When Finding a New Career Means Earning a New Degree: A Story on Starting from the Bottom Up

I’ve often wondered what it’s like to, in the midst of your career, just drop everything and start over in a completely new field. I’m sure we’ve all had thoughts at some point of finding a new career, of seeing what would happen if we pursued another of our passions. But few of us actually do it. That’s why, when I recently overheard two women discussing just this, I had to find out more.

One of the women said she’d finally decided to leave behind her job of many years and earn a new degree. This meant all kinds of difficult things, like studying for the GRE for the second time in her life, and years of being back in school—definitely not an easy undertaking. I was captivated; the idea of re-taking the GRE alone would be enough to make me question whether the change was worth it. What would inspire someone to start over from the bottom up?

It turns out Lisa Wennerth started off with a great job. Seven years ago, she was offered a high school English teaching position in the midst of a very competitive climate. She loved having the opportunity to share her passion for literature with teens and to watch them, especially her advanced placement students, thrive. Then, a state education bill passed that changed her job drastically. She said she was required to shift her focus away from teaching to keep up with all the newly required paperwork. Piece by piece, she felt the educational system stripped away the things she enjoyed about her job.

She began looking for a new career—something that many of us do at various points throughout our lives—but she was pretty serious about it. Now knowing where to start, she asked herself the broad question, “What would I be interested in?”

Ultimately, she kept coming back to a lifelong interest in psychology. She looked into what a Ph.D. program in psychology would entail. Quickly, she saw a challenging path. Doctoral programs in psychology are extremely competitive, and most require lab research experience, which she doesn’t have.

She figures it will take four years just to get the experience she needs, knock out some prerequisites, and get accepted into a program. Then there’s the years it takes to actually earn the degree. This would be enough to stop the faint of heart dead in their tracks. But Lisa thinks it’s worth it. “If I’m going to devote my life to something, I want to enjoy it,” she said.

To start the ball rolling, Lisa is focusing on studying for the GRE. I couldn’t help but ask how the preparation is going. She flipped her blonde hair and said, sarcastically, “It’s really fun.” But then she backtracked a bit, saying she’s actually surprised at how much she enjoys the math section. “It’s fun to work with problems that have solutions,” she said, laughing. That pretty much says it all…

Would you ever take such a big leap to find a new career? If you’re serious about changing track, it might be the right time to explore your educational options. You can use this worksheet to help you make your decision.

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