When Your Career Path Includes An Advanced Degree: 10 Tips for Success

Education means something different to each of us. We educate ourselves through a variety of channels. Some educational options include college. But attending educational conferences, participating in webinars, working with a mentor, reading, professional networking, and volunteering are other ways to learn skills and gain knowledge. If you want to be truly challenged, pursue an advanced degree.

I grew up in Orange County, California, where I went to college and earned an AA and a BA. Both degrees are in Communications. While in college, I worked at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. Working at the theme parks was an educational experience on its own. When I wasn’t in school or working, I was often reading or volunteering for a non-profit organization. While I didn’t realize it at the time, everything we do is an educational opportunity.

I have had a longtime educational goal to earn an advanced degree — a Master’s Degree in a program that would support my career path. I’ll be honest with you, I made an attempt at it, but it simply did not work. I’d applied to both UCLA and CSUN and been accepted at each university. The problem I encountered was my schedule. As everyone who works in the meetings and events industry knows, we work irregular and ever-changing schedules due to our professional commitments. For me, this was quite a disappointment.

Then, several years ago I became aware of more and more professionals working on their advanced degrees on-line. This peaked my interest. So, I did my research and, after several months, found a university program that fit me.

I’m proud to share that I’m officially a graduate student through Lasell College in Boston. I’m an almost 60-year-old grandpa working on my Masters of Science in Management in Hospitality and Events. It will take me a few years as I am slowly pacing myself.

Now, keep in mind that I earned my BA in Communications 35 years ago. There were no computers, internet or even fax machines way back then. The technology tools we use for school are different now, and I’m learning to use them. It’s an educational adventure that keeps me on my toes. And I’m surrounded by very smart students, each of whom is less than half my age.

While working on this degree, I find myself doing things that I’ve not done in years. I have an Associated Press Stylebook in easy reach on my desk. I’m researching references for citations. I’m writing substantive posts, enhancing my careful use of grammar and punctuation, and receiving feedback from my fellow students who are located all over the country. It’s quite an adventure!

At this point in my career path, this degree is purely for personal educational enrichment. I understand that my working years are largely behind me at this point. I am hopeful however, that earning this degree will open doors for me so that I can teach Events and Hospitality Management at various universities throughout Southern California. This would be wonderful.

I’ve had a number of MPISCC members ask me for tips for their future educational planning. Here are my thoughts for anyone considering graduate school:

  1. Do your Homework When considering a new graduate program I recommend speaking with your industry connections. Have a heart-to-heart talk and come prepared with many questions. How did they select their degree and the university where they’ve studied? How did they manage their time management and coursework?
  2. Research College and University Programs There are local colleges and universities as well as online options. When beginning my research I knew I wanted a U.S. educational institution — one that was accredited and certainly respected. If you’re going to work toward an advanced degree, make certain to do it through a reputable university or college.
  3. Have a Financial Plan Quite simply, education is expensive. There is no way around this. I regard the costs as an investment in my family’s future. Financial aid and grants are available. College loans and other creative payment options should be researched. My advanced degree, with tuition, books and related expenses, will cost approximately $36,000.
  4. Seek Buy-in from your Employer Many employers offer tuition support for their employees. It’s important to share your educational plans with your management. They’ll be supportive and help you navigate possible financial supports. Scholarships may be available if your employer has a corporate foundation. Ask for recommendations for other industry foundations to reach out to for scholarships and financial support.
  5. Organize Yourself Returning to graduate school is a big deal. Create a dedicated office or study space plan for your books, materials and papers. You will need tabbed binders, red pens, yellow highlighters, and sticky notes, and an area separated from your main work space. Don’t forget apps and software like Evernote, Nozbe and reference apps. Graduate studies deserve their focused attention and dedicated space. An organized graduate student is a happy graduate student. Trust me on this!
  6. Brush Up As you begin your graduate studies, take time to reflect on your past learnings. Know that you’ll quite simply be opening your brain in ways that you may not have used before. My local public library has been a great resource. So too, is my current college library when it comes to identifying references for the many papers I work on. I currently have a marketing and management class where we’re covering things that I’ve not dealt with before. It’s all in the learning.
  7. Accept your New Schedule I knew my life was busy before graduate school. I didn’t quite realize the time commitment I was undertaking. I’d been advised to allow 16-20 hours each week for graduate homework and studies, and my advisors were correct. Many of my study hours happen after my work day during nights and weekends. It’s good to know this up-front. Since I started back to school, I’ve had to say “no” to many dinner invitations, to going out with family and friends, and adjust my quiet time. My new life schedule means there is ALWAYS something that needs my attention.
  8. Pace Yourself Graduate school demands accuracy. I’ve learned to pace myself, watch for errors, seek others to view my work as “another pair of eyes”, to save documents, and to take breaks and return to the project when I am rested and more alert.
  9. Take Care of Yourself Whether in graduate school or not, we’re only as good as how well we take care of ourselves. With this extra educational responsibility my advice includes the following: drink plenty of water, eat healthy food, get up and stretch, make time for exercise. Take time to breathe, get some sunshine, take breaks and maintain healthy relationships with family, friends and your pets. If you are tired and not taking care of yourself, it will show up in your course work.
  10. Learn to Say “NO” During this busy time in your life, it’s a simple reality that you will need to say “no” more often than you ever have before. Be prepared to say “no” to going out with friends, attending a family wedding, volunteering at that special event you enjoy or helping that friend who needs to bend your ear with their life challenges. It’s hard to say “no.” Meeting and event professionals say “yes” all the time. But graduate school presents an entirely new set of time challenges. The upside is that it’s temporary, for the season that you are in school.

Education is a wonderful thing. We are life-long learners. I have the greatest respect for individuals who return to school. Good luck with your studies. Share your educational successes on social media, because your network will be proud of you!


Thomas Smith CMP, CMM