My Dirty Little Career Secret

by Berrak on April 4, 2012

I dove in head-first to digital marketing and public relations without any real training. In fact, I haven’t completed my undergraduate degree and when you hear me complaining about school work, I’m actually whining about some of the undergraduate pre-requisites I’ve had to retake because I withdrew and/or failed them.

The time between I lost my full-time job and the day I decided to be a full-time freelancer was a constant reminder of this dirty secret. There were jobs I was qualified for professionally and I knew my resume was getting tossed out because I didn’t have an undergraduate degree. Don’t get me wrong – I have worked my ass off to get to where I am today and I don’t take this situation lightly.

A little background on my educational situation:

I spent all of my high school career working on earning my way into a good college with a scholarship and I did just that. I got into two different colleges with a scholarship and chose GWU because I fell in love with it. I made Dean’s List my first semester while taking 17 credits, commuting to DC, and working 2 jobs. Needless to say, things started spiraling downward at the end of my sophomore year.

It wasn’t until spring of 2006 that I decided to take a break to handle some personal and family issues. Once I started working full-time that following October, my first goal was to get back to the classroom. I’m actually kind of a nerd and love learning. The problem was that GWU wasn’t a very commuter-friendly school (In fact, some of the classes I missed were because I couldn’t drive in due to the snow). My bosses were kind enough to let me take classes around lunchtime but it still wasn’t enough. Without too many options for classes after 6 PM, my will began to diminish. I spent too much money out of pocket and there were too many Fs on my transcript.

When I decided to give it another go, I decided to transfer to UMUC due to their online program. Taking the advice of my communications director, I decided to add on Journalism as a second major to my International Affairs degree.

Where do things stand now?

When I decided I would go ahead and be a full-time freelancer, one of the major factors was that I could have time to spend on school. I underestimated my ability to stop worrying about money and focus on my school work so this past month, I decided that I would take another break. I’m determined to get my undergraduate degree but I’ve had to prioritize to put my work and business first. If I could be a full-time student, I would.

The point of all this is this:

I’ve been ashamed to talk about how I don’t have my degree because I saw it as something that would hold me back in my career. The truth is that book-learning can get you only so far. In the last two years, I’ve worked on side projects, spent hours reading, and made mistakes to completely switch gears in my career. If you don’t have the passion, the willingness to get down and dirty, and the guts to fail, your degree will only get you so far.

I’m not advocating dropping out of school and just changing jobs willy-nilly. While you’re going to school, get as much experience as you can. Figure out what makes you tick, your weaknesses, and most of all, your passion. Explore the options that you have while you have the time to do so. Read. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Figure out what resources you have at your disposal and use them. If your plans fall through, make new ones.

I’m not ashamed of my dirty little secret anymore. The lesson is to not let life (or your own mistakes) knock you down. I was lucky enough to have people who saw how hard I wanted to work and gave me chances. It was guidance, opportunities, and failures that got me to where I am today. After going through all of this, I’m now making an income doing what I love. I don’t actually need my degree anymore with the experience I’ve accumulated but I don’t like to leave things unfinished. It may take me another 5 years but if you stick around long enough, you just may read about how I finally graduated. I may even be crazy enough to try to go to graduate school.

I’m just getting started and will continue to move forward now that I’m not weighed down by self-doubt.

Brick by brick. Step by step. Lesson after lesson.


  • asplenia

    I would never think lower of anyone because they didn’t have their degree. It’s a shame that society has mounted pressure that way, especially given the history of Einstein and Edison being poor students. I respect you all the more for undertaking so many ventures at once. You’re motivated and ambitious, a true entrepreneur, and will go far in life. :)


    Berrak Reply:

    I think education is extremely important and necessary. I just think that especially with how expensive college has become, it’s important to take into consideration the value of experience combined with education.

    And thank you :)  


  • Vanessa

    I understand your fustrations. I also feel as though people judge me because I don’t have a BA yet. My school is also very, very unfriendly towards part-timers or people with jobs (I think that they offer only business classes after 5pm). I definitely feel as though I’m the same person that I was before starting university but that piece of paper is all that seems to matter in the working world


    Berrak Reply:

    It can be especially frustrating in a city like DC so I totally get it.

    Good luck with everything! 


  • Tori

    I can’t believe how many schools are still so unfriendly to non-traditional students. That’s why I left my first college after 5 years because it was too hard for me to work (you know, to PAY THEM) and actually be on campus several hours a day. The only upper division online classes they offered at the time were in fashion and design. They’ve since added all online degree options, but only in a few majors. My current school still has some classes that are only on campus but they actually offer night and weekend options for all of them.

    The fact that people judge your worth as an employee on whether you have a degree sucks, but you would think that universities would at least get with the program to make it achievable.


    Berrak Reply:

    As far as class availability and being accommodating to students who have to work (ya know, to pay their tuition), universities have to step it up.

    I understand why employers require the degree but I think that they should also be paying attention to the experience, as well as the education that’s already been completed.  I honestly think that a lot of great candidates get overlooked because they’re being passed for those with college degrees in the initial rounds. I know they get hundreds of resumes so I understand their side too.


  • Jesse Bouman

    James Altucher has a fascinating opinion on the value of college. 


    Berrak Reply:

    Interesting! The average tuition of $16,000/year seems REALLY low though. 


  • Stevie

    Duuuuuude. I totally get this. I’m 31 and still don’t have a degree of any kind. I went back to school last year to get my associate’s degree but it’s going to take me awhile.

    I managed to find decent jobs, and had a great job for several years in my 20s, but after I was laid off in 2008 I totally freaked out because there were really not any good jobs for someone without a degree. Which is why I decided to go back to school.

    Keep your chin up, you’re doing awesome things with your life!


    Berrak Reply:

    It is ridiculous! 

    Good for you for going back. I cannot wait to grab drinks with you.


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