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The best investment 

A photographer-turned-financial planner explains why going back to college was the right move for him

When you were younger and had fewer responsibilities there was a sure-fire remedy for job dissatisfaction: quit and go work at a different record store. But now you're older, further in debt, and after a bunch of years toiling in the same profession you know that it's not for you. Chances are you have something in mind that you'd like to try, but you've probably already talked yourself out of it. Change is never easy --- in fact, it's usually downright daunting --- but it's the only way to get closer to what you want. The most difficult part is making that first move.

Timothy Hayes is a certified financial planner and President of Landmark Financial Advisory Services, LLC. But finance wasn't his original intent. The 1976 MonroeHigh School graduate initially enrolled at MonroeCommunity College in the fall of 1977 to study audio-visual technology. Hayes was eyeing a career in photography, and he left school once he found work in his desired field. Various jobs both behind the lens and in the photo lab invariably led to a job at Kodak, but after five years he tired of the corporate environment. So at 36 he gathered up his couple of credits and returned to MCC, envisioning a marketing degree followed by employment in a creative field. At 40 Hayes had an MBA from St. John Fisher, and now owns his own business. An edited transcript of our interview appears below.

City: How did you find the classroom had changed from the last time you were in it?

Timothy Hayes: The first time around it was mostly traditional college-aged students. When I went back the landscape had generally changed enough so that people were making midlife changes, career changes and things like that, and there were adult students. I was among the older students in my class because I was in a traditional program; I was pursuing an associate's degree in business administration full-time during the day.

Did you take it more seriously the second time?

Oh, absolutely. I took it pretty seriously the first time; I did well, I got decent grades, but when I went back as an adult student I had a whole different focus. I knew when I was going back that I was not only going for an associate's but a four-year degree, so I enrolled in this 2+2 program and transferred to St. John Fisher after MCC. I told my wife when I started back at college, "I'm going to graduate at the top of my class." And she said, "Well, at your age, with kids and family responsibilities and everything, just be happy to do well." But I was really focused on doing that, and I did; that's what ended up happening.

What were the challenges you faced when you went back?

Blending in, fitting in with the younger students, and also managing the demands of caring for my children, who were like 5 and 6 when I went back. School was like a full-time job. But it was a real challenge because I had young kids at home, my wife had a business and she was self-employed, and we had to balance work life with home life. And because I was so singularly focused on doing well, I didn't do anything else.

Where did that focus come from?

I was 36 and going back to school and didn't think I had a whole lot of time to make a career change and do well, so I just figured if I was going to go through this time and effort, with the family support and costs associated with it and being out of work for this length of time, I just had to do it as quickly as I could and make sure that I did well enough so that I put myself in a position to succeed when I got out, whatever it is that I ended up doing.

What advice would you give somebody who is thinking about going back to school later in life?

When people are faced with that decision about whether to quit work and go back to school, that can be a very difficult thing if you haven't prepared for it, not just psychologically but financially. We knew in time enough that we made plans and saved some money and that kind of thing so I didn't have to work. It's easy to say, "Oh, go for it, man; you should do it! Absolutely! Quit your job and go back to school!" And I do believe that people should do that, because life is too short to suffer a grinding job for the rest of your life. But at the same time I do recognize that not everybody can do that. So the reality of it is try to find a way to do it, however you can do it. If you can't do it like I did and go full time for four years, then take a few classes whenever you can. You can always make time to take classes at night or on the weekend, especially at the community college level. The structure now is so consumer friendly; they really structure the classes so they can accommodate adult learners.

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