Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Ask the Administrator: A Punk Rocker Returns

A new correspondent writes

Briefly - I started college in 1983 at a CA community college. I did OK for a while, earning some credits. I was in a very topsy-turvy time in my life - I was an artificially antisocial punk rocker and music shows were more important than anything - and consequently I did not finish my AA in Fine Arts. I had a great job that paid OK for 20 years so I didn't feel the pinch of not having a degree. That all changed when my husband nearly died, got a liver transplant and we decided to change our lives and move from super expensive CA to more affordable Georgia, 7 years ago.

Here in GA I can't find a job making more than about $12 an hour - I was making nearly twice that in CA.  I have tons of experience, but in way too many areas - the job I had in CA was family owned and we all pitched in and did everything. But I am not an "expert" in anything, and the fact that I'm now over 50 (though I look much younger, which is an asset) makes me feel like a fraud on every interview and it SHOWS! I have been kicking myself for the last 20 years over my AA and I'd like to finish it. Problem is that I have no idea how on earth to get started. I have ancient credits - do they even still count? Should I reach out to a college and see if my credits will transfer, at this late stage of the game, or just start over from scratch? Also, most online colleges don't offer AA's in Fine Arts, so I have to change my major. And, as has been my issue for my entire adult life, I don't know what I want to be when I grow up, so I don't know what major to switch to. Ugh.

I know that at this late stage of the game it may be silly to try to finish my degree. But it haunts me. I know it would make a difference to the way I present myself. It would very likely make a difference to my earning capacity. So....any ideas?

Getting started is the scary part.  Thanks for writing, and congratulations on making the decision!

(I don’t know what “artificially antisocial” means, but it seems worth asking.)

I’m guessing that after years of pitching in on every aspect of a family-owned business, your skill set is much broader and deeper than you give yourself credit for.  I go to a lot of employer advisory boards for various programs, and the complaint I always hear from employers is about finding workers who have “soft skills” and take the initiative.  If you’ve pitched in on everything, then you must have developed pretty serious initiative. That’s half the battle.

I’m based in New Jersey, not Georgia, so I’ll ask my wise and worldly readers who know Georgia to fill in some gaps.  Having said that, because you asked, I’ll suggest a few starting points.

Yes, it could be worthwhile to reach out to the school you attended in the 80’s to get at least an unofficial transcript.  Some credits never expire. (Many schools put expiration dates on math classes, because people forget after a while, but they don’t put expiration dates on classes in, say, English or history.)  You don’t have to, but if you decide to re-enroll, it could save you serious time and money if you could knock out some requirements before you start.

I’d recommend finding the nearest community college and making a call to its Admissions office.  When you get through, ask if they can set up an appointment for you with someone in Career Services.  

A good Career Services office could do two things for you immediately.  It could help you identify fields you might actually like, through a career interest inventory.  And it could help you translate the skills you already have into “employer language.” Rather than looking at age and thinking “weakness,” look at experience and see it as the strength that it is.  You know what it is to work in a business for years. You’ve done specific things -- customer service, maybe, or supply management -- that translate across workplaces. The trick is in knowing how to frame them so that employers see the value in them, and you do, too.  

That may seem like lying, but it’s really just taking credit where credit is due.  You have decades of real-world work experience. Most students don’t. You can use that.

Once you’ve identified a field, even if only broadly, you’ll know whether a degree matters.  If it does, you can use the career goal to help pick the major. It’s much easier to do well in classes if they’re related to a goal you care about.  Alternately, depending on the field, you might do well with some short-term, non-credit training. That would have the advantage of being both quicker and cheaper.  Some fields even have “stackable credentials,” which means that you can move up gradually and make more money while you move towards a degree. For example, in allied health, a CNA credential gets you in the door and allows you to get a low-paying job in the field.  That can support you while you move to LPN status, which opens up better-paying jobs. From there, you can sometimes move to RN status, which pays even better. Not every field has that, but it’s worth asking.

So my short answer is, find the Career Services office.  They’re not just about “placement” anymore.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what would you add (or change)?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.