Just about everyone who has gone back to school later in life knows the question: “What made you decide to go back to school?”
What I’ve found is that the answers are pretty generic, including:
- “It was time.”
- “I felt I needed to.”
- “The time was right.”
- “Work offers tuition reimbursement.”
None of these are a real answer. Now, we may feel the question is polite, or prying, and doesn’t require a thought out response, but it does, for both parties. Here’s why: the answer serves to reaffirm the goal behind the effort for the one answering; the answer can provide insight or inspiration for the person asking, especially if it may be something they would consider. The real answer is about motivation.
So, now I’m going to tell you my honest answer to the question: I went back to school because I realized that without a Bachelor’s degree I wasn’t going to get anywhere for another ten years.
In 2007, I had been at my company for roughly 3 1/2 years. I applied for a position that required three years experience and a Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent experience. I found out later, the equivalent work experience for this company is two years for every year of the degree, so eight years experience, added to the three years required and 11 years of experience is needed with no degree. Ouch. I would have had to start working when I was 12 or 13 to have the experience for said job.
It was that smack in the face called reality that made me ask the question, “Without a degree, how long do I have to wait?” The answer was 5-8 years and that was just too long for me.
When I give the honest answer, instead of the quick and easy answer, there’s a pause. Then I get follow-up questions. They include questions about how I thought I could afford it, if it was overwhelming to think about going back to school, how did I balance work, school and personal life, and did I ever think about quitting before I finished.
Those are the kind of questions that also need to be answered honestly. For the financial aspect, it was one of those things where I just had to think there would be a way, be it grants, student loans, payment plans, or something. Regarding work / school / life balance, my answer is that there is always sacrifice, but the key is to remember that there is sacrifice in going back to school and there is sacrifice in not going back to school. People forget that the status quo has an opportunity cost as well, and deciding to do nothing has its own trade-offs. In my mind, not going back to school was sacrificing what my career could be for the next 30 years, so sacrificing 2 to 4 years of personal time was worth it.
The last question is always the hardest one to answer, not because the answer is difficult, but because it is an emotional question. The answer truly is yes, I did consider quitting. I considered it when I had to be up at 5 AM on a Saturday to go to school and all I really wanted was sleep, when I was doing homework every night of the week and on Sundays and nothing else, when I was gaining weight from not being out and about, when I was exhausted just waiting for the current session to be over.
Every time I told my husband (then boyfriend) that I considered quitting he would just turn around and ask me, “Why did you go back then, if you were just going to quit?” And his follow-up would be, “Do you still think you need the degree?” And that question, my friends, prompted the immediate “Of course I do!” response. “Then I guess you’re not quitting, so get back to it.”
By the way, we learned to reward completion, homework completion and class completion, like you would your own kids. I got ice cream when my homework for the week was done, if it was done before Friday night. I love ice cream.
So, back to it, when you ask someone, or are asked the question, “What made you decide to go back to school?” Tell them you are truly interested, give honest answers and feedback. The answers should provide perspective, provoke thought and maybe, just maybe, provide a bit of inspiration for the next step of your journey.
You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dreams. You were born with greatness. – Djalal Ad-Din Rumi