What do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? These are tough things to figure out—and, often, your first answer may not end up being the correct one.
Aaron Weber spoke with someone who dealt with her own shifting career goals. This person went from academic administration to marketing management, picking up two master’s degrees along the way. Check out what she had to say about her educational path and what it did for her career.
So, you’ve got a master’s degree?
I have a degree in education management and also an MBA. The first one was practically free, because I was working at the university where I studied, and you could take a free class or so every semester. I learned a lot, but it didn’t bring me the career advancement I wanted. I thought about extending that into a Ph.D., but my university didn’t offer one, and a Ph.D. doesn’t include the business and finance skills that I wanted to build.
Instead, I pursued an MBA.
How’d you choose the school?
I wanted a smaller program, with a strong network of alumni in my city. I paid for about half with a scholarship and half with federal student loans. For the whole thing, it came out to about $20,000 for me and $20,000 in scholarships.
Did the MBA do more for your career?
My MBA has influenced my career far more than my education degree. While I had previously only worked in colleges, I interned at a financial services company during my time in school and moved on to marketing management in high tech after graduation. Post-graduation, my salary rose about 50%, which helped a lot in paying down my student loans, including the leftover ones from my undergraduate degree.
I also chose to pursue an MBA because it can apply to many roles across multiple industries. I learned project management, how to manage other people as well as function as a productive member of a team, financial forecasting and budgeting, operations management, all in addition to marketing, which is what I’m doing now. As a package, all of those things work together—and give me a holistic perspective of how my company functions.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known before you started?
If you’re thinking of pursuing a graduate degree, I’d recommend considering what you want to do in your career. You have to ask yourself, “Do I want to do something specific, or leave my options open?”
If you want to specialize, you should look for a program accordingly. Look for scholarships and paid internships, and make sure you know what you need to learn from the program to be successful in a job. That’s often different from what it takes to just get good grades.
If you don’t have a particular career path in mind, hold off on applying to grad schools. Take some time to work at the entry level and consider what you like or don’t like about the job. Ask higher-ups about career paths—most people love to talk about that kind of stuff.
For example, if you work in a doctor’s office and really enjoy that organizational vibe, then you might want to pursue a degree in hospital administration. But also consider other things you like about it that might be found in another industry. Maybe you like helping people and want to pursue social work instead. Maybe you’d do best in HR or recruiting, helping people find jobs and build careers. A lot of industries use the skills you have or will develop, in different ways.
What I mean is that you need to think about the difference between industry and function—and how that overlaps. If you like fashion and are good at math, would you be willing to be an accountant for a fashion label? You can work in video games without being a designer or programmer—every industry has HR, finance, marketing, and IT departments.
Regardless, you need transferrable skills. Right now, I work for a company that sells software to big businesses. But if I had to, I could sell banking, or medicine, or real estate, or almost anything else. It would be a stretch, and I like the job I have already. But if I had to, I could make another transition, and knowing that makes me feel a lot more secure.