How Going Back to School Helped My Career

Going back to school can pay off – literally. We heard from folks who pursued more education in a few different ways: completing a lingering degree, pursuing a master's, or signing up for a bootcamp or certificate program.

portrait of Evan Thompson
by Evan Thompson

Updated July 14, 2022

Share this Article
How Going Back to School Helped My Career
Image Credit: Blend Images - Peathegee Inc / Tetra Images / Getty Images

It's no secret that higher credentials take time and money. For working professionals going back to school, the real question is: Will it pay off?

The short answer is yes. Financial experts widely agree on two big things when it comes to continuing education:

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

Those two reasons are why more and more working professionals are going back to school. EAB, an education consulting firm, projects the number of students between ages 25 and 34 will increase by 21% by 2022 — along with more than twice as much growth in master's degree enrollment than bachelor's.

Still, "should I go back to school?" remains a nerve-wracking question for many people, especially if you have other responsibilities like a family, bills, and a career. The real-world rewards of going back to school for a career change can seem like a bit of a mystery unless you know someone who's done it.

That's why we spoke with five working professionals who went back to school to advance their careers. They told us how a degree or certificate reshaped their lives and put them on a better track to success.

Portrait of

Gale Wilkins

  • Degree(s): Bachelor's Degree in Human Services and Master in Liberal Studies
  • School: William Peace University and North Carolina State University
  • Job: Founding President, Family Life Coach, and Consultant at Project Arrow

My backstory

"My husband and I started university part-time early in our careers, but family and work responsibilities became too difficult to maintain satisfactorily. So, I paused my higher-ed schooling to raise my family and support my husband, who finished his degree. Once I felt my family was in a good place and I developed the courage and confidence, I decided to go back to William Peace University."

How going back to school helped

"After my undergraduate degree and while in graduate school, I accepted a job as the state director of a youth and family program. I would not have been qualified for the job without my higher education degree, nor would I have felt prepared for the position without my academic training. I had the experience and knowledge to lead the department. One question during the interview was about my ability to lead; I had just completed a class on leadership. It was that one answer that gave me the edge to be offered the job."

Other notable gains

"While leading the state’s youth agency and doing research on leadership in graduate school, I created a peer-to-peer life coaching program for middle, high school, and first-year college students. Since leaving public service, I created my own company. I have been funded by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction since 2018 to teach life coaching and leadership skills to students that address trauma and crisis and coping skills."

Portrait of

June Escalada

My backstory

"As a small business owner and entrepreneur, I’m always looking for ways I can get a leg up to boost success. I’m a big fan of continued education and going back to school really helped my career development in the ways I desired. My undergrad degree is in music. While I spent some time in that industry, the continued education that I pursued afterward has steered me into my current freelance copywriter career."

How going back to school helped

"I was able to enroll in a writing certificate program from Berkeley in California in 2017. This program helped me develop my writing skills and enabled me to believe that I could pursue a new career path that I could create to my liking. The certificate program really helped me learn new skills to develop and tailor my writing for specific purposes. I learned how to get long-form works ready to publish while also getting a lot of great feedback on my style. While I rarely get asked about what degrees I hold (the state of copywriting is all about what you have done lately), I don’t think I would be on the path I am today without enrolling in continued education."

Other notable gains

"On top of learned skills, I developed a network of other writers and like-minded individuals who have helped me build my business into what it is today. I would argue that this aspect is even more valuable than the actual education. I’m still in touch with a few of my professors, and they’ve helped me with some important projects. And other students that I stay in touch with all support one another with job opportunities and resources."

Portrait of

Paige Arnof-Fenn

  • Degree: Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • School: Harvard Business School
  • Job: Founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls

My backstory

"I started my career in finance on Wall Street in the '80s. I realized early on I wanted to switch career tracks. Being a financial analyst in investment banking paid well, but the hours and lifestyle did not leave time for anything else. So, after two years, I decided to go back to school for my MBA at Harvard (graduating in 1991), which allowed me to rebrand myself, try a new area as a summer intern in marketing, gain new skills, and build my network and my confidence."

How going back to school helped

"I know having an MBA helped my resume stand out to get interviews and gave me credibility as an entrepreneur. I am so much happier in a career that allows me to use both sides of my brain; explore a more creative path; use my business acumen in all sizes and types of businesses, from the very largest public companies to venture-backed startups; and now running my own firm."

Other notable gains

"For me, getting an MBA was critical for finding work I enjoyed and making the transition smoothly. I took marketing classes and got experience on and off-campus to help me build a resume in the new field which gave me credibility as a marketer. I positioned myself as being strong analytically which would help me be a better marketer using data to make decisions."

Portrait of

Isaac Hayes

  • Degree: Master of Divinity (MDiv)
  • School: Moody Theological Seminary
  • Job: Assistant Pastor for Auxiliary Development, Stewardship, and Community Engagement, Apostolic Church of God

My backstory

"I knew that pastoring was my ultimate vocational path. In order to have the credentials as well as the competencies necessary to serve in that role, an M.Div. was necessary. Seminary would give me the interpretive and explanation skills required to effectively communicate the Scriptures. It would also help me to better understand the organizational, operational, and social aspects of pastoring a church."

How going back to school helped

"In May 2015, I received my Master of Divinity degree from Moody Theological Seminary. That July, I was promoted to assistant pastor, responsible for strategic planning, stewardship, and community engagement. It also came with an increase in salary. [There] is no question in my mind that there was a direct correlation between my higher-level education and my promotion because the degree gave me the certification that I mastered the philosophical and practical knowledge base to pastor a church."

Other notable gains

"The hermeneutical, homiletical, and pedagogical skills I acquired opened up more frequent opportunities to preach and teach at my church. The members of our congregation also noticed the impact my training had. Organizationally and operationally, it resulted in me moving from an event planner to being responsible for working strategically with the auxiliary leaders of our congregation. I was also tasked with creating a new organization within our church designed to expand our community footprint."

Portrait of

Andrea Chapman

  • Certificates: Diploma in Graphic Design and Advanced in Graphic Design
  • Platform: Shaw Academy
  • Job: Marketing manager for Nature and Bloom

My backstory

"I decided to pursue the course because my graphic design skills are admittedly a little rusty, and I wanted to be more proficient in the tools used and the concepts that make a design pop. After all, it's all about visuals in these modern times. In the business world, you have to create hundreds of materials such as banners, logos, social media content, and other materials as part of your branding and marketing."

How going back to school helped

"After the course, I was able to practice and create better designs on my own. Even if I'm not required to come up with the graphics myself, having a firm grasp of the concepts helped me make more informed decisions."

Other notable gains

"When I got promoted to a managerial position, I was able to spot good designs, suggest improvements, and get better results on our marketing campaigns. I loved that I was able to give actionable insights to our graphic designers. Before, I would just be able to say vague things like, 'make the design pop' or 'make it cleaner.' But now that I have a deeper understanding of how it works, I can pinpoint the areas for improvement and suggest the next actual steps — making the process smoother and the communication much clearer."

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.