Going back to school is not a solitary venture – especially if you’re taking the plunge as an adult. If you want to succeed in your academic adventure, make sure you’re not going it alone. Seek out these five people to keep you on solid ground and help you forge strong pathways for personal and professional success.
When you’re going back to school as an adult, it’s so important to connect with someone who has successfully completed his or her own academic adventure and can point out the peaks and pitfalls of life as a nontraditional student. Talking with someone who has been in your shoes and has come out on the other side, degree in hand, can be incredibly motivating and remind you that it is possible to achieve your goals. If you don’t already have a mentor for your academic pursuits, ask your school to connect you with a successful alum.
It can be tempting to put your head down and plow through your classes, not making time to connect with the people around you. After all, your goal in going back to school is probably to learn and to earn credentials, not necessarily to make friends. But you’d be surprised how valuable it can be to find a “partner in crime,” a peer who’s going through the same struggles you are and who can commiserate and/or rejoice with you every step of the way. Look around your classes; there’s bound to be someone with whom you can relate and share your experiences.
If you’re just beginning a back-to-school endeavor, you probably feel like the low man on the totem pole. But remember that you still have something to offer. Keep a balanced perspective by finding someone you can mentor – it might be a younger student in one of your classes, a high schooler, or even someone you meet in a formal mentoring program. Your experiences can help them on their path, and can serve as inspiration for them to continue their education and never give up. Plus, just knowing that you’re someone else’s role model can help you persevere when the going gets tough.
Everyone needs an encourager in their lives, and that’s especially the case when committing to going back to school. An encourager will listen to your stories, remind you that you’re doing a good job, and prompt you to keep on moving forward, no matter what. In the midst of your hectic schedule, you may forget to keep tabs on all you’ve accomplished, but your encourager is there to point out those successes and help your eyes stay focused on a bright future. An old friend – one who has seen you through the ups and downs of life and loved you through it all – can be an ideal encourager.
As important as your education endeavor is, sometimes you will need to be reminded that it’s not the be-all and end-all of your existence. In other words, there is life outside of school. Keeping an outsider – preferably a fun-loving friend – close by can help you maintain perspective and keep a handle on what’s going on in the rest of world. An outsider can be supportive of your academic pursuits without being overly involved or invested in them. And an outsider can provide a much-needed outlet and diversion when you’re ready to take a break from the books.
Heading back to school as an adult is a significant undertaking – but with these key people in your personal and professional network, you can make it a resounding success.
According to a recent New York Times article, master’s degrees are now outpacing bachelor’s degrees. The number of people earning bachelor’s degrees is certainly greater, but the master’s degree has become the fastest growing. Just look at this leap: In 1990, 6.7 million people had a master’s degree; in 2009, 12.3 million had a master’s degree.
The suggestion, then, is that a bachelor’s degree is no longer enough to help you get hired – you need a master’s degree just to get in the door. While this can certainly be true in such traditional liberal arts disciplines as psychology, art, and history, there are plenty of great professions you can enter without a master’s degree, including software engineering, personal financial advising, and athletic training, to name just a few.
Unless you’re locked into a profession that absolutely requires a master’s degree – like a physician assistant – there are lots of ways to leverage a bachelor’s degree and get the job of your dreams:
>> Cultivate experience. Bachelor’s degree programs offer tons of opportunities to get real-life experience in your field – the key is to take advantage of those opportunities. Yes, we’re talking about internships. Not only do internships provide you with great work experience and help you figure out what you really want to do with your life, they also show employers that you can handle the rigors of the real-world workplace.
>>Make connections. A master’s degree program is not the only place to create a professional network. In your undergraduate work, you’ll have access to professors who can mentor you and also help you get your foot in the door at various organizations. Without connections, a candidate with a master’s degree might just trump one with a bachelor’s degree – but if you commit to establishing a strong professional network in your bachelor’s degree program, you might find that, when push comes to shove, credentials matter less than connections.
>>Keep up with industry trends. If you’ve been out of school for a while, don’t let the dust settle on your education. Information is everywhere, but you have to commit to getting it. Join a professional organization, read news articles, and attend workshops and conferences in your field. These actions can boost your resume and prove that you have up-to-the-minute information and ideas, no matter when you earned your bachelor’s degree.
>>Market yourself. When hiring, most organizations are seeking candidates with a specific skill set. And just knowing that a candidate has a degree – bachelor’s, master’s, or otherwise – doesn’t guarantee that he or she has what it takes to get the job done. So it’s on you to research the organization, determine the skills and qualities sought, and prove that you’ve got ‘em in spades. Make specific bullet points on your resume that address those issues, and prepare interview-worthy anecdotes to show that your skills are the perfect match for the position.
A master’s degree can be an excellent credential, but it’s not the only path to professional advancement. For many of us, bachelor’s degrees are still getting the job done. Don’t rest on your laurels, though – commit to learning something new every day, and you may find that you already have everything you need for career success.
With the release of Cars 2, we decided to take a look at the man behind the wheel of one of the biggest franchises in Disney history. Animator-writer-producer-director John Lasseter, the movie’s director and chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, is well-known as a pioneer in developing the art and science of computer-generated animation. If you’re seeking career inspiration, look no further than the incredible life (yes, he was also the executive producer of The Incredibles) of John Lasseter. Start with his on-screen advice below, and read on for other career lessons we’ve adapted based on his story:
Career Lesson #1: Create your own opportunities.
When Lasseter discovered that there are people who actually get paid to make cartoons, he didn’t leave his animation aspirations stuck in the pages of his personal journal, or even in those “What do you want to be when you grow up?” essays you have to write for school. In high school, Lasseter actually wrote to Disney Studios, saying he wanted to be an animator. And Disney wrote back! They encouraged him to get a great art education, learning the basics of figure drawing, design, and color.
Career Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid to explore new educational avenues.
It gets better. In his senior year of high school, Lasseter got another letter from Disney, this time saying they were starting a character animation program at California Institute of the Arts. It was a new, untested program – going to his mom’s alma mater, Pepperdine University, would have been a safer bet – but Lasseter took a chance, got himself a scholarship, and enrolled in the inaugural year of the program. He learned from the Disney greats and earned his B.F.A. in film in 1979.
Career Lesson #3: Forge your own path.
When Lasseter graduated and got a job with Disney, he discovered a sad truth – at that time, the animation studio was not being run by great artists and visionaries like the ones who taught the Cal Arts program, but by lesser artists and businesspeople. He could have just kept his head down and maintained the status quo – how many of us do that? – but instead, he became increasingly enamored with the possibilities of using computer graphics in animation. Unfortunately, Lasseter’s enthusiasm for this fairly new technology earned him a reputation as something of a loose cannon at Disney, and he got fired.
Career Lesson #4: Keep your dream alive.
Getting fired might sound like a death sentence, but we all know that wasn’t the end of the story for John Lasseter. His next gig – at Lucasfilm, which later became Pixar, which was later bought by Disney – wasn’t far behind. After he got fired, Lasseter went to a computer graphics conference, met up with some contacts he had made at Lucasfilm, and got himself a job that same day. Notice that he didn’t sit around waiting for an offer to come to him – he went out and made it happen! He believed in the possibilities of a new technology and found some other people who believed in it, too.
Career Lesson #5: Be true to yourself.
At 54 years old, Lasseter claims he is still a little boy, and making animated movies is a great way to let that little boy out. Obviously, this is a job where thinking like a grown-up is not always the best thing. But even if you don’t have aspirations in the cartoon world, your childhood interests can still serve as inspiration for your present-day career. Just look at how Lasseter, the son of a manager at a Chevrolet dealership, used his lifelong love of cars!
When John Lasseter gave a commencement address at Pepperdine University in 2009, he encouraged the graduating class never to let anyone kill their dreams. Coming from the man behind the Disney/Pixar magic, that’s good advice.