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How Earning A Degree Helped With My Career Advancement

opinion

Committing to a college education put me in the perfect position to take charge of my career. It involved a lot of hard work, but in the end it definitely helped me to become more successful.

Earning a Degree

The routine has become a fairly common one — Graduate high school, go to college, study hard, get a job, be successful.

Is that really how it works, though? Halfway through the first semester of college, dragging myself out of bed at 8 a.m. for a biology lecture that I couldn't care less about, I wasn't convinced. Why did I have to go to college? At the time, I couldn't understand it. I was taking required courses like English, math, and science that weren't adding any value to my life. While the social aspects of college were fun, what was the point of college itself?

So I dropped out, and I swore I would never go back. I was determined to make my own path in this world, and it wasn't going to involve college. After all, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were college dropouts, and they went on to found highly successful companies. Why couldn't I?

Reality Hits

Having Trouble

Shortly after dropping out of school, I ran into a problem. No one wanted to hire me. I was 19 years old, and while I had some part-time jobs in high school, my lack of experience and college degree wasn't convincing anyone to hire me. I was waiting tables at a local restaurant and making enough to get by, but I wasn't saving much with a $2.13 hourly wage, plus tips. I finally got hired as a paralegal at a law firm. The work was intellectually stimulating, but I had a realization: I would never be promoted to a lawyer because of my excellent performance as a paralegal.

I realized that famous college dropouts had one thing that I didn't have: a plan. My ambition had lead me to drop out of school, but I didn't have a plan for how to succeed without a degree. I hadn't left college to settle for an average job with no promotions or future. I had big dreams to become an entrepreneur, but I didn't know exactly what kind of business I wanted to open and I lacked a general well-roundedness that would make me truly successful. So, I made the one great decision that changed my ability to advance my career: I re-enrolled in college.

What Worked the Second Time Around

This time, I wasn't a naive, just-out-of-high-school student thinking that it was up to the college to give me a degree. I had spent two years roughing it out in the real world. I knew that, in this world, I would only get what I earned. It wasn't the school's responsibility to give me a degree: it was my responsibility to earn one.

Hit the Books

I buckled down, studied hard, and learned as much as I could. I had some flexibility in choosing my humanities electives, so I took courses that I found interesting and would add value to any career I chose in the future. I enrolled in sociology courses so I could better understand human society, how it was formed, and how people worked together. I learned about Buddhist religion and philosophy to understand balance and the nature of my own mind. Writing and literature courses helped me exercise my creativity and expand my worldview. I enrolled in computer science courses to learn more about logical thought, and I even took a semester of Latin to understand the etymology of modern language.

When I left college, I had worked harder than I needed to, but I had really earned that well-rounded degree. I had my degree in hand and was ready to re-enter the workforce.

What Now?

Now that I was done with college, what was I supposed to do now? I had a college degree on my resume that made me more marketable, but I felt like I was in the Coen Brother's movie The Hudsucker Proxy: every job post required experience. I had some experience, but I really wanted a management-level job, and all those jobs required five years of experience. What was I to do?

Experience

The answer was simple: work hard. I had a degree in hand, and that would help me advance my career, but it didn't mean that I was going to be handed a job. Just like my college experience, I would get exactly what I earned. So I sat down, polished my resume, and wrote some excellent cover letters.

The college degree helped me get my foot in the door at the first job. It wasn't as glamorous a job as I had imagined when I went back to college, but I tried to learn something new at every opportunity and became a pro at Microsoft Excel. Those skills got me my second job as an analyst, where I learned about Kaizen and continual process improvement. Over time, I built up a resume that included both experience and a college degree, which landed me a job as a manager where I learned about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and how to effectively motivate employees to perform at their best.

What's Next?

All of these things have prepared me for what's next: the entrepreneurial dream of opening my own business. Could I have done this without a college degree? Certainly! Would it be easier? Certainly not!

The College Degree was the Key

My college degree encouraged employers to offer me a job interview because it showed that I was dedicated, I could see a commitment all the way through, and that I was capable of critical thinking. In the interview, I proved that I was a well-rounded individual and earned job opportunities and promotions. In the end, my degree helped me more than I could have imagined: computer science courses helped me become an analytical person, literature and sociology courses helped me understand the world around me, and Buddhist philosophy courses helped me stay grounded when my employees were driving me crazy.

The college degree set me up with a mindset of lifelong learning, and as a result, I feel more prepared to become a business owner. I'm glad that I went back to college and earned my degree because I can't imagine how my career would have advanced so much without it.

By Lindsay Mattison
December 2016
opinion career advancement

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