Sometimes going back to school after you enter the workforce can help you get ahead.
For Tony Ross, that's the plan. He's currently pursuing his Associate of Science degree in Management from Penn Foster College, based in Scranton, PA.
"I decided to go back and finish a degree for personal satisfaction, to set a good example for my children, to better protect myself in the future if corporate downsizing becomes an issue, and to provide the opportunity for a career change later in life if that's the direction I choose to pursue," says Ross, 38, the father of three children.
"I was initially enrolled as a Bachelor or Science student but decided to change my major to management," says Ross, a Maryland resident. "I will still be ultimately pursuing the B.A./B.S. but am currently enrolled at the associate level."
We spoke to Tony about life as a college student, finishing up his degree, and what to do with it once he receives it.
Why did you choose to earn a degree in Business?
I am studying Management because I can get through it quickly. I have been in the field for 18 years and am studying management because I am already so familiar with the material…it affords me the ability to complete most courses very quickly.
This is important to me because I ultimately want to earn the B.A. and then the MBA. The biggest reason is probably to provide academic credentials to my successful life experience. I also want to be in the best possible position to change careers down the road and I believe a degree allows me to do that.
When do you expect to finish up your degree? Will you jump right into the Bachelor's?
I hope to finish the A.S. within a year. I will immediately jump into the B.A. I may switch to Emergency Management because I can finish more quickly.
Why did you decide to go with distance learning?
I decided on distance learning because I have the option to complete courses quickly in most cases ... I am not limited by a 16-week semester schedule. Distance education also gives a student a much wider selection of schools to choose from. In a traditional learning environment a student is limited to only those schools local to him/her. Distance education gives me the best possible opportunity to complete my degree in the time that I want, from the school that I want, at the price that I want.
Tell us about your favorite course and why.
To date, my favorite course with a religion class, the Gospel of John. I enjoyed it because it was so different than the management/marketing/business classes that I typically take. It offered variety to what I do for a living and was personally satisfying.
How do you manage work/school/personal life?
This is really tough. I am married, have children, play guitar, have a demanding job, and am enrolled in distance education. The key for me is to set a schedule but not to make the schedule so rigid that it's unrealistic. For example, I work approximately 11 hours a day including travel time. That only leaves about 4 to 5 hours per evening for other things. I spend at least 2 hours of that time with my family (dinner, chat, TV, etc.).
How do you manage work/school/personal life? (cont'd)
Then I use the remaining 2 hours per evening for either school or guitar depending on the day of the week. Saturdays and Sundays I spend 4 to 5 hours per day with the family, about 3 to 4 hours once per weekend with the guitar, and 3 to 4 hours per day for school.
I end up with about 15 hours per week for school which is typically sufficient. It's VERY important to actually carve out designated "study time" no matter how frequently or infrequently you plan to devote to it. Failure to do that will absolutely result in procrastination, intentional or unintentional.
Tell us a little about what you do now.
I work as an executive for a property management company. I share the responsibility with three other top executives for approximately 11,500 multi-family units, a small commercial portfolio, supervision of seven regional directors and nearly 400 employees, client relationships (including private investors, owners, and government agencies).
How are you paying for your education?
I'm using personal savings to pay for school.
What is your biggest challenge as a distance learning student?
Time, Time, Time. There are only so many hours in a day and there are a lot of time demands. Furthermore, life is unpredictable ... real life doesn't usually work as well as you plan it on a calendar so it's easy to get sidetracked.
What is the best thing about distance learning?
The best thing is freedom. Freedom to work study time into a schedule that fits you. Freedom to choose a program and/or school that is located anywhere in the world. Freedom to find an affordable program that fits your needs.
And the worst thing?
The worst thing, too, is freedom. The freedom that makes distance study a great option can also be the very thing that contributes to your failure. With freedom comes the ability to procrastinate.
Do you have any advice or warnings about distance learning that you would offer prospective distance learning students?
- Don't expect it to be easier than learning in a traditional classroom.
- Be realistic about the time you really are able to devote to your studies.
- Create a schedule and stick to it as much as possible.
- If you are a person that tends to procrastinate, especially when it comes to doing things that are tedious (some classes will be tedious), choose a school that operates in an online environment with more frequent interaction between students and teachers. This environment usually has set time schedules and deadlines as well which will help the procrastinator.
- If you are motivated and organized, pick print courses. You won't be limited by a semester schedule.
- If you are learning new material and you want to get the most out of the experience, choose a program that uses an e-classroom or bulletin board. The interaction with others is very beneficial.