It's never too late to improve your career prospects by going back to college. Here are four profiles of people who bettered themselves later in life.
When Diane Guilfoy thought about going back to work after being a housewife and only working part time for years, she knew she didn't want to go back to teaching English.
"I enjoyed teaching at the time, but I wanted to get into something more challenging for me personally," explains the Walnut Creek woman. "I wanted something that would be more rewarding."
Guilfoy had tried one programming class when she was studying for a degree, but "it didn't take." Having played games on her son's Atari, however, she realized she enjoyed computers and had some talent for them. To learn more, she spent over two years taking programming classes at a community college.
"I went part time to Diablo Valley College at night and started learning BASIC," says Guilfoy. "I took five or six classes - COBOL, PO1, Pascal, Operations and some others."
While studying, she saw a Bank of America ad in the newspaper offering training to people with a degree in any field and a decent grade average.
"I had the minimum qualifications," Guilfoy recalls. "But even though I had a degree, I think the fact that I had taken computer classes helped - after all, I was an older person at the time." At 48 years old, she was not only hired, but paid to be trained.
Today, Guilfoy is a vice-president and consultant in systems programming at the Bank of America Technology Center. Although she downplays the vice-presidential title, saying "50 percent of the people at the center are vice-presidents," she has created an enjoyable career by using the resources of a community college to expand her education and improve her life. "If I have a programming challenge and succeed in making the program work the way it is supposed to, it makes me feel good."
Another thing about the job that appealed most to Guilfoy was that she didn't have to commute. "I can see where I work from where I live."
Welfare to Work
After dropping out of high school not once but twice, Wendy White worked her way up through a number of jobs in fast food and banking before going on welfare as a single mom at age 28. But by the time her son was two years old, she was anxious to go back to work.
"Welfare is the pits," comments the San Francisco resident. "It's nothing to live on. I was living at home with my mom, and didn't even have to pay rent, and it was still a struggle."
She sent out hundreds of resumes every month, garnering few interviews and no job offers. Nonetheless, she was determined to change her life by continuing her education and getting a position that could support her and her family.
White's first goal was to get her high school diploma, which she did by taking night classes. Then it was time to get really focused, enrolling at Heald College - a Monday through Friday program requiring a serious commitment.
"I went to an adult school to get my diploma to ease myself into it," White remembers. "It took three months, but it got me back into the swing of things. And it prepared me for going five days a week."
By January 1999, White had not only graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and an AAS degree in computer business administration, she was chosen to give the graduation speech.
Today, she works as a career services counselor at the college, not only supporting herself and her family, but also preparing to buy her first house.
Computers and Crime Fighters
After high school, Becki Marquez studied data processing at MTI College of Business and Technology. With a certificate under her belt, she went to work for an insurance company. But after working in that industry for a number of years, Marquez was ready for a change.
Because MTI helps its graduates find jobs for the duration of their working lives, Marquez turned to them for help. "MTI keeps you on forever," she laughs. "So I called them up to help with placement."
Through MTI, Marquez landed a job as a scheduler for the State Assembly in the California Capitol. Six months later, she was promoted to secretary on the staff of the sergeant at arms.
Since she was working with those responsible for the security of the Capitol building and its legislators, Marquez used the opportunity to go back to school and study law enforcement at Yuba City College. Although she only had to study for ten weeks, it qualified her to become a sergeant.
"I took a basic specialized investigator course," explains the Sacramento resident.
Today, she assists the chief sergeant at arms in a varied and interesting job that includes more money and, in a government town like Sacramento, more prestige.
"This job puts me in the middle of the political and law enforcement center of the Capitol," said Marquez. "I've been given a lot of trust and responsibility - and I really appreciate that."
Degree of Pride
Like Marquez, Debbie Gutierrez worked nearly 20 years before deciding to switch careers. In that time, Gutierrez raised a son and worked three part-time jobs, including a graveyard shift at Wal-Mart. Although she wanted to get ahead, going back to college on top of working so many jobs seemed like a gargantuan task. Nonetheless, Gutierrez enrolled at Gavilan Community College, determined to give it a try.
"Some days you are so tired, you can't help but ask yourself if it's worth it," Gutierrez confides. "But I had a lot of support and encouragement from the faculty and staff."
Because she has a learning disability, Gutierrez credits special programs like one-on-one tutoring with helping her finish her degree. "Without that program, I wouldn't have made it," concedes the Gilroy resident, who earned an AA in interpersonal communication after five and a half years.
Today, Gutierrez is a program specialist for Community Solutions, a local nonprofit agency. While she still puts in some part-time hours with the chiropractor she's worked for since high school, she is much happier and rightfully proud that she has worked and studied her way to a more interesting and fulfilling career.
"It feels very good and it has really helped my self-esteem to have a degree," Gutierrez proclaims. "I'm still working a lot of hours, but I'm enjoying it so much more."