It began as just an inkling of a feeling. But the desire to act grew, and you knew you needed to do something more – it was time to take the leap and go back to school.


You sent in applications to different programs, and then, one day, found that you had been accepted. All of the pieces were falling into place for you to continue your education and advance your career.


Maybe this isn't your story yet, but you'd like it to be.


It's never too late to start school again! If you've gotten everything you can out of your current job, the economy has made life difficult for you in the work world or you're just ready for the next step, consider attending one of the Triangle's institutions of higher education.


Studies estimate that the work-life earnings of someone with a bachelor's degree will be $2.1 million; a master's degree will increase that amount to $2.5 million; and a professional degree (which prepares the holder for a specific line of advanced work) will bump it up to $4.4 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


Time for a change


The decision to update your knowledge and abilities by returning to school can facilitate a desired professional boost.


These days, many women are looking for new jobs not just within their company but within their field, and sometimes, other fields, says Denise Rotondo, Ph.D., dean and professor of business at Meredith College, in Raleigh.


However, compared to five to 10 years ago, there aren't as many people coming back to school to move up their current company's ladder, Rotondo says.


"There are a lot of folks who are tired of feeling like they're in a dead-end job," she notes. "In general, we see people coming in not for promotions but because they need a job switch."


For many women, signing up for courses is "more about adding to existing work experience," according to Sue Jackson, executive dean and department head of continuing education at Durham Technical Community College.


"Typically, students are focused on finding employment," she explains, adding, "We are passionate about serving students and providing them with a skill set that will enhance success in the workplace."



New prospects


By returning to school and taking courses that enhance your education, you open up a multitude of prospects.


Opportunities for Triangle women are available "whether someone wants to go into the health field, start her own business or be a nutritionist," Rotondo says.


Many women go back to study subjects in which there is definite job growth.


For example, the Paralegal Certificate Program offered at UNC–Chapel Hill's Friday Center is a very popular option for women, according to Annette Madden, the center's associate director for professional development and enrichment programs.


This curriculum, and others like it, allows women to "see continuing education as the catalyst for making a change in their lives," notes Madden.


These programs are worthwhile because they train students in the necessary skills for reaching their goals. Those who complete the UNC syllabus, for instance, are prepared to launch their second (or third!) career immediately because the N.C. State Bar has designated it as a qualified paralegal studies program.



Anything is possible


One thing that prevents many women from taking the steps to return to school is the belief that it isn't possible or it won't make a difference, says Meredith's Rotondo.

But, she advises, "You should at least look into it so that when the economy does pick up, you'll be ready and you can capitalize on opportunities."


Many who work at Triangle colleges say that people in mid-career often have misconceptions that keep them from going back: continuing education is too expensive; they don't have time for it; or they're too far along in their work lives.
However, many institutions make an effort to ensure that offerings are affordable. For example, Wake Technical Community


College, in Raleigh, offers several free courses for those who are unemployed.
In terms of flexibility, the majority of continuing ed classes are set up to accommodate those with full-time jobs or other responsibilities.


At Meredith, many classes are held only one night a week, says Rotondo.



Age is irrelevant


Women in all stages of life are choosing to continue their educations.


Many students in Meredith's MBA program have eight years of work under their belts before enrolling, according to Rotondo.
"Generally, people are coming in with some significant experience," she says.


UNC's Madden notes, "Women are returning to school because they want to retool for the next stage in their journey."



Real-life success


If you still don't think that setting foot on campus is a viable option for advancing your professional life, check out the story of Karen Braxton. She's a 49-year-old graduate of Wake Tech's START certification program, a series of accelerated hospitality training courses.


Due to the economy, Braxton was laid off from her job as an administrative assistant at two Durham-based architectural firms, and she wasn't able to find another administrative position. She had previously taken some human resources development courses at Wake Tech, so she decided to explore more options there.


One reason she chose hospitality was that the industry "had been hit, but it hadn't been hit as badly as some of the other areas of the economy," Braxton says.

After completing START's classes, she was able to embark on a fresh vocation.


"The great thing about the START program is that you can make hospitality a career or you can make it a job," says Braxton. "It can be part-time or it can transform your life on a professional level."


Braxton now works at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel, in Durham, as a sales administrative assistant – a position that her START education allowed her to obtain, she says.


"It was very rewarding to go back to school and be in that setting, considering I hadn't been in that setting for over 20 years," she explains. "It was refreshing and at times challenging, but you have to look at the end result."