On degree-hogging and career change

“It’s just too bad you haven’t thought of this career a few years back,” my grandparents shook their heads with reprimand as I took off for grad school two weeks ago. “Too bad.”

This was one of the many responses to my plan to jet off to DC and change careers at an age when, in the days of yore, women were popping out their second baby, or at least deliberated where to purchase a vacation home with their husband.

Many people took the opportunity to weigh in on the matter of additional schooling.

“Remember, the healthiest babies are born to women under 35! I’m just sayin’.”

“School? Again? Sheesh!”

“Nobody will date you if you’ve got student loans.”

“Communications? Can’t you just learn Facebook? Life won’t wait.”

Two deep-rooted beliefs dictate these adages. Older students  have probably heard these from loved ones or inside their heads, when their own saboteur has a go at it.

One belief is that a woman can either be a good mother/wife or a successful professional. Not both. It sort of dates back to the Victorian lore and beyond, that if girls study too hard, then blood will flow excessively to their brain, causing their ovaries to shrink.

The second belief is one ought to secure a cushy job forever and ever, starting out as a mailroom clerk, eventually advancing into the corner office, and finally departing with cocktails, mass tears and applause during the retirement party.

Well, times have changed. With unemployment hovering at 9.1% and with job seekers taking longer than ever before to find work, going back to school is a beacon in the dark, promising better prospects and pay. Graduate school applications are on the rise in the past decade, including a whopping increase of 8.3% just between 2008-2009 , according to Council of Graduate Schools.

Plus, more and more workers are finding themselves fed up with the cubicle, lured by the freedom of self-employment or consultancy. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, many coffee shops have plugged up their electric outlets, to push out the the herds of freeloading freelancers with laptops.

I recently thought of my friends’ educational backgrounds. With just a couple of exceptions, it turned out that all of them have graduate degrees. And we are by no means an elitist bunch. We are mostly renters. We drink beer and cuss when necessary, but virtually everyone’s touting a master’s degree or a PhD, a JD or an MBA. Some have two. Others are wistfully hoping to snag another one.

All around me, singers are padding their resume with an MBA, office assistants and newspaper reporters are being reeducated into lawyers, artists are investing in a teaching credential. And the greatest feeding age for this commotion is late 20s to early 30s. The numbers prove this. Postbaccalaureate enrollment (both college and grad) of people 25 and over is on the rise, the growth rate even outpacing that of younger students, claims the National Center for Education Statistics.

Graduate education is not vanity. Nor is it elitism. Admittedly a costly venture, a later advanced degree gives time for personalities and objectives to crystallize. Older grad school applicants understand far more than their favorite watering hole, romantic type and sexual orientation. Having gone through the corporate or creative wringer, they ultimately get to know the most important thing: themselves.

What some consider a financial drain and a breakdown of family and commitment values, others view with gratitude. Indeed, one ought to offer thanks for a society that condones the pursuit of self-betterment, at any age. Because most other parts of the world do not.

(Part 2: Stay tuned for Women in Graduate school. Uh oh…)

8 thoughts on “On degree-hogging and career change

  1. missdisplaced says:

    Don’t let them tell you it’s not worthwhile. Not. One. Bit.

    Upon getting laid off in late 2008 from my job as a graphic design manager, I promptly got my butt back in school. I completed a second Bachelors in 2010 (first was from an art school in 1988 and pretty much useless) and went on to graduate school that same year. I now am only 3 classes + comps away from my Master’s in Communication. While I don’t know if this will get me a “better” job, I have loved every minute of it!

    • Thanks for the encouraging words, Missdisplaced! It’s disheartening to hear stories about talented people losing work in recent years, but good for you for persevering and going back to school. And a Master’s in communications is a great degree (not that I’m impartial on that matter) :). Best of luck!

  2. missdisplaced says:

    I’m rather partial to communication myself! After years of studying graphic design, film, television, English, and creative writing, I FINALLY realized it was ALL about communication. Gee, it only took me 20+ years to figure that one out! Other people never “get it” though. I take crap all the time about how it is “a useless liberal arts degree.” GAH!

    Not to be nosy, but what university are you attending? My program is heavily theory-based and you must complete 3 core courses: Strategic Communication, Qualitative Research, and Quantitative Research. Then you can specialize in either Media (journalism, media, advertising) or Strategic (PR, Organizational, Health) communication.

    I really love it! It’s like I’m finally understanding the underlying reasons for what I was doing as a designer all those years. I really liked qualitative research methods as well, which fit nicely with what I hope to do for a documentary.

    • Missdisplaced – it’s wonderful that you’ve synthesized your knowledge and training into one field. All the disciplines you mention seem to be about purposeful messaging.

      We have a lot in common, it turns out! I was an English major and am a creative writer, like you. Where are you studying and what’s your specialization? I’m over at Georgetown and love it – a hands-on program with amazing faculty.

  3. missdisplaced says:

    Flying Yenta– I am at a well-known university in the Philadelphia area. (sorry, don’t want to post it under my Miss Displaced nom de plume as this is my rant blog 😉 )

    I am specializing in Media and Culture with a minor in Strategic Communication. I also moved from Cali a few years ago. I lived in L.A. for 16 years (originally from PA though). I’m well acquainted with San Francisco as well, and had to laugh about your fashion overhaul post. Luckily, it’s not so conservative here in Philly, but yes I did have to “retire” some of my Hollywood-mad-rocker clothes, sad to say. SIGH. I suppose it was time.

  4. Glad you understand the fashion overhaul theme – and it ain’t over yet. Philly can surely appreciate the rocker theme, no? If not, they will! Found your blog and look forward to browsing 🙂

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