Busy mom, military member pursues Badger dream with online degree

Kristy and family sitting at the kitchen table

Kristy Jorgensen’s dream of earning a college degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison formed early on in her childhood. After overcoming challenges, she’s making that dream come true by getting her degree in consumer finance and financial planning through UW–Madison Online.

“I am the first in my family to work on a bachelor’s degree. It’s always been a goal of mine,” Jorgensen says. “But I never knew if it would be a reality because I faced endless roadblocks. My journey will have taken 17 years from when I graduated high school. It will feel amazing to finish!”

Fulfilling a Badger dream

Jorgensen spent plenty of time at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as a child. Her parents both worked in campus maintenance. From early on, she wanted to be a Badger. But her adolescent years brought challenges – family deaths and naysayers: Her high school counselor told her she wasn’t college material.

Jorgensen didn’t believe that.

After high school and a gap year, she started college at UW-River Falls to study animal science. But it was fall 2008, the height of a global financial crisis. One semester into her studies, she realized she wouldn’t have the financial means and didn’t want to take out excessive loans. She came home, started a career in the auto industry, got married and had her first child. 

However, Jorgensen says, “I decided that wasn’t my whole life story.”

Kristy in her fatigues
Kristy Jorgensen

She joined the Wisconsin Air National Guard to get money for college and went back to school in the fall of 2016, graduating with an associate degree in economics in 2018. Still focused on a bachelor’s degree, Jorgensen tried UW-Whitewater, but the on-campus requirements were too much for her busy life with a job and a family. Then she had another child – and the pandemic hit.

But she couldn’t stop thinking about that degree and her Badger dream. 

Jorgensen found a program called Badger Ready, which is designed for adults 25+ and veterans of any age who typically have a minimum of 24 credits and a break in education of at least two years. After successfully completing Badger Ready in the summer of 2021, 14 years after her high school graduation, Jorgensen enrolled in UW–Madison Online to finish her bachelor’s degree. 

“When my parents worked at UW–Madison, I spent so much of my childhood on campus. I’ve been in just about every building, and got to see things most people don’t get to see,” she says. “Just the idea of being able to apply and get in is an honor. That I could even be a Badger is a big deal.”

Rigorous, highly reputed program

Jorgensen shifted gears from animal science to economics when she got her associate degree. For her bachelor’s degree, she turned to a BS in Consumer Finance & Financial Planning.

“I love numbers, and I love to help people!” she says. “I would love to use the education I am receiving from UW–Madison to find community partners to allow underserved communities the chance to build their financial net worth and plan for their future generations.”

She says both she and her husband grew up in families with limited means, so her goal is to help improve peoples’ financial well-being. Her UW–Madison Online education provides the perfect opportunity for students interested in numbers as well as impacting a greater good.

Jorgensen appreciates the practicality of the program as well as the instructors.

“It’s been a lot of fun overall,” she says. “One of my instructors in particular makes the material exciting to learn, and she structures her classes so you put in quite a bit of effort, but the topics learned actually stick once finals are over.” 

All graduates who complete certain courses leave fully prepared to sit for the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam, which UW–Madison students pass at a rate well above the national average. And Jorgensen will be entering a growing field: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 15 percent growth in consumer science and financial planning careers from 2016 to 2026.

“UW–Madison has a wonderful reputation and its graduates garner a lot of respect,” Jorgensen adds.

Challenges – and rewards – of being a returning adult student

Jorgensen says there are pros and cons to going back to school as a working adult. Bringing life experience to coursework is priceless. Her time and stress management skills are more developed. Her military service has also helped her stay focused and disciplined. 

In addition to raising her children (ages 10 and 3) and working full time as a collision repair advisor at Zimbrick, Inc., she’s active in the Wisconsin Air National Guard. Jorgensen has been deployed to Korea, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, among other national and international locations. Online courses come in handy when she’s traveling the world. And she’s using her GI Bill benefits and a National Guard Tuition Reimbursement Grant to pay for college.

Of course, adding school to an already-full life can be exhausting.

“I don’t sleep a lot,” she says with a laugh. “It comes down to a lot of time management and making the best use of my free time. I have to pay attention to those windows of time when I can work on school. I could read a chapter or do a discussion post in short periods of time. I fit what I can where I can.”

Most importantly, she’s not alone. Her husband, Jesse, supports her “100 percent” as she squeezes studies into their bustling life.

“Make sure you have a very strong support network,” Jorgensen advises other adult students. “While there is flexibility in an online program to complete schoolwork virtually anytime, trying to get it done with a full-time job and other obligations makes it necessary to have others along for the ride to support you.”

Jorgensen looks forward to donning a cap and gown in the spring of 2024 with her fellow Badger graduates. She’s had informational interviews with people in the personal finance industry. Right now, she’s interested in keeping her current job but starting her own advising business on the side. 

Ultimately, she wants a career that will bring her happiness, fulfillment and time with family. She thinks UW–Madison Online will be her ticket, and she knows her children are keeping a close eye on her journey.

“I hope my return to school shows my kids that no matter the timing and obstacles, they can do anything,” Jorgensen says. “College, trade school, anything is possible, and they should do what they love.”

For more information, contact a UW–Madison Online enrollment coach by email at uwmadison@online.wisc.edu, by phone at 608-400-7459 or by text at 608-688-9118. Read The Ultimate Guide to Online Business Degrees for more information on getting your degree online.