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Going back to school as an adult

Like many other Albertans affected by the economic downturn, I found myself without a job in January of 2016.  With time suddenly at a premium, I found myself analyzing my career goals, current abilities, and weaknesses.  Ultimately, I realized that in order to pursue just about any of my ambitions, I would need to go back to university.

I found myself in good company.  Many of us, given time to perform a bit of self-examination and presented with the right opportunity, decide to pursue further education.  Regardless of whether you are working towards certification, a BA, MBA, or your Doctorate, pursuing further education as an adult is a difficult endeavour for many reasons.

Weighing cost against value

Most academic pursuits are quite costly; in Canada, yearly tuition alone will run you around $6000, with each class landing around the $800 range including textbooks. Even certain Certification courses can also cost you several thousand dollars, depending on what you decide to pursue.  That’s not to say that you should select you options based on dollar figures; however it is always good to know what to expect.

In the end, we often weigh the dollar figure that we must spend against the dollar figure we potentially gain, and make our decision from there. Cost is a bit of a black and white measure – it’s fairly straightforward to weigh ‘money’ against ‘value’.

Time needed

Much more difficult is the decision to spend the necessary time, both in and out of class (or online).  The balance between work, education, and your social life can be a difficult one to attain.  No longer the freewheeling teenagers that many of us once were, we are prone to taking a much more deterministic view towards accomplishing the goals we’ve set in our educational life.

The question becomes “how much time can I logistically spend on school to attain the goals I’ve set while still maintaining energy for work and family”.  It’s tricky.  I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic employer who worked around my schedule, and a partner who was also pursuing studies.  Yet there were still times that I felt like there were not enough hours in the day.  In the end, with effort, it is possible to strike this balance.

And perhaps what also keeps us going is the knowledge that it’s a finite period of time.  Once you’ve finished your course/degree/certification you can go back to dividing your time more reasonably between your work and social life.

Getting the ‘brain stretch’ you need to grow

With that being said, though we look at school often as a means to an end – a way to add that line item to our resume – the benefits are far more extensive. At work, we often find ourselves performing the same types of duties, and challenged by similar sorts of things.  This is not to say that we don’t grow, but perhaps to say that we are not pushed outside of our comfort zone.

However, when we pursue further education, we may find ourselves challenged in new ways.  How different is formal research paper than an RFP?  Quite different, I assure you.  And so is the ‘brain stretch’, so to speak, that happens when you force yourself into that uncomfortable learning environment. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that a great benefit to pursuing education outside of one’s career wheelhouse is that it has the potential to change your perception and thus your approach to things like problem solving, strategizing, and analysis in the workplace.

An aligning career path that matches your goals

Not only can we reap the benefits at work, pursuing further education can also have a beneficial emotional component.  Perhaps we can now pursue that position that was heretofore unavailable to us.  Maybe our new career path is much more aligned with our goals.  And maybe it’s as simple as the fact that a couple of extra letters after our name awards us with more confidence.  Whatever the case, pursuing education, though trying at times, can also benefit our social lives.

Life experience helped me the second time around

Aside from the benefits we personally gain, we also bring more to the table. Being an adult in post-secondary environment enables you to contribute and manoeuvre in ways that you couldn’t as a young student. We have weathered many different personalities in our workplaces, and things like group projects become innately easier when you can negotiate difficult personalities. You have experience delegating work, and you know how to be diplomatic.

Not only do your experiences enable you to get along socially, but it also changes your reception of the subjects you study.   Your work/ life experiences – in many cases – provide you with a different perspective that adds a new dimension to any topic at hand which aids in both your understanding. Our attitude and confidence have matured; and therefore marks may be higher because of it.

And finally, as an adult with a family and an established social life, there’s no need for extracurricular activities, leaving you the ability to solely focus on your studies.   I truly believe that, in many ways, going back to school as an adult may actually be simpler.

All that in consideration, pursuing more education is exponentially rewarding.  Speaking from experience, there will be late nights, stressful days, and the occasional missed social event. You will be inspired, and you will be dismayed.  But you will come out the end of this challenge stronger, and more developed.  In my case, I felt like a new world of possibilities opened up to me.


Author: Jennifer Sumbler-Brasz

Partner with Energy Resourcing

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