I can still remember the excitement I felt the day I was officially handed my undergraduate diploma. After five long years (sure, it could have been shorter if I had decided on my major(s) in a more timely fashion, but where’s the fun in that?), I was finally free of projects, exams and late night study marathons. Even better, I had already accepted a full-time job in a new city, so I was fortunate enough to avoid the panic-stricken post-graduate unemployment crisis that was plaguing far too many during this particular stage in the US economy’s anemic recovery. I was on my way to making a living in the “real world.”
Many choose to make a clean break from school once they start a career, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Formal education is by no means the only way to stimulate intellectual curiosity and pursue self-improvement. In today’s hypercompetitive job landscape, however, it never hurts to have additional credentials on your side to stand out from the crowd. In my case, I knew that my first job wasn’t in the exact field that I wanted to be in long-term (i.e., investments), and so I knew that I needed to develop a strategy to eventually make a transition. The decision to pursue higher education was relatively easy for me, because my employer had a very robust tuition reimbursement plan. I strongly encourage anyone in a similar situation to take full advantage of such benefits, as they are a tremendous value add on top of your other forms of compensation. Be sure you have a complete understanding of the associated policies, however, as many firms have limits on the type of expenses that qualify for reimbursement and/or have a minimum service requirement. After doing my due diligence and considering which graduate programs were best suited to help me further my career, I officially enrolled in a Master of Science in Finance program at a local university.
Part of the back-to-school experience seemed eerily familiar; after all, it had only been about six months since I had wrapped up my undergraduate studies. On the other hand, starting graduate school was an unexpectedly new experience, as I was now going straight to class in the evenings after a full day of work. No longer could I procrastinate on homework (a crime of which I was a repeat offender previously), and I was forced to find ways to retain information more quickly, skills that would also prove useful on-the-job. It was tempting to just put in the minimum effort required to pass my courses, but I wanted to make sure that if I was going to put myself through this, I was going to get the full benefit. To do so, I worked hard to build a network through my professors and classmates, got involved in extracurricular activities and began to work my way through the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Program (another credential that I believed could differentiate me from other candidates looking to break into the investment industry). On top of these things, I was also busy planning my wedding and buying my first house.
Although I was stretched thin at times, I firmly believe that anyone can successfully balance work, school and a social life given the proper motivation, enthusiasm and time management skills. Doing so successfully can pay extraordinary dividends. Shortly before I graduated from my two-year program, I accepted a position at a reputable local asset advisor, and made my much-anticipated transition into the investment industry. I have no doubt that my continued education played a significant role in securing my current position. To anyone who is unsure about pulling the trigger on going back to school, I ask, “What is stopping you?” If there is any hesitation in your response, then perhaps the time is now.