Sharde Beatty knows the importance of having a degree to advance her career. While her knowledge of property management came at her mother’s knee, when she decided to add child care to her work profile, she turned to Chattahoochee Technical College and enrolled in its early childhood education and development certification program. But there’s more to Beatty’s story. “I knew it would be my way to further my career and increase my pay so three years ago, I earned my certificate from Chattahoochee Tech,” she says. “That way, I could work in the after-school program at the apartment complex I managed.”

But for Beatty, something was still missing. “I had loved business since high school, taking business ethics and business law back then, so I just kept thinking about how I could become my own boss,” says the determined 28-year-old. “I was getting a divorce and had a son, so it was time to restart my life. I really wanted to go into residential real estate.” She earned her real estate license in September 2014 and soon started working with Berkshire-Hathaway Home Services Georgia, but says she realized that to be truly successful, she needed a business degree.

Once again Beatty turned to CTC, enrolling in the college’s business management degree program, where she’s two semesters from graduation. “Studying for my two-year degree has been a tremendous help to me and opened up a whole new world,” says Beatty, who was the college’s 2015 recipient of the GOAL award and went on to compete in the Georgia GOAL program. “Everything I’ve learned at Chattahoochee Tech has prepared me for a successful career — communications, understanding contracts and fine-tuning my computer skills. So many people want to start their businesses, but they don’t realize that the first, and most important step, is getting your degree. And because I want to become a broker, having my degree is a must.”

Potential employers agree that a resume that includes a college certificate or degree influences hiring decisions. “Earning a degree demonstrates to us that a person has set a goal in higher education and successfully achieved that goal,” says Melissa Hulsey, president of Ashton Staffing Inc., in Kennesaw. “It shows that people want to better themselves and become life-long learners; it definitely moves those candidates to the front of the line.”

Career assessment becomes an important part of earning a certificate or degree. Chattahoochee Technical College offers three business tracks: Business Administration, Accounting and Business Management. “All students in the business programs at CTC have access to FOCUS, a self-paced computer-based workshop that helps them determine the best career path for them,” says Annette Davis, career services coordinator at Chattahoochee Tech. “As soon as students come to CTC they have access to our career center and all it has to offer. We have many tools to help them develop a plan for their careers. From working with the career center and their advisers to tapping into resources on our website, our main goal is to help them get into the right program from the beginning and to be successful.”

Sometimes finding the perfect career takes a circuitous path. In 2001, Kris Okun moved to Georgia from New Jersey where he had worked in graphic design and computer programming. “I wanted to make a new start, and Georgia’s great economy, the weather and real estate prices drew me to this area,” says the now 43-year-old. “Besides, I wanted to follow my passion as a musician, to teach piano and pursue piano studies.” He taught in-home private lessons for almost 12 years. Then he became a father and his life changed. “I was teaching 40 to 46 students in the late afternoons and evenings, plus practicing about eight hours a day, and I really wanted to have time to spend with my son,” Okun says. “I realized that I would only see him on the weekends, so I realized I needed to make another change.”

Okun cut back on his teaching and enrolled in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University, taking software classes. He also took the college’s mandatory business classes, including two semesters of accounting. “All of a sudden, everything fell into place for me. Because accounting was the pure application of logic, and my software design background and even my music use my mathematical side, it was the perfect choice,” he says.

Okun graduated last July with his Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting. “I know I’ll have great job security because of my BBA,” he says. “I’m especially grateful to KSU because of its deep Cobb County connections. My future is guaranteed and I realize that I’ve made an excellent investment.”

In 2014, KSU initiated the Hughes Leadership and Career Program in the Coles College of Business. “A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers has projected that eight to 10 of all new business hires needed a bachelor’s degree, so we looked for ways to help ensure success for our graduates,” says Linda Malgeri, director of the Hughes Leadership and Career Program. “The three-course sequence — one for sophomores, one for juniors and one for seniors — is designed to give our students a competitive edge in the marketplace, and it’s required for every student enrolled in the Coles College of Business.”

The program focuses on various one-on-one support as students progress through their undergraduate degree at the Coles College. “Students interact with career coaches who focus on the student’s talents and strengths, but it goes far beyond what a student learns on paper,” she says. “Each course has strong written and oral components to prepare them for the business world. Our students are learning to identify their strengths, how to apply them to their career choices and how to articulate them to potential employers. This is a real game changer for our students and we’ve received an incredible response from students and employers alike.”

As the workplace becomes even more competitive, people who want to advance in business should consider pursuing a degree. With all the advances and changes in technology and the global economy, having a degree can truly provide a leg up on the competition.