I didn’t go to college after high school, although I took all the college prep classes. There were many reasons for this, chief among them a well-meaning but ineffectual guidance counselor with a cool new toy.

He plunked me down at a computer (with dual floppies – this was 1985) and had me run a search for colleges I might like. Once I had excitedly narrowed down my choices to my top 3 it started asking questions about my parents finances that I had no real knowledge of. At the time all I knew was that my dad, a welder, hadn’t had steady work since the iron belt became the rust belt, and my mom worked in the kitchen of a nursing home to pay the bills. So, I guessed on the answers.

You can imagine my shock when this shiny new program informed me that my parents would be expected to contribute $30,000 a year to my education. They didn’t even make that a year. I went through the process again, choosing different colleges, and changing my parents’ info. Same result every time.

What I didn’t understand at the time was this cool new program was extremely limited. It only had Ivy League colleges and was designed for families that could afford them. It also made no mention of financial aid, scholarships, grants or any other forms of financing. All I knew that all my dreams of going to college were just that…dreams…because my parents weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination.

So in typical ‘me’ fashion, I gave up. I sank into a depression, and my grades fell through the floor. This was complicated further by the death of both my paternal grandparents within a couple months of each other. At one point I even contemplated ending it all. Afterall, if I had no future what was the point of sticking around for it. I didn’t really want to die, however, so in a cry for help I wrote the following poem for an English assignment.

the tree is dead inside
not dead dying
dead uncaring
there is no hope
and no tomorrow

Naturally, this resulted in my being pulled into the office for a talk. I opened up enough to my teacher that she helped with some of my depression, but I never did tell her the real reason for it. I let her believe it was too much death in a short span of time, and she helped me with a little grief therapy. It wasn’t everything I needed, but it was enough to keep me going.

Fast forward nearly 30 years, past working 10 years at a library, getting married, and having children. In short…living. Along the way I finally learned about financial aid and ways of paying for school that my guidance counselor never explained aside from a pro forma checklist we filled out. I yearned to go back to school but the time was never right. After a while I started thinking maybe I was too old now, but my maternal grandmother was always in the back of my mind when that thought came to call. She graduated college at 56. She didn’t let a little thing like age stop her from doing what she wanted.

So, last August I abruptly decided it was time. I was going back to school. The kids were old enough I didn’t need to constantly supervise them. I wasn’t working outside the home. And my writing was something I could work around.

I contacted Southern New Hampshire University thinking I could start in January. That would give me time to fill out the paperwork, go through admissions, and get my financial aid in order. I was wrong. All the long awaited pieces of my educational journey fell into place and within 5 days of applying I was taking my first class. It was a whirlwind of fate that still shocks me at times.

So here I am in my third term, pursuing a double major of History and Accounting/Finance. And while I may complain about some of the papers I have to write, I’m loving every moment of it.

Whatever your dream, it’s never to late. Reach out and make them happen. You won’t be sorry.

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Comment ( 1 )

  • Julie Anderson

    Good for you, Denise. I have always been of the thought that education should not have to be bought, and in Australia getting a University degree was completely free until about 25 years ago. Now it costs approx $3,000 to $7,000 a year, but you can opt to not pay it until you have your degree and are earning over a certain amount.

    I wish you all the very best with your studies.

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