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The Decision to Restart College

Thursday, January 10, 2013

For the past few months of last year, I was in a bad place mentally. I was depressed about where I was in life, and it seemed like all of my carefully placed plans were unraveling. I felt completely helpless, and it sapped my enthusiasm.

All things considered, I am fortunate. I have a husband who loves me unconditionally, and his job is able to support us while I am out of work. We can live on one income, but I am not someone who enjoys being at home full time.

Having only one income makes me feel very uneasy in an era where yearly lay offs are the norm rather than due to extenuous circumstances. We are doing ok now, but what if my husband lost his job, was disabled, became sick, or even worse?

This happened to my FIL's mother. His father died when his parents were married just 10 years, and she was left to raise three children alone. This was in an era when there were fewer economic opportunities for women, and fewer government safety nets. She obviously made it, but it was a very hard road.

My husband has the same concern. He wants me to be back to work so that we can save more for retirement faster. And so I wouldn't be destitute if something should happen to him. We have life insurance, but it isn't as secure an option as being independently capable of supporting oneself. I find the concept of life insurance to be terribly morbid, as well. I couldn't enjoy life knowing where it came from.

As many of you may recall, I am still working on my bachelor's. I've been working on it - slowly - over many years. I had difficulties finishing school for various reasons.

The main reason that started a cascade effect was I had the bad luck of getting chicken pox when I was 19. Chicken pox? How weird is that? I consider it a lightning strike. It was my freshman year of college. It is a very serious illness when you are older. I was sick with a 103 temperature for 3 weeks.

Hindsight being 20/20, I should have withdrawn from the semester. I had a perfectly valid excuse. However, I believed that if I worked extra hard, then I could make it up.

I recently went through my old college papers because I am in process of transferring my credits to a local university. I found my papers from that period. Before I got sick, I was doing very well. After, my grades plummeted. My A's and B's on exams turned into C's and D's. I was not able to recover the ground I lost.

Unfortunately, I carried this with me through subsequent years and classes. I was struggling, and it began to effect my confidence and self esteem. I eventually pulled out because I was afraid I would get kicked out, and then the option to go back would be lost to me.

I chose to work so I could pay my bills before the debt sunk me, too. Luckily for me, computer science is a field where I have been able to do well with a partial degree. Without a degree, though, I lose out on opportunities for permanent, more stable employment. I pick up temporary contract work, which has cycles of high and low. I was able to pay off the debt I incurred, which put me in a stronger position to chose my path.

Dave Ramsey is right, folks. Debt is slavery. Debt will force you to take and keep jobs that you don't enjoy. It steals years of your prosperity, as every dollar you make belongs to someone else. If there's one thing I recommend to improve your prospects in life, stop earning a wage for your bank.

Now that I have a supportive husband who can hold down the fort for the time being, I chose to re-enroll in college. I had a fair number of anxieties about it at the end of last year, and quite a few humps to get over. I have actually continued to take classes a few at a time over the years, so I'm not exactly at square one. However, since it has been many years, the local university I applied to made me take a series of placement exams before accepting me. I aced the exams, but the next hurdle was my transfer credits. A lot are still in process, but I was able to get enough settled for me to start.

Then there was the anxiety that I am in my 30s going to school with young adults almost half my age. I had a brief moment of mid-life crisis. "Why didn't I just finish the first time? I can't believe I'm still doing this. Is this what my life was supposed to be?"

Eventually, I came to peace. I realized that I am in my mid thirties. I have more than 25 years left in my career. Perhaps this is a better time for me to finish than years ago. Technology is a fast moving career, and having a more current graduation date, plus real world experience, actually might place me in a stronger position.

This first week of class has proven all of my anxieties were entirely in my head. There are a number of people at school who are the same age, or older, than me. I thought I would be weirded out by being one of the older people in class, but I've actually spent more time reflecting on how badly prepared I was for college when I was 19. I've found my classes to be easier with real world experience in my hat. I finish my homework an hour after it is assigned, instead of the night before as many years ago.

I wondered what professors might think of non-traditional students like myself. My professors, at least, seem to be very receptive. We're likely to ask questions, and get our homework assignments done on time. We want to be there.

It seemed that fate, or God, or whatever you might believe in, wanted me to experience life. That experience has humbled me in ways that I could not have imagined.

Now that I am making progress again, I've found my enthusiasm for the future renewed.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Good for you! I agree, you are in a better place to be a successful student now. I took some college classes in my 30's (and 40's) and loved them, and found them much easier than the classes I took in my late teen/early 20's.
    1865 days ago
    Good for you. I took classes a few years ago and then stopped because of not knowing what kind of degree I wanted until recently. My mom got a degree 5 years ago, so it is never too late.
    Shingles, chicken pox in adults, is definitely painful. I had it at 21. I tend to steer clear when adults come in and say they have shingles because it is still contagious just as chicken pox.
    1865 days ago
    I went back to college a couple of years ago, after being in a similar situation to you. I'm 33 now, and have my degree, and I actually think the student experience was better for me as an older person. I connected better with my teachers, had better focus, etc. It worked out wonderfully, and I'm sure you'll do well.

    Also, by a strange coincidence, I too got chicken pox later in my youth. I got it a few weeks before my high school graduation, and the doctor said it was the worst case he'd ever seen. I don't think I've ever been more miserable in my life.
    1865 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/11/2013 10:58:19 AM
    Good for you! You can do it!
    1866 days ago
  • CHRIS3874
    I wish I could of back to school but I sincerely hope things work out for you . I can recall going to school at barely 18 and some guys (it was practically an ALL MALE department) were in their late 30's and 40's.
    I know what you mean about chicken pox I was 28 when I had it and was off for six weeks and then went back to work for a month and got one of the worst cases of influenza I ever had. BTW I had to look after 2 kids while I was sick (I recall my son wanting something to eat and I told him to F--- OFF that's how miserable I was feeling).
    1866 days ago
    I kinda envy you. I'd love to take college level classes again. I'd appreciate them so much more than I did as a teenager!
    1866 days ago
    Good on you! You're doing it for all the right reasons and you can approach it with a level of maturity that your classroom peers don't have.

    I've got a bunch of degrees and even did a recent stint in grad school from 2007-2008......I was 48 at the time. I can actually say that I enjoyed my time there because I approached it wanting to actually learn, while my 20-something peers were riddled with anxieties about grades.

    For those of us with established or previous careers, future employers mostly focus on the fact that you have a degree. For younger kids, they have no track record, so their grades are the only thing that can distinguish them in the job market.

    Get in there and learn.....in the end, that's the real reason for higher education!
    1866 days ago
    Have to say that I heartily applaud your return to school. One thing I have learned over the years is that learning is never out of fashion. Take whatever you can and run with it.

    Enjoy your life while you can. emoticon
    1866 days ago
    I am so proud of you :) My mom was in her later 40's, almost 50 when she graduated and it was tough for her. I didn't finish until I was 29. It was a very long road. I appreciated the classes/professors/experiences more. I also valued the money I was spending on my classes compared to the younger people where mom and dad were paying for it.

    Good Luck :) How much do you need to finish?
    1866 days ago
    Good for you!
    1866 days ago
  • KELPIE57
    At 55 I am going to be taking more exams to have more job security, all's well, for the next 15 or so years! So mid 30's is just a spring chicken! Best of luck in your choices, and if it is happening now, it is meant to be; just go for it!
    1866 days ago
    Best wishes and keep it up.
    1866 days ago
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