This is a guest post by Dan Lauer.

“As a young man, my grandfather gave me some advice: ‘Get with a good company, and stay for 40 years,'” said Charlie Hoffman, dean of the UMSL College of Business. “Those who did that are now finding themselves in their late 50s — at the edge of retirement and bored. These are successful people who’ve realized they’re not done growing and learning. They’re looking for more.”


They’re not alone in that thinking. Seventy percent of Americans dislike their jobs, and 73 percent of 30-somethings would prefer to change careers. Professionals who’ve worked in their industries for decades have plenty of real-world experience, but new technologies, new strategies, and history lessons on how others have succeeded in their industries can empower them to bring new insights back to their organizations.


I know, because I’ve been there. I started my company, Lauer Toys Inc., in 1988. Twenty-five years later, I remained at the head of the company, but something was missing. By collaborating with Hoffman and other leaders at UMSL, I was able to pivot late in my career to do what I loved: work with aspiring entrepreneurs, innovators, and inventors at UMSL Accelerate.


For many professionals and entrepreneurs, a return to the classroom hasn’t even crossed their minds. I understand why, of course. Traditional doctorate and master’s programs take several years to complete. Dissertations require heavy amounts of research, and all the while, the outside world continues to churn along.


Fortunately, new programs aimed at regular people with existing careers don’t just deliver paper degrees. While 74 percent of graduating college students feel unprepared to work, entrepreneurial programs and others designed for experienced professionals provide training immediately applicable in the real world. These programs empower returning students to discover where their skills and passions intersect — then turn that path into reality.


Why, where, how?


Young professionals and veteran business owners alike can achieve great things through a second stint at a university.


Workers with graduate degrees outearn their peers who have bachelor’s degrees. Intensive courses with knowledgeable professors do more than boost résumés — these experiences teach professionals relevant skills that help them not only do more for their workplaces, but also get more out of their professional lives in the long term.


Those considering a career change can make a pit stop at a university before taking the plunge. New adventures offer new opportunities, and education provides a basis of knowledge to make the transition as seamless as possible.


That education may come in the form of going back to school full time. But it doesn’t have to: Entrepreneurship certificates, such as the one we offer at UMSL Accelerate, short-term programs, and weekend courses can all help professionals leverage higher education into a better, more satisfying career.


Is a return to school right for you?


Not everyone is ready to change industries or make a move toward career advancement. But for those who are, higher education can make the difference between an unsuccessful move and a dream job.


Follow these steps before taking the plunge:


OneUnderstand your goals.

Do you want to advance in your current career or move from architecture to ballet? Consider not only your professional goals, but also your personal ones. What do you want your life to look like in 10 years? Think about factors like salary, working hours, responsibilities, personal satisfaction, and growth opportunities.


“We have a CEO in our current cohort who’s on a secure plan to earn his doctorate of business administration (DBA),” said Hoffman. “He’s been CEO for six years and wants to do something else now for the rest of his life. This is a good way to change careers and be qualified for something else that he might want to do.”


twoIdentify your passion.

Even if your goals are aligned with your chosen field, your passion could lie elsewhere. You might be fine holding a director role at a finance company, but if you’d prefer to hold the same role at a marketing agency, why not switch now? Your existing experience will prove valuable down the line, and new educational opportunities will help you prepare for the challenges that come with switching industries.


threeResearch potential schools.

After you decide what you want from your new education, research universities that offer programs in your selected field. Take into account the different methodologies, curriculum, and time frame of completion.


“The courses in our DBA program at UMSL are very intense,” said Hoffman. “But the cool thing about that is students bring their own stories to the classroom. So they’re working on real problems that they’re facing at work. They’ll learn as much from each other over the three years as they will from the professors.”


Next time you consider changing careers, moving up the ladder, or building a stronger company, consider the value of furthering your education. Whether you graduated a few years ago or a few decades ago, a deeper education can open new doors.


About the guest post author:

Dan Lauer is the founding executive director of UMSL Accelerate, an initiative that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship in and outside the classroom and helps bring concepts from mind to market. Dan is a long-standing, successful entrepreneur who’s founded multiple companies, including Lauer Toys Inc., best known for the Waterbabies® line, which has enjoyed 26 years of continuous distribution and 23 million units sold. Through the UMSL Accelerate, he serves as a catalyst for developing a vibrant ecosystem of students, faculty, and community to inspire innovation and advocate for entrepreneurship.