percent said they were going to school to make themselves more viable for employers. Of that group surveyed in March, 7 percent go to school full time, 3 percent attend part time and 5 percent take classes online.

Have you toyed with the idea of going back to school, but didn't think you could? Here are 10 stories from workers who thought they didn't have time for school and how they made it work.

Aimee Cirucci, writer/editor/public relations specialist

After seven years working in various marketing communications jobs, I quit my job, sold my home and, at age 29, moved back in with my parents for six months while I found work and made my dream of going back to school for a graduate degree a reality. I wish I hadn't let seven years pass thinking this wasn't possible.

I am currently finishing up an MS in communication management. I received a teaching assistantship that covered one year of my education and discovered a deep love of university teaching. I applied and was accepted to the Ph.D. program and will likely begin in 2010. I really do think that if you leap, a net will appear -- for me it has completely been the case. The hard part is just getting the courage to take that leap.

Jessica Lieu, account executive

I decided to jump headfirst into [a] master's program six months after being hired as a full-time PR account executive. While I was initially hesitant to tackle work and school at the same time, I decided that being in both academic and professional worlds at the same time would up my learning curve.

I currently juggle a 45-plus hour workweek with night classes, papers, presentations, group projects and a borderline caffeine addiction. While it can be overwhelming at times, the payoff is in being able to draw parallels between my academic and professional worlds, and using these parallels to improve the quality of my work. If that means sacrificing the occasional happy hour or weekend to prepare for class or write a paper, I think that that is a fair tradeoff.

Joshua Fahrenbruck, corporate communications

I just completed my undergraduate degree, and am planning to start on my MBA next month -- while working full time and getting married. I have been employed at the same company for seven years and went back to school to make sure I could continue to be upwardly mobile. I had 12 credit hours when I started; two-and-a-half years later, the degree was complete.

A second reason for finishing my degree was to make sure, if I do choose to find another job, I would be marketable and could maintain or increase my level of compensation and benefits.

Kami Gray, wardrobe stylist

I decided to go back to school to become a costume designer for films. I've loved fashion all my life and just decided to go for it. For financial reasons, I couldn't stop working; for the next two-and-a-half years, I earned a second BS in fashion design while working full time, going to school full time and raising two middle schoolers. I worked hard in school and managed to become the salutatorian of my graduating class.

With a little luck and perseverance, I landed a job as a wardrobe stylist for national TV commercials. About a year and a half ago, I combined my love of fashion with my love of healthy eating and living and wrote a bestseller, called "THE DENIM DIET: Sixteen Simple Habits To Get You Into Your Dream Pair of Jeans."

My take on going back to school? Do it and do it now! Yes, I'm still paying off student loans, but school is invaluable. Confidence and a can-do attitude can take you places and for me, it all started with getting more educated.

Keith Lukes, vice president of business development

I went back to school [for my bachelor's degree] in 1996. Right after I started, my wife and I had our first child and my career was starting to take off. As I rose through the ranks, I was working 50-70 hours a week, while taking two to three classes each semester. Trying to balance all of that with a newborn was difficult but I knew without a degree I would not be able to advance my career. Finally in 2001, I graduated with my bachelor's degree in communication systems.

At my graduation ceremony, I joked that I was an "11th year senior." Three months after graduation, I took a position with a small IT firm. Without my degree, it is very unlikely I would have been given that opportunity. I have made partner and I am currently our vice president of business development. The degree helped get me in the door and the education I received has been extremely valuable throughout my career. If I had not gone back to school, I am confident I would not have achieved the same successes.

Kelly Stettner, administrative assistant

In 2006, I began investigating options for finishing my bachelor's degree. I applied for financial aid and enrolled in a program while pregnant with our second child; I had our son in July 2006 and began the low-residency degree program that fall. After two on-campus semesters, in which I did the bulk of my work at home and went to the Brattleboro, Vermont, campus one weekend each month, I switched over to a strictly online option through the same program. That worked even better for me, and I was able to graduate this past January. I am now looking into master's programs.

Nathaniel Williams, president/CEO

I am president/CEO of a human services agency. I attained four graduate degrees in four years while my wife and I had four kids. I hold a master's degree in human services, a master's degree in public administration, master's degree in business administration, and a doctorate degree in education.

I'm now adjunct teaching at one of my alma maters two nights a week. I found time for school by strategically planning and partnering with all the people in my life; I did not do it alone.

Sally Berry, tourism professional

I went back to school full time while working and got my master's degree in management in January 2008. It took two years and I am a single parent as well. I also traveled for my job at the time and was always doing homework in airports, on flights and at night in my hotel room. It was so difficult and I thought it would never end. But it did and I am so happy and proud to have my master's degree.

My advice would be to pare down your obligations and your standards of housekeeping and cooking; maintain the very basics to keep home and family operating. It was good for my kids to see me work so hard and they all pitched in and helped. School and work is a short-term challenge, but the degree lasts forever!

Susan Peters, mortgage consultant

I graduated in September of 2008. I balanced school, work and family for three-and-a-half years while I pursued a degree in business management. I attended class one night a week for those three-and-a-half years at a local campus and graduated with a 3.99 GPA, a feat I never dreamed was possible.

Both my husband and I attended college at night when we were into our 50s, and we were met with great success. All this was accomplished while we were putting our three children through college the conventional way and holding down full-time jobs.

Terese Irwin, special events manager

I have worked full time since just before I turned 21, when I left college without a degree. Although I started school again just two years later, it took me another 10 years to complete my bachelor's degree and two associate degrees. I finished my bachelor's of business administration last December. I swore I was finished; after 12 years of part-time school and full-time work, I was tired.

Although I absolutely love my job, [given the economy,] I had to look at reality: My bachelor's degree alone was not going to open the doors I'd like to walk through. I have enrolled in graduate school and start again this August to pursue my master's degree in international affairs.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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