Personal finance graduate proves it’s never too late to find your dream career

Michelle working on her computer at her desk

Michelle Zemplinski’s path to personal finance was anything but straight.

After high school, Zemplinski (pictured above) enrolled at a local community college, eventually earning her associate degree in fashion marketing. Although she eventually worked her way up to assistant manager at a shoe store, she wasn’t satisfied.

“I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere with my degree, so I went back to school part-time to do some general ed courses so that I could hopefully transfer to a four-year college and get a bachelor’s degree,” she says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted a bachelor’s degree. I thought it would open more doors.”

After taking a class in chemistry and excelling in math, she contemplated earning a degree in a science field. But in the end, it was the personal finance program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison that caught her eye. With a blend of math and customer service, a degree in personal finance was exactly what she had been looking for.

“I wanted to be able to help people with their goals for the future,” Zemplinski says. “Based on my background in customer service, I learned that I love working with others and helping people. So that really appealed to me.”

Finding a path, building a career

Zemplinski applied and was accepted into UW–Madison’s personal finance major, based in the School of Human Ecology. The interdisciplinary program emphasizes both financial management and the economic well-being of individuals and families. And with the recent launch of UW–Madison Online, students can now earn their Bachelor of Science in Personal Finance online.

“The School of Human Ecology is kind of a little family. UW–Madison is a huge campus, but it feels like it’s a school within a school,” Zemplinski says. “It makes me feel excited to come to school every day because I feel like we’re all here in the same boat and we can learn from each other.”

In addition to learning key concepts in financial planning and development, retirement and savings, estate planning and more, the personal finance program also offers courses required to become a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). Students who complete these courses are fully prepared to sit for the CFP exam upon graduation.

“With three years of experience, I can get that CFP designation behind my name,” she says. “I feel like it’s a bonus, but it also shows my future clients that I have integrity and the willingness to go above and beyond for them.”

Planning for the future

As a new graduate, Zemplinski looks to the future and plans to pursue a career as a financial advisor. However, she hasn’t forgotten her journey. She acknowledges students like her who might be facing the same hurdles — unsure of their path, feeling stuck or considering going back to school.

“It’s okay not to know what you want to do,” she says. “It’s a big decision to make and it took me eight years to figure that out, but I’m here now. It’s never too late to go back to school.”

For more information on the BS in Personal Finance online, call or text 608-400-7459 or email uwmadison@online.wisc.edu.