#ThisIsTheYear I Go Back to School

According to the US Education Department, there were 16 million advanced degree holders across the United States in 2015 - a 43 percent increase from 2000. Year after year, professionals across a wide range of industries decide to go back to school in pursuit of better pay, improved career mobility, or a different career altogether. As 2018 approaches, you too may find yourself joining the 8% of Americans who have Master’s Degrees.  

That is exactly what Kai Karlstrom did this year. A member of the Team USA Triathlon World Championship Team back in 2013, Kai’s career has always revolved around health and fitness. His work as a Tier 4 Elite Trainer Manager and National Educator at Equinox has garnered accolades across the country. One of his programs caught the attention of a tech start-up where he worked before joining another health and fitness start-up, LulaFit, as the Director of Program Development. His job is complex and includes training fitness clients, recruiting and onboarding staff, and other strategic and operational initiatives.

Kai Karlstrom, Director of Program Development at LulaFit, began studying for his MBA this year.

Kai Karlstrom, Director of Program Development at LulaFit, began studying for his MBA this year.

So why would someone with so many career accomplishments and so much on his already full plate decide to pursue an MBA, and through two programs no less?  “I had been thinking about it for a while,” says Kai. “As I moved into more corporate work at Equinox, I began reading literature like Harvard Business Review, Good to Great, and other content about business and leadership. I even benefited from great managers who were my mentors. But still, I had a desire to learn more and improve both my hard and soft skills.”

Kai enrolled in two online programs: Thunderbird School of Global Management and Smartly Business Degree programs. Through these programs he has learned a ton about leadership, business, and of course, time management. If graduate school is in the cards for you in 2018, here are four steps that will help you have an effective and impactful experience while balancing work and fitness, just as Kai has done.

Photo:  Ta Mystika

Photo: Ta Mystika

Determine Your Desired Outcome
To avoid putting off the decision any longer than necessary, Kai suggests setting aside at least two hours to think deeply about your graduate school plans. Start by outlining your desired outcome. Will an advanced degree help you secure your dream job or provide a better income?  Do your research, and seek advice from colleagues or individuals in your network who have accomplished the same goals and/or pursued the same type of degree. 

Through his own work, it became clear to Kai that an MBA was the key to increasing his mobility and credibility. “I began to see that even with my experience as a manager, it was difficult to be taken seriously as a leader outside of the fitness world,” he says. “The health industry really places a premium on Master’s degrees. True or not, there is an assumption that a Master’s program is the pathway toward gaining leadership skills. Fortunately, I am learning many of these hard and soft skills in my current programs.” 

Choose Wisely
There is an abundance of Master’s Degree programs that cater to very specific areas of study, and more still that accommodate busy professionals. Yet, it can be tempting to let rankings and name recognition alone influence your decision. Carefully research the range of options available to determine which program truly aligns with your schedule and goals.

An avid traveler, Kai chose Thunderbird’s online program so he could study from anywhere in the world. He also chose Thunderbird for its emphasis on international business.  “Technology and remote work is not making the world any bigger,” says Kai. “More than ever before, understanding international business is critical for running and managing teams spread across the globe.” 

Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters

Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters

Plan Accordingly
Once you have two or three desired programs in mind, note enrollment requirements and deadlines.  Schedule all of the tasks you need to accomplish before meeting those deadlines, from taking additional classes at the bachelor’s degree level to entrance exams. 

Photo: Jazmin Quaynor

Photo: Jazmin Quaynor

Put in the Time (And Stay Healthy and Sane in the Process!)
Congratulations, you’ve been accepted to graduate school! Now it is crucial to schedule your time accordingly so you don’t fall behind in work or school. Although Kai’s graduate programs are asynchronous, he still maintains a regimented schedule to accommodate not only school but also the ambiguities of working for a start-up. “On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I set aside two to two-and-a-half hours to run through my classes for one program. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and part of Saturday are committed to my other program.” 

While Kai does not currently possess a gym membership, he hasn’t abandoned fitness altogether. Instead of putting in an hour or two at the gym, he incorporates physical activity into his daily tasks.  “I run with my dog and I bike to my training clients,” he says. “It is still very important for me to maintain the lifestyle I promote, so I fit in fitness where I can as much as possible.”

These steps provide a good launching point for choosing the right degree and committing yourself to the challenge without missing a beat in other areas of your life. It is certainly a challenge in terms of timing, but despite all this, Kai’s energy remains high and he is eager to complete his degree in 2018. His only regret? “I wish I had done it sooner!”