After starting back to college in 2008 for a second Bachelors degree in Photography, in just a few more weeks I complete my Master's degree in Adult Education and Training. This was a long and meandering path to this degree but learned some really important lessons along the way. If you know me, I wouldn't have it any other way! :)
Go back to school only when you can pay for it out of savings, pocket or through investments. When I finish my degree I will have nearly $70,000 in student loans and interest to repay. At nearly 43 years old, if I can afford the equivalent of a really nice car payment for the next 10 years, I will have only 10 more years to really sock money away for a legitimate retirement.
Find a way to 'try before you buy.' I spent a year in the second bachelors degree program for photography, then another year in the Master's degree program, thinking that the programs would help me learn the skills I needed to make my artistic image, in my view finder, come out as an equally interesting image for others to enjoy. However, what I learned was about being an artist and how to critique others. My lighting course was the one course I was sure would teach me about the mechanics of my photographs. After two years and $40,000 in student loans, I realized that I was never going to be a commercial photographer in order to pay that money back.
So, I began hunting for a new program. I found the University of the Rockies and their Organizational Leadership program. I was very excited by the program because it was touted as the "soft skills MBA." That sounded very interesting to me, I liked that the school had previously focused only on clinical psychology but had begun offering an Organizational Leadership program. What I didn't know was the program was piggy-backing off of the current clinical psychology courses. While there are similar concepts to learn, the application is very different. I realized during my first semester, and after another $5,000 in tuition and costs, that this was not the right choice either. So, now I am pushing $50,000 in debt and no degree.
One of my professors at the University of the Rockies noted on one of my assignments that I was a "natural teacher." This sparked my thoughts toward an education Master's degree. There I found the University of Phoenix program for Adult Education and Training. This sounded, on paper, to be the very best choice for me. I was already a trainer teaching adults. Still, the program, while interesting and informative, was not a "home run" for me. This program was much more like a law school degree. We spend two years learning theory, and practice waits for after completion.
I can say I did learn many things during this last 18 months and I worked very hard to apply the theories within my current position. However, I felt that there were a lot of K-12 educators who could not relate to the differences of adult learners in a corporate environment. Understanding that adults, coming to training, come from a range of backgrounds and attitudes toward education, is vital to offering a positive experience for adult trainees.
Don't get me wrong, I am proud of my accomplishment, but I really wish I could have tried some of these before spending the equivalent of a house on three different programs.
Spend time getting to know your strengths. I always knew I was comfortable as a teacher/trainer; but, I was not the strongest student in high school and being a dyslexic (and dysgraphic) and my only real understanding of education was traditional K-12 or finishing my PHD to teach in academia. I also did not relish the idea of being a teacher in a traditional classroom. A friend of mine suggested I was an "alpha gamer" even though I am not a "gamer." What he meant was when I get excited about any topic I share it with anyone who will listen, and that excitement can be infectious. I love technology and I love all the new innovations coming out every year. I admit it, I am a bit of a tech geek. What does this all mean about knowing your strengths? I am a non-traditional educator motivated and inspired by the new innovations of this age. Knowing that now, I would have gone into Instructional Design and development as opposed to straight adult education and training. That would have tied more of my strengths and desires. But! I am not going into further debt to go back for that. So, I will take my education and work on innovating from there.
I am sure there are many more lessons I learned throughout this process, but those are my top three and I am caught wondering what will I do when I am done? I won't know what to do with myself. What else do I want to learn? I always used to say I was a "Jane of all trades, master of none." Now, I can say, I am a "Jane of all Trades, Master of One!"
Please do not read my rantings about cost deter you from reaching for your goals. Just think clearly about the long term costs of taking on student loans when you are older.
Caryn Morgan, corporate trainer, obtained her Masters Degree in Adult Education and Training