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Fourteen years ago, despite working in the dynamic industry of the performing arts, Jan Carley felt stagnant.

"I had this little 'niggle' in my head," Ms. Carley says. "Everything was good, life was good, but I knew there was something else I was meant to do."

She made the choice to go back to school to earn her Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching at Royal Roads University (RRU) in Victoria, B.C.

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Since then, Ms. Carley has gone on to run her own global business, Creative Coaching Group, in addition to becoming a critically-acclaimed author and an associate faculty member at the University.

Is her story unique? According to Frances Jorgensen, it's quite the opposite.

"I've had dozens of people email me about all the doors that have opened since upgrading their education," says Ms. Jorgensen, professor of Organizational Behaviour, Human Resource Management and Change Management in RRU's MBA in Executive Management program.

A large portion of RRU students are adult learners. Some are exploring a change in direction, while others are looking to improve their standing, financially and professionally, within their current organization.

"We've seen a ton of people from oil and gas, sales people, nurses, doctors, journalists," she explains. "It's in your best interest to be thinking about the changing world and where you fit into it."

Ms. Jorgensen and Ms. Carley offer the following tips for those considering an education upgrade to bolster their personal and professional success.

1. Think about what makes you 'you'

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Ms. Carley believes identifying your purpose in life is key and encourages people to spend time discovering their strongest attributes and skills.

"Going back to school is not to get more letters after your name. It never is," she says.

Instead, think about what inspires you, motivates you and gives you energy. Consider what you want to improve upon now, but also look at the bigger picture: What would you want in life if there were no obstacles?

In her latest book, The Overtone Effect, Ms. Carley outlines a simple brainstorming exercise called "think outside the dot." Draw a dot in the center of a blank piece of paper and allow yourself to dream of the possibilities. Jot down images, words, phrases, feelings, things and activities that come to mind and reflect on what you uncover about yourself in the process.

2. Figure out your funding

Tuition fees at Royal Roads range anywhere from a few thousand dollars for a certificate program to $84,000 for the University's unique Doctor of Social Sciences degree.

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But where there's a will, there's a way, Ms. Jorgensen says. 50 per cent of MBAs are funded by employers and full-time students can borrow money tax-free from their RRSPs. And of course, there are always scholarships, government loans, opportunities to apply for research funding and assistance available through the university's Financial Aid and Awards office.

If investing a large sum of money in further education concerns you, consider that data from Canada's 2016 census shows Canadians with more education land higher-salaried jobs.

3. Don't sell yourself short

"I spend a lot of time with (program) applications, and consistently, people apply for less than what we think they should apply for," Ms. Jorgensen says.

At RRU, life experience counts. When potential students are lacking the formal education required for standard admission, the university will evaluate them based on a combination of the classroom credentials they do have, informal learning and the real-world experience they've earned.

A good first step towards discovering your education possibilities would be to contact an enrolment advisor to discuss your options, Ms. Jorgensen says.

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A common applicant is the mid-career professional who has plenty of hands-on experience in their field, but no formal higher education. For a full list of the kinds of students RRU attracts, have a look at these testimonials.

4. Prioritize balance

When it comes to time management, earning a degree as an adult is demanding.

"Number one, be sure you are committed," Ms. Jorgensen says. "Two, talk with your boss, your co-workers, your family. They may need to cut you more slack. Maybe you can work four days a week, or take a leave."

For many programs, RRU offers a blended learning model with courses taken online and in person. This flexibility ensures that even prospective students with families and careers can realistically consider going back to school.

Work-life balance may be a well-worn contemporary buzzword, but few people put it into practice. The default priority is usually work, but small tweaks can make a big difference.

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5. Show up as a learner, both at school and in life

When Ms. Carley first began her coaching studies in 2006, she started second-guessing herself.

"Maybe I can't do this, maybe I'm not good enough, maybe I'm not smart enough," she recalls thinking.

When she expressed her distress to one of RRU's faculty members, he asked, "Jan, what will it take for you to show up as a learner?"

Ms. Carley says the response stopped her dead in her tracks. That simple yet powerful shift in mindset gave her permission to relax and tackle her studies with curiosity.

"When you don't show up as a learner, it ends possibility, limits your options and closes in your world," she says. "If you remain curious and open to whatever life brings, you will have a greater possibility of finding your highest potential."

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This content was produced by an advertiser. The Globe and Mail was not involved in its creation.

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