One closed door inspired AIU Alumna Erica Kirkwood to get her degree, and with two diplomas in hand, doors started opening.
“With over 10 years of customer service experience, I applied for a position that I knew I had the background for. But it was the first time I was turned down because I didn’t have a degree. I didn’t like the feeling of that. I knew a degree would be what opened doors,” she said.
Erica began pursuing her degree at a few ground-based schools, but obstacles always blocked her way. “[Before AIU Online,] I was attending a city college. I was on track to get my degree, but then I lost my car in a car accident. I couldn’t commute. I decided to go online because nothing could disturb my education. I only needed a computer. No distractions, no excuses.”
After she achieved her Associate of Arts in Business Administration with a specialization in Management in 2011, she immediately went on to pursue her Bachelor in Business Administration, also specializing in Management, and graduated in 2013. Erica says it was her associate degree that really propelled her forward and inspired her to complete the bachelor’s program.
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“At certain points, the associate degree almost felt bigger than my bachelor’s degree. With my associate degree, I realized I could actually do this. Also, the associate [degree] immediately impacted my career. It opened the door to bachelor-preferred jobs.”
The impact of getting a degree really hit her at graduation. “I wasn’t planning on attending. I was playing it down saying, ‘It’s just an associate.’” However, her advisor encouraged her to go, and it was one of the most life-changing experiences she’s had.
“I didn’t realize I’d get so emotional. One of the guest speakers was a student who pushed us to take a moment to appreciate our hard work. I was very proud,” she said. Also in the crowd for her big day was her family. As one of nine children and the first person in her family to get a degree, Erica says, “It was huge. I’m impacting my family as well.”
With her associate degree in hand and confidence by her side, she tackled her bachelor’s degree, and more doors started opening. “Having a bachelor’s degree jumped my salary by $10,000. I felt valued as an educational asset to my company. I felt more respect. It was definitely life-changing.”
For those students who have completed their associate degree, Erica says, “Don’t stop. Don’t take any breaks. Degrees are stepping stones, and a bachelor’s is a bigger step up for your career and life. If you have the momentum, don’t stop.”
Now, Erica is helping to change the lives of those who follow in her footsteps. As an Admissions Advisor for a university, she encourages others every day to pursue their own degrees. “I’ve experienced it first-hand, and I know that education can change your life. I tell them, ‘I didn’t go to college right away. I didn’t go the traditional route. It’s not unattainable. You can change your life.’ As the first person in my family to get a degree, I didn’t have examples and at times I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. But sometimes you need to be that pioneer, and then other people may end up following you.”
Erica says that having her AABA and BBA has only inspired her to continue pursuing her dreams and knocking down doors. “I didn’t believe I could do it, but my BBA has given me the confidence to pursue something bigger, a different dream. My degree has opened doors, made me feel like an equal, and it’s given me a fighting chance to have whatever I want to have out of life.”