Diving Back Into College

Making the decision to go back to school in my late 30s has been an emotionally wild ride. As an adult learner, I have a lot of things to consider before I jump back in. I mean, my kids are also gearing up to start college for the first time so if I go back, our household will have three full time college students in it. And, I work full time. I don’t have the financial freedom to work fewer hours to focus on academics so I’ll have to figure out how to balance work, family, and school, plus all the miscellaneous projects I have going on. It almost sounds like the perfect recipe for an overwhelming situation. Do I really want to jump into that already full pool?

Treading Water

I think that before I can decide, I need to weigh out a few things. See what pros and cons there are and root out any red flags that might be lurking under the surface.

Pro: Finishing school will net us more financial freedom in the future.
We live in one of the most expensive cities in the US when it comes to housing costs. 45% of our gross pay goes to housing. It’s insane. So, making more money is a must. Plus, the teens are almost out of high school and we’ll be making tuition payments soon. Having extra income each month by way of higher paying job opportunities isn’t just a good idea, it’s a requirement if we want to get ahead.

Con: Affording college for 1 of us, let alone 3 of us is going to be difficult.
We don’t have the luxury of excess income. When the end of the month comes, we’re lucky to have a few bucks to throw into savings. This means we’re banking on financial aid to get college paid for. We make enough that we don’t qualify for Pell Grants, but we are eligible for taking out student loans. This is a mixed bag of issues but I really view it as an investment in our futures. I wish we could afford to pay outright, but the cost of college tuition and books today is just insane.

Pro: Feeling a sense of motivation & drive to succeed
I really get a kick out of having “important things to do”. Having tasks that lead to a greater goal. It really drives up my motivation and I’ll happily push forward into getting things done. Going back to school will give me the definable, measurable, important task orientation I crave.

Con: Reorganizing my “me” time and shifting more focus to academics
I love my free time. I love all the things I do to enjoy the empty spaces of the day. My hobbies have grown to define who I am as a person, and letting go of that valuable time is going to be difficult. Even if I’m motivated to do school work. I have long struggled with managing the sense of “wasting time”. I used to watch the clock tick away and count down the minutes I had left until bedtime with an annoyance that was very unflattering unless I had something productive to do. Managing the time shift to focus on school will be difficult for me. I’ll probably have to come up with some creative ways to help manage my time and encourage myself with rewards (perhaps a new book if I finish my study schedule early during the week!).

Pro: The opportunity to set a good example for my teens
Leading by example is just part of the job if you want to consider yourself a decent parent. By starting school before the kids do, I’ll have the opportunity to show them what to expect so they are not unprepared for college themselves. We’ll be able to talk about studying, classwork, and how to manage balancing responsibility with fun. And when we’re all in college together, we can hold each other accountable.

Con: Keeping my disorders under control
Of the several mental health disorders I have, my anxiety one is probably the most difficult to manage today. I’ve been totally stable in all my disorders for about 18 months now and life is amazing and great and wonderful. However, I still have times where my anxiety will increase for no reason and it makes it difficult for me to focus on tasks. This can last anywhere in the range of minutes to weeks. I have a lot of skills in my bag of tricks that I can use to manage the symptoms when they come up, but I am not sure what managing the stress of school will actually look like. Luckily, I chose to return to WGU which is a self-paced learning environment so I won’t have days where I feel like not going to class. I’ll just need to be focused on sticking to a schedule for studying and not allowing myself to put off work for more than a day or two at a time.

Sink or Swim

The decision to return to school can be very personal, especially later in life. But according to demographics, more late learners are returning so we won’t exactly be alone in a sea of youth anymore. I’ve reapplied, and been accepted, to WGU for my BA in Business Admin – Accounting. I am scheduled to start October 1st. After thinking long and hard for over a year about returning, I decided that I should just jump in and see what happens. I’m a good swimmer, I just have to trust that the current will be calm enough to stay afloat.

Floating Off Into The Sunset

Getting my Bachelor’s is not an end goal for me. I’m a lifelong learner and I have this strong drive to do something good with my life. The first step is getting my degree finished in Accounting. This will then fund Step 2, which is to get my Master’s in Accounting. Why? Because my degree program requires both to get enough hours to sit my CPA. Well what am I going to do with a CPA you might ask… The goal is to use it to fund my opportunity to go to a completely different college. Crazy, right? If I can finish my Master’s within 5 years, I plan to get a second Bachelor’s in Zoology or Marine Biology. Totally different subject from a number cruncher, I know, but here’s the thing: My end goal is to be an animal conservationist. I want to use my accounting degree to find a job supporting a non-profit in their office/admin roles while I attend OSU to get my secondary degree. I want to save birds or fish or whales. I don’t know yet, but I’m going to figure it out as I go and do something important with my life. And it all starts today, with earning a degree in Accounting. I can do it.

If you’re planning to go back to college, or even start for the first time, let me know!

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