To Degree or Not to Degree

photo-jacki-2 2015 was a major milestone year for me in two ways, I turned fifty and I earned my doctorate. If anyone had asked me in 2010 if I would be going back to school, they would have heard a firm “no way”. Yet, life and circumstances had other plans. After a decade in the New York metro area, working in luxury goods, my career stalled. It took a two year search and relocation to get things moving again, this time in Charlotte North Carolina working in Higher Education. The shift in industry provided the opportunity for further education in an environment that rewards academic achievement. Many people wonder if earning an additional college degree is worth the investment in dollars and effort. My answer is consistently “it really depends”. In my case, tuition was a taxable employee benefit and the total cost for a WASC accredited degree was about $10,000, funded through my own income. Other advanced degrees start at approximately $20,000 and reach upwards of $60,000. Most importantly, an advanced degree does not guarantee that you will obtain a new job, promotion or even secure your current position. So why do it? The number of people over 40 returning to college is increasing every year. Their reasons vary. Some are looking to update their skills or create a more flexible future career path. Others are correcting a career choice made early in life that does not match their true passion. Many are searching for meaning and a way to contribute to society. Most are also looking for an intellectual challenge. In my case, the rigors of the doctoral program offered the opportunity to revisit some negative prior experiences in the context of science and exploration. The process was both an academic inquiry and soul healing therapy. Many people are shocked at the amount of time and effort that is required to get to the finish line of an advanced degree, especially when it is earned while working full time. My program consisted of sixteen back to back courses, without breaks, which required weekly well written submissions, ranging from five hundred words to thirty pages. I submitted two hundred and fifty six written assignments as a precursor to conducting a primary research study and producing a two hundred page dissertation. The good news for anyone intimidated by the amount of work is that what is unbearably difficult in the first course becomes second nature by fifth. In the same manner muscles become stronger with regular exercise, intellect and writing skills develop quickly once they are routinely engaged. Is it worth it? My dissertation was subsequently published in the Journal of Business Ethics. With the earned title of Doctor, I can now credibly challenge the ethics and practices within an industry that sought to silence anyone who questioned them. The work was accepted by the scholarly community as worthy of adding to the vast body of human knowledge. For me, it was worth it. Anyone considering a later in life advanced degree should consider the following:
  1. If your goal is to advance your career, check the employment placement statistics of the institution and confirm that an advanced degree is welcomed within your target field. In some cases a second master’s degree is more cost effective than a doctorate to achieve the same career advantage.
  2. Make sure that any program you invest in has proper regional accreditation. Programs that have MSA, NEASC, NCA, NWCCU, SAC or WASC accreditation are more widely respected and offer more future options to instruct at a college level. Many doctoral programs require a regionally accredited master’s degree as an admission requirement.
  3. The doctoral process is grueling and requires a deep well of personal initiative and passion for a field of study in order to reach the finish line. Check your motives to ensure that your internal drive is strong enough to override the fatigue, frustration and monotony that will inevitably set in during the program.
For some, the capstone of their career may be waiting at the end of an academic endeavor. For others, an advanced degree can satisfy an inner hunger to learn and grow. If undertaken for the right reasons, the investment made pays off in ways much more valuable than dollars. It is worth it. By: Dr. Jacki Wisler Dr. Jacki Wisler relocated to Charlotte NC from metropolitan New York in 2011 after a two year unsuccessful job search in the luxury goods industry. She transferred her skills from luxury goods into a Human Resource leadership role in the Creative Applied Arts education field. While working, she earned a doctorate in Organizational Leadership in 2015 and had her research work on Luxury Goods Leaders and Ethics published in the Journal of Business Ethics in February 2016. She is 51 years young and still growing.    
1 Comment
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