Editor’s Note Finding yourself thinking about going back to school? In this article, you’ll learn:
Cheers! Nat Brown Editor-in-Chief Ask me anything! [email protected]
I’ll be thirty-five at the end of this month — btw, how the hell did that happen? — and in addition to my role leading the marketing team here at Zuper, I am currently a full-time student enrolled at Sydney University. Last year, after 12 years spent building my career in the creative industry, I left America, moved 10,000 miles away to a brand new country, and went back to school in pursuit of my masters degree.
Well, lots of reasons. And not just the ones created by Donald Trump.
As it turns out, investing in yourself is a good idea. An increasing number of 30-somethings are choosing to hit the books far past our original keg-party expiration dates — and it’s working out pretty well for us. According to Grad School Hub, the average age of a grad student in America today is 33 years old, and people with masters degrees earn an average of $10k USD more each year (almost $14k AUD at the time I’m writing this) each year.
In four and a half years, earning just the average income increase would justify my entire masters tuition, which hovers between $14k - $16k USD for each of three semesters, depending on the current exchange rate at payment time, or around $20k AUD. The current job market in my industry combined with my grad-school knowledge and boost in skillset, however, gives me good reason to believe that it will pay off much faster.
So, for those of you thinking about taking the leap back into the world of all-nighters, over-priced skinny lattes and varsity sweaters, I thought I’d outline eight completely legitimate reasons to go back to uni (university, college, grad school, etc) in your thirties — just in case you’re in need of a little encouragement.
I’m going to be really direct here. We all work so that we can get paid — even those of us who are passionate about our jobs need to see a paycheck that allows us to live somewhat comfortably. However, convincing your boss to pay you more can be hard; especially if you’ve spent several years at the same company with little upward movement.
According to this article by Business Insider UK, employees in almost every industry can expect some sort of pay bump with the successful completion of a masters degree — especially those working in industries where the starting pay is traditionally quite low. The majors who the largest increase on this list? Mathematics, statistics, law, life sciences, healthcare, education and philosophy.
Of course the importance of an advanced degree varies between countries and industries. In America, for example, I was directly asked why I hadn’t taken my education further in multiple interviews for leadership roles. With over a decade of experience in a competitive job market, my potential employers wanted it ALL - a candidate with the portfolio chops AND educational pedigree. In Australia, the emphasis lies more with work experience, but post-graduate education certainly helps.
I’ll be honest — I was pretty fed up with American politics when I decided to take a hiatus from the US of A. That being said, I had also fallen absolutely in love with Australia and wanted to experience life here. Leaving your home country behind to establish a life in a new place in your thirties requires tenacity, improvisation and true strength-of-spirit. For me, the vulnerability created by opening myself up to new routines, cultural norms, friendships has completely changed the course of my life. I truly wouldn’t change the experience for anything else in the world.
Want a little more food for thought? In fact, I’m not the only one who has chosen to venture outside America during the Trump years. Each year since his election, about 1,000 more Americans than average have been granted permanent residency in Canada. Personally, I know quite a few left-leaning Americans who are waiting Trump’s term out in various locations around the globe — in fact, I found this cool story in the New York Times about it.
The bottom line is, if you feel like you need a little break from your country of birth for any reason — I say go for it! Chase a new adventure. You’re certainly not alone.
Let’s paint a career picture here: You start out in your industry sometime in the late 2000s. Your salary is entry-level, but you are absolutely sure you’re going to change the world. You’ve heard that it takes time to climb the ranks, but you consider yourself different. Smarter, maybe? More clever? You promise yourself you’ll reach director level by 30 and the c-suite by 35.
And then life happens. A recession occurs. Or a lay-off. Or you get married. Or take a year off to travel. Or decide you hate your current role and make a much-need but career-stalling lateral move.
Whatever the case may be, you can feel the shift — you’ve lost the fire inside of you that made you take your career by the horns in the first place. When this happens, you can ignore it, or you can make a giant leap toward something different and re-ignite your spirit. Grad school might be the way to go.
In my first leadership role in my mid-twenties, I was put in charge of a small marketing team at a mid-sized Landscape Architecture + Urban Design firm in the Midwestern United States. I was pumped. I suddenly had the autonomy to lead marketing strategy, make calls on budgetary spending and bring my ideas to fruition without running every little initiative up the corporate ladder. Yay for me!
There were a ton of talented, passionate city planners and landscape architects working at this firm, and we were going after massive publicly funded projects with budgets that sometimes reached 50 million or more. From our small, Ohio-based office, we were competing with legacy firms out of New York and Chicago, and a lot of the time, we were winning.
One of the key takeaways I learned from my tenure at this firm, however, has nothing to do with me. Often, when we went after a project, we would submit ideas and small sketches to let our potential client know that we were passionate and already thinking about the work. However, many of our older landscape architects, with their beautiful ideas and brilliant design schemes, would insist on rendering everything by hand, with pencils and marker. Although the results were incredible, their process took about 4 times longer than their younger, computer-rendering-savvy counterparts, and they often stayed in the office late at night to keep up with deadlines.
The bottom line? Technology had made their methods irrelevant, and it was costing them valuable time. An easy problem to fix with a dip back into the educational realm.
Sometimes, life circumstances point you toward a major change. Maybe you’ve gone through a divorce, maybe you’ve re-assessed your priorities, maybe your company has folded and left you looking for work, maybe you’ve simply let go of the thing that tethered you to your career in the first place. Whatever the case may be, you can feel the need for a dramatic shift rising in your being and it’s beginning to become a presence you can no longer ignore.
Now, I’m going to say something to you that no one ever told me as I was growing up in one of the most conservative areas of one of the most controversially conservative countries in the western world. It was a sentiment I had to learn on my own, through trial and error, instability and balance, one shaky footstep at a time:
You do not need anyone else’s permission to change your entire life.
There it is. So simple, but something we often forget.
Human beings are tribal mammals, so it’s natural to seek others’ opinions, fear others’ judgements, or avoid going after the thing we really want because it’s so far from what’s expected of us by the status quo. But the fact remains true; your intuition already knows which way you want to go, and you need no one’s permission but your own to follow it.
Print it out. Put it on a t-shirt. Go your own way, baby.
I cannot count the number of times I tell people that I have gone back to university and they respond with, “Oh my, how fun! Goodness I wish I had the opportunity to do it over again. Learning is such a luxury now.”
The truth is, taking the time needed to learn something new IS such a luxury now — and it’s a luxury you deserve. In our current, information-overloaded yet wisdom-starved lives, the human attention span has now dropped to around 8 seconds, according to a Microsoft study referenced in this article by Thrive Global.
What can we do to keep ourselves from drowning in our screens? Taking time for non-digital things, like shared meals with our phones put away, meditation, and taking time to satisfy our curiosity for wisdom and knowledge in an actual classroom, amongst our peers.
Personally, I have found the entire experience of being back at university refreshing. The act of reading from physical books in the uni library, walking to class across the historic quad, and engaging in group projects and brainstorm sessions with other students has been exactly what I needed to slow down and build wisdom — not simply collect more information.
If you’re in your thirties, you may have a kid or two. Or, you may have already told the corporate world to kiss your bum for a bit and taken some time to write a book or travel or meditate in an ashram at the foot of the Himalayas.
If you’ve taken a hiatus from your career and are now having troubles landing interviews, you’re not alone. According to this site referencing Australian Bureau of Statistics on Aussies who take a career break of six months or more, 73% of women stepped away from their careers for ‘family reasons’ and 47% of men for ‘personal reasons.’
Whether it’s due to parental leave or personal choices, if you’re having trouble re-entering the job market, furthering your education may be the way to go. Big tuition dollars for the full masters competing with nappies in the family budget? Find a course offering a graduate certificate to brush up your skillset. They can usually be completed in one semester (roughly four courses) and you can likely keep chipping away at the full masters through the occasional night class if you choose, even after you’ve re-entered the workforce.
Okay, this headline is clearly a joke, but there is something to be said for taking a break from the workforce to simply have fun and learn.
I went to undergrad in America and studied at an art school, so all of my tailgate experience was gained at the neighboring state university — which happened to boast a national-championship-winning American football team at the time. Along with a robust selection of local micro-brewed beer, of course.
When I decided to move across the planet and attend grad school in Australia, the last thing on my mind was attending sporting matches. Still, one night after exiting an evening class, I found myself drawn to the cheers of an animated crowd across campus. I slowly followed the brick lane illuminated by the beckoning lights of the university stadium and found myself watching from the sidelines of a rugby game, cheering along until its conclusion.
Think this experience is irrelevant? Revisit number 6 to be reminded on how much the intrinsic details of university life can revive your spirit. There’s something infectious about the hopeful jubilance abundant on campuses the world over. After all, there’s no rule anywhere that the attitude of joy for living is reserved primarily for those under 25. In fact, some might say that those of us with a bit more, ahem, life experience may benefit from silly moments like rugby rallies even more.
Those of you who’ve thought about going back to grad school — I hope I’ve given you the encouragement you need to go for it. Changing my life in this way has opened me up to new jobs, relationships, and experiences, and I could not be more grateful to my former self for trusting the universe enough to make the leap.
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Nat is an American expat, obsessive world traveler, yoga instructor, aspiring author and the Marketing and Content Lead here at Zuper. Prior to coming to Zuper, Nat created campaigns for the retirement division of Fortune 100's Nationwide Financial in the States, along with a number of start-ups, bootstrapped organizations and nationally-known brands. When she isn't at the helm of Zuper's creative team, Nat can typically be found bopping around Bondi or hiking Sydney's national parks.