Nearing 70, USC Gould Student Proves It’s Never Too Late to Get Your Master’s Degree

“Learning is so much better when you're older,” says online Master of Studies in Law (MSL) student Virginia Polley, who is graduating from USC Gould School of Law this May.

Like many people during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia Polley was trying hard to fill her time at home in Tennessee amid lockdowns and social distancing orders.

“Doing nothing,” however, has never been Polley’s style, she told USC Online. So when her husband suggested she pursue an online graduate degree, perhaps to study law, she was game for the challenge. And it wasn’t just because she loves learning — although, that was certainly part of it.

Polley, who completed her undergraduate years at Sweet Briar College, a liberal arts school for women in Virginia, returned to school for her MBA at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when she was 50 years old, simply to experience being a student again.

But her decision to obtain a second master’s degree was also deeply practical, as her husband, who just turned 88, recently started a business importing vinyl flooring from Asia. Earning a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) online from USC Gould School of Law would better prep Polley, who is graduating from the program this May, to support his new career venture and eventually take charge of the company herself.

“A Master of Studies in Law appealed to me on many levels. The LSAT was not required … and I knew I was not going to practice law. I briefly considered going through a JD program, but by the time I finished that, I would be 70 years old. I wouldn’t want to work that hard!” she laughed.

Throughout the online MSL program, Polley developed a firm grasp on contract drafting, global regulatory compliance, and mergers and acquisitions, all of which gave her the “skills and tools in order to take over the business and run it well.”

“It’s given me such a foundation,” Polley added.

When it came to choosing the right MSL program for her career goals, Polley researched several options, but she immediately identified USC Gould as her “very first choice.” Practical as ever, Polley applied to multiple programs and was accepted to all of them, but USC Gould’s online MSL remained her top contender.

Polley attended the program part time, which meant taking a couple of classes a week — well, for someone in Tennessee enrolled in a West Coast program, it was a few live sessions a week, often scheduled at night.

Asked how she was able to stay up for her evening live sessions, especially one at 11 p.m., she laughed: “I didn’t! I went to bed and set an alarm for it.”

While the time difference made the online program a bit challenging, Polley also had to adjust to taking courses remotely via her computer.

“I am not computer savvy. As a matter of fact, when I had to go back for my MBA, I had never learned how to type. I had to buy a book about how to type, and then I taught myself. I am still not good at all at typing. So that was the hard and stressful part — getting used to the computer,” she said.

But any of the struggles she experienced learning how to navigate Zoom or mastering a Word document (“I was kicking and screaming into the 21st century!” she joked) ended up being more than worth it.

“The actual learning was a redemption. Learning is so much better when you’re older. I wasn’t intimidated by the professors … If I messed up, it didn’t bother me. If I give a wrong answer in class, it wasn’t a big deal. It was so different than my undergraduate program. I just loved it. What any of my professors will tell you is I have zero problems speaking up and giving an opinion, even if it’s totally stupid,” Polley explained.

In fact, Polley has already began utilizing her knowledge from the MSL program in her day-to-day life. One recent incident in particular convinced her that the program had been an ideal investment.

“We had to change accountants last year because our accountant of 30 years just retired. The accountant they handed over to us, they wanted us to reform our corporation,” she explained.

Polley knew an S corporation was “going to be the best option” for their business, but the accountant failed to suggest this route, signaling to Polley that they needed to hire a different expert to handle their affairs.

“So, we went and found a better accountant. If I had not been in this program and taking [the ‘Business Organizations’] course, I would not have had the knowledge … That one moment paid for this whole course,” she enthused.

While Polley was inspired to enter the program because of her lifelong love of learning, it wasn’t just the classes that made her experience at USC so fulfilling. Reflecting on what she enjoyed most about the MSL degree, Polley highlighted her “engaging, accepting and smart as hell” classmates and professors.

“It was absolutely mind-boggling just how accomplished they all are. My professors really cared about teaching and were so accommodating when things came up. For example, I had a grandchild last summer, and my professor said, ‘OK, you can turn this assignment in a little later,’” Polley recalled. “And my classmates, they hold down full-time jobs. A lot of them have multiple children, plus they’re in school. It was just awesome and inspiring to see and learn with them.”

With graduation looming, it’s a bittersweet time for Polley. She’s thrilled to pick up her diploma (and say goodbye to her 11 p.m. alarms), but that also means her revered classes and discussions are coming to a close.

It’s clear Polley will leverage her newly earned knowledge to run her business, but is that the end of her higher education journey? Perhaps she needs a fourth degree to add to her collection now that she’s finally mastered Zoom?

“It’s funny because my friends have been asking me if I’m really done with school now. I really love being a student, and I love learning and in that way. I have two master’s degrees now, so I might go on to study something else. Who knows?” Polley concluded.

Learn more about USC Gould’s online Master of Studies in Law program today.

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