How to Change Careers at Any Age

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See how three people are changing careers in their 20's, 30's, and 40's.

By Tony Moton

Think it's too late in your life to make a career change? Think again.

Tom Mackey, dean of the Center for Distance Learning at State University of New York (SUNY), Empire State College, says people have an opportunity to reshape their professional lives by going to school.

"Higher education is a catalyst for change," Mackey says. "It gets you to think in a new way and it provides you with new skills. College also broadens your career options and choices because it provides you with the credentials you'll need."

Whether you're in your 20's, 30's, 40's, or beyond, making a career change at any age is possible.

Check out these real-life stories from people in the midst of taking their professional lives in new directions.


Katie Thompson: Age 27
Career Transition: Occupational Therapist

Katie Thompson's passion in life has always been about helping others.

"I find it very fulfilling to give back to people and the community," says Thompson, a native of Charleston, W.Va.

For three years, Thompson worked in Tucson, Ariz., as a one-on-one teacher's aide for special needs children at a public school. She says she enjoyed the work, but started thinking about changing her career to something with better salary potential and job growth.

"There was not a lot of room for advancement where I was, and I was not making enough money to live on," Thompson says.

In June of 2011, Thompson moved to Pasadena, Calif., after enrolling in a master's in occupational therapy program at the University of Southern California. Now more than halfway through the program, Thompson says she finds her new educational path challenging and stimulating.

"The science part has been the hardest," says Thompson, who earned a bachelor's degree in English and drama six years ago from Kenyon College in Lambier, Ohio. "The medical aspects have been kind of a stretch for me."

During the traditional full-time program, Thompson says she has taken courses in anatomy, physiology, and neuroscience, and focused on two practice areas - mental health and pediatrics. This fall semester, Thompson has been learning about physical disabilities and geriatrics.

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Thompson has some experience working with older adults, having held part-time summer jobs as a caregiver for people needing daily living assistance in a home-health setting.

"I like working with different kinds of populations," says Thompson, who supports herself by working part-time as a graduate assistant in occupational therapy. "It makes my day to make someone's life easier."

When her program ends, Thompson envisions herself working with children again as an occupational therapist.

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Amanda Parks: Age 33
Career Transition: Middle School Counselor

A single mother of two children, ages eight and 12, Amanda Parks was finding her life getting more hectic as she moved up the ladder in the grocery retail industry in Lander, Wyo.

"I was working my way up the retail chain into an industry-level management position," Parks says, "but to get any higher I would have to relocate and start working in a management position that would have me working 50 to 60 hours a week. It wasn't conducive to raising children."

Two years ago, Parks made the decision to leave the grocery industry and enroll in a traditional, full-time master's degree program in school counseling at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).

"I always wanted to counsel people in a one-on-one setting, but I would need a master's degree to do that," says Parks, who holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Wyoming.

And while Parks did have to move to another city to pursue this career change, she had family living in the Vegas area to help ease the transition.

"It takes a lot of determination to keep going, but I am glad I decided to switch careers," Parks says. "It's something I am very proud of."

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By enrolling in a master's program at UNLV, Parks says she is giving her children yet another example of why education matters to her.

"I am just trying to pave the way for my children," Parks says. "I want them to go to college and I want a career I enjoy."

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John Hernando: Age 44
Career Transition: Business Owner

After spending most of his adult working life in the field of credit management, John Hernando decided to make a career change. His goal? To start his own business.

But to make this happen, Hernando says he believed he needed to add to his credentials and learn more about business from a theoretical standpoint.

The Dallas resident, who lives with his wife and two teenage children, completed an executive master's in business administration program (MBA) at Baylor University in the spring of 2012.

"I have always had aspirations of moving up the corporate ladder," Hernando says, "so I went back to school to really get an understanding of higher-level business principles and theory with graduate-level work."

Hernando says he took traditional classes for the 21-month program at a Baylor satellite campus in Dallas. The school's main campus is located in Waco, Texas. Classes were held every other Friday afternoon and all day on Saturdays, enabling Hernando to keep his day job as director of financial services for a large dairy processor.

Hernando, however, had to miss watching his children play competitive baseball and tennis on the weekends during the MBA program. He also found some of the program's assignment deadlines extremely demanding.

However, the MBA program did allow Hernando to follow through on his goal of changing careers. He teamed up with a Baylor classmate to build a business plan, and together they started a freight brokerage firm that operates as a third-party logistics company for the shipping industry.

"I gained a lot of skills through the MBA program and broadened my network," says Hernando, who holds a bachelor's degree in business administration, which he earned at Dallas Baptist University in 1996. "The MBA program taught me more on the strategy side of things, how to build and start projects, and incorporate them with certain milestones."

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When it comes to the milestone of changing careers, Hernando says he feels like he's reached his target of being his own boss. He has a five-year game plan in place for his shipping company - a game plan he developed while earning his MBA.

"I think one of the biggest benefits was being able to broaden my network of professionals with my cohorts in the MBA program," Hernando says. "Not only do I consider them classmates, I consider them lifelong friends."

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