Over 40 And Thinking Of Career Growth? 6 Successful Online Students Show How They Did It


According to a 2019 article on the World Economic Forum (WEF), perennials, or older workers, are now the fastest-growing population of workers. With people living longer, healthier lives and more people wanting to work for several reasons including the benefit of employer-based health coverage, by 2024, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of workers aged 55+ could be the largest age group in the workforce, exceeding even the millennials!

And with good reason: Findings from the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging and the Stanford Center on Longevity showed that older workers are more likely to be able to share organizational values, be adept at resolving issues in the workplace and enhance the workplace with their experience and companies are reaping benefits from having diverse age groups in their workforce.

For those who are 40+, this may mean more fruitful years in the workforce, with some working well into their 70s and 80s, according to the WEF article, giving this age group a second wind in their careers. We’d like you to meet 6 individuals who’ve been there, and done that!

  • Michael Ribas, 48, switched careers from being a race car mechanic to public relations manager for the same racing team by earning his bachelor’s degree in social sciences online.
  • Cassandra Allen, 45, wanted to earn a bachelor’s of science in graphic design so she could advance in her career as a graphic artist.
  • Shawna Bell, 44, an office manager, realized she was being held back from obtaining a supervisory position due to her lack of a degree and decided to earn her bachelor’s in business management online.
  • Rocio “Rosie” Villa, a 44-year-old crime specialist and victim advocate who earned her bachelor’s of science degree online.
  • Kevin Gazzara, 51, who earned his Ph.D. in management online as his work schedule as Intel’s program manager for its worldwide management and leadership residential programs would not allow him to attend classes in person.
  • Maureen Taylor, a fifth grade teacher who earned her master’s and specialist degree from brick-and-mortar schools. When it came time to get her doctorate, she dreaded going back into the classroom and opted to earn her doctorate in education online.

Looking at the success stories of these 6 individuals, OnlineDegrees.com collected nuggets of wisdom from their journeys and share 8 tips for those in mid-life thinking of career growth.

1. Make the decision: Go for it!

As the old saying goes, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” If you want that promotion and a degree is keeping you from getting it, earning a degree seems like the most logical choice. Shawna Bell says, “I had been successful in obtaining relatively decent jobs in running an office, but I knew I could do so much more. I needed a degree to be a manager or supervisor, so I looked at the option of earning my degree online.” Shawna’s experience with online learning went so well that she earned not only a bachelor’s degree online, but went on to earn her master’s degree in business management online, as well.

2. It doesn’t mean sacrificing your priorities

Different people have different reasons for choosing to earn a degree online. Rosie Villa stresses the importance of being able to be at home saying, “My children were at home, and I wanted to be able to be with them as much as possible while I was studying.”

Kevin Gazzara, echoes her words explaining “My then teenage daughters played competitive softball and so in addition to traveling for work, my wife and I were taking them to playoff games, and I needed even more flexibility, which studying online allowed.”

Cassandra Allen states “I chose to study online because of my professional work schedule at the time. As a project manager and applications specialist for a software design company, my work hours were very demanding and varied from day-to-day. I couldn’t commit to on-campus courses.”

3. It does mean moving out of your comfort zone

Working and earning a degree online is not a walk in the park, but it is possible. Shawna Bell states, “Online learning fit my situation by allowing me to do my schooling after work hours, during lunch time, and while on breaks, and the school I chose offered an online environment I was comfortable with.”

Michael Ribas traveled with the racing team 120 days a year and when he was at the racetrack, it was 12-hour days. He says, “When you go to school online, you have to manage your time well. Because I was working so much, any down time I had, I devoted to my school work. I had quite a bit of school work to do and just finding the time was a challenge. Also, accessing the Internet to be able to do my research and writing was an issue sometimes.”

Kevin Gazzara who earned an online doctoral degree says, “Don’t believe for a second that an online doctoral degree is easier or less work than an on-campus program. I can tell you from a student’s and from a professor’s perspective that online programs are significantly more work, which I wouldn’t have expected when I started taking courses or teaching in the program. It’s not just a little bit more work, it’s a lot. But you learn a lot quickly. It hones your critical thinking skills in a way that is much different from in-person classroom exchanges.”

4. Choose your online college choice carefully

Cassandra Allen elaborates on how it’s important to know what you are letting yourself in for. “It is important to choose a school that meets your needs. Make sure you understand the coursework requirements. Ask yourself if you are self-disciplined enough to meet project deadlines — a flexible schedule does not mean open due dates. It takes great organization to successfully study online. Make sure you can meet the requirements for your computer to connect to the online environment. Seek degrees, programs, and certifications that will be recognized by companies that you wish to partner with on projects.”

Maureen Taylor adds, “Research your university. Are their standards high enough? Start with interviewing current or previous students. Does the course work seem too easy or is the turnaround for graded papers too slow? Look for all the aggravating things before you sign up. If your school has a home base in Minnesota and Florida and you need face-to-face time, can you make that work in your schedule and finances? Finally, are you ready to commit, especially on a doctoral level, for four more years? And no, you can’t sell your books back.”

5. Make the most of your existing credits

Rosie Villa was already working at the Office of Victim Services when she began her studies online. Her union, the Association of State Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA), paid for two college classes every year. She says, “I chose Excelsior because they were very good about allowing me to transfer my credits from my previous undergraduate work. I started my education at a university in Russia and had some additional credits from another college here in the U.S., and they allowed me to apply that work experience towards my degree.”

She has some advice for students considering online degree programs, “Actually, what I would tell them is to check the website and see what sort of careers they have and credits they can transfer. Make sure they accept your previous education.”

6. Prepare to be challenged

Cassandra Allen states, “The challenge for me was working on group projects when a member did not meet his or her tasks — catching up to a student who is not interested in a project can be very challenging, using a classroom portal.” Cassandra also discussed netiquette with us, “The challenges of studying online were synchronizing with other students; avoiding sending the wrong signals during online discussions — for example, capital letters signifying anger; avoiding abbreviations; and deciphering grammatical errors in other students’ replies.”

Challenges can also be positive. Michael Ribas said his peers brought out his competitive side, “I was able to interact with the students and especially those who were putting in the same effort as I was. I was very competitive and wanted to be the best I could be. Because they challenged themselves, they challenged me.”

7. Enjoy the benefits

Apart from being able to take classes in your pajamas, going back to school online can have a lot more benefits as some of our interviewees explain.

Maureen Taylor says, “I didn’t have to listen to grumbling and complaining of other students. I didn’t have to drive anywhere at any time. I was available for my family, but they all knew I had to have my school time. I was also freed from the excuses of why course work wasn’t done, asking for extended due dates, complaining about the professor, people eating in class and talking when the prof was talking.”

Shawna Bell loved her time interacting with other students online, “Most of your interaction is done online through the web classroom environment, email and chats. The university and professors endeavored to keep consistent communication with a detailed and specific syllabus. Some of my classmates weren’t even in this country, and we still were able to work together to complete a project or paper. That the students were from so many different walks of life was great. We were able to draw from their varied experiences, which was helpful and interesting.”

8. Prepare for outcomes that can be awesome!

Despite the challenges you may face along the way, the rewards can be wonderful. And you may find that other people have been rooting for you all along. Maureen Taylor found her employers appreciated her efforts, saying, “My degree was valued by my school system and came with a nice raise. My degree prepared me to be relevant in today’s changing educational system. I was current on all the latest research and could speak on trends and issues easily.”

Cassandra Allen was able to start her own graphic design business thanks to her degree. She explains, “My online graphics art degree helped me to gain a larger client base because I honed my talents and skills, while learning an incredible amount of things about smart design. I expanded my skill base and was able to take on more challenging projects, leading to increased pay. I also met a lot of wonderful people. My confidence in the field of study also increased. The online degree allowed me to pursue my passion to earn an income through graphic design.”

Not only did Kevin Gazzara use his degree to start an exceptionally successful management and leadership consulting firm, Magna Leadership Solutions, he went one step further and landed on the faculty at four universities — both online and on campus!

Summing it up:

Michael Ribas sums it up succinctly, “Remember that it’s like anything else, whatever you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. If it’s something you want to do, go for it.”


  • 3 reasons you’ll spend more at 40 than at 30, CNN Business, July 2016, https://money.cnn.com/2016/07/23/investing/reasons-you-will-spend-more/index/
  • Educational Credentials Come Of Age, Northeastern University Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy, December 2018, https://www.northeastern.edu/cfhets/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Educational_Credentials_Come_of_Age_2018.pdf
  • Identifying and Capitalizing on a Mid-Career Crisis, The Balance Careers, October 2018, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/create-the-life-you-want-with-a-mid-career-crisis-1916631
  • The Power of an Older Workforce, Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging and the Stanford Center on Longevity, accessed May 2019, https://assets1c.milkeninstitute.org/assets/PillarPage/POI/2016/pdf/Carstensen.pdf
  • What to Know Before Making a Career Change at 40, The Balance Careers, May 2019, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/career-change-at-40-4152909
  • Why More People Ages 55+ are Working, U.S. Department of Labor Blog, November 2016, https://blog.dol.gov/2016/11/18/why-more-people-ages-55-are-working
  • Why the future of work will be shaped by older workers, World Economic Forum, May 2019, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/perennials-not-millennials-will-trigger-the-next-wave-of-talent-retention-efforts/
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