Like a lot of kids, I started college the semester after I graduated from high school. And, like many kids, I went to a community college instead of aspiring towards Ivy League life; I didn’t long for the “college life” of dorm rooms and living out of state, massive loans and being away from everything and everyone I’d ever known. I didn’t even know what I wanted to get out of more school… I mostly coasted through high school as it was, and didn’t know what I wanted to be when I “grew up”.
Now, I’m a 37-year-old man. And on my 37th birthday, after having dropped out a few times, I logged in one last time to my final online course. I finished my Associate of Arts degree in English (technically two degrees, also English for Transfer) almost exactly 18 years after I started it.
But why go back at all? Let’s talk about it.
When I graduated high school in 2003, I was a pretty shoddy student.
I was smart enough, that much I knew. But I didn’t do my homework, I didn’t study too hard, and I just managed to get through with my head high enough above water to earn my diploma. English was fun, math was a chore, I failed a class or two, but I got through.
When I say all of this, it’s to set you up for what comes next: when I got to college, not a lot changed. I was still doing OK, and I passed well enough, but I wasn’t getting anything out of school. Sure I had some fun–I took volleyball as an elective, plenty of English classes, even a debate course that I enjoyed, but nothing grabbed me and sent me in a direction for my future. I wasn’t enjoying the process, I was just going through the paces.
So soon after I moved out of my hometown with my mom, I dropped out. Our arrangement was, if I wasn’t going to school, I would need to get a job. And so I did, at Fry’s Electronics (which is now defunct and for every good reason), while I still tried to keep a foot in academia… with one class at the college closer to our new home. Once I passed, I properly dropped out. Threw myself into work. Retail, mailroom and customer support, freelance writing… I bounced around the next decade-plus, eventually ending up at the job I have now. And I love my current job, back to online customer support, with a great team.
But I still had that itch that followed me over the years. I started something, something I could’ve completed, but I didn’t finish. So when the pandemic came through and stopped the world on a dime, I started thinking about it again. Could I finish up? I didn’t have to commute right then, online classes had become a thing, so why not look deeper? I could reach out to a counselor and see what all I needed to actually finish.
So I did all those things. I was only three courses away from my general education and transfer degree, and one additional course for my school-specific degree in English. Four classes. Even for me, working full-time, that was entirely doable. But I’d never taken an online class before, which made me feel like just the oldest student to even come back to finish. Turns out, I didn’t have much to worry about; thanks to my occasionally-overwhelming anxiety, constantly egging me on to check in and see what assignments were coming up, it was no problem to log in and submit papers and fill out tests. The last hurdle I was afraid of turned out to be actually HELPED by my frayed mental state. Who would’ve thought?
I took one class to test the waters, then two classes the following semester, and the final class in the summer. One class was straightforward and pretty easy; two was harder, but not overwhelming (even if one of those was a physical science class I felt out of my depth in); and the final was a breeze. If I hadn’t spent 8 years before enrolling as a freelance critic with regular deadlines, I would’ve been in a lot more trouble. But those hundreds of articles sharpened my writing in a way that, thankfully, transferred well to essays. I aced three of the four classes. (The last was a “B”, can’t win ‘em all I guess.)
All of my classes were asynchronous, meaning I only had to log in when I had a question or an assignment was due. No live lectures, but I could meet with my teachers, who were more than happy to help me through; with one exception, they were all fantastic to engage with and learn from. The other… I’ll just say I learned how frustrating online learning CAN be for some students, no matter the school nor their learning level. The software was easy enough to navigate though, and clear and consistent communication was significantly easier for me to handle than even in-person class.
If you’re looking into online courses for yourself or a loved one, during lockdowns may be the best time to get engaged. And even if you’re not looking to complete a degree or anything, services like Khan Academy and Coursera are free to explore, for everything from mathematics to philosophy. I can’t recommend Khan Academy enough; I used them to brush up on my math, explored some history classes, and even experimented with programming, all of which have been incredibly helpful.
As for me, whether or not I continue for a higher degree… I don’t know. I don’t have any specific plans in place right now to do so, but I’ve learned in re-enrolling for this degree, I’m not about to say “never”. If I need that degree for something specific, I’m empowered now to find a way to go for it. The last day you learn something is your last day above ground after all. Hopefully, that means I’ve still got plenty of time to learn.
What would you like to study, if anything? Have you enrolled after a hiatus, or do you need a degree for what you’d like to achieve? What would you like to get out of higher education? Let everyone know in the comments below, let’s get a conversation going!
Stand Tall friends. May your classes be fulfilling and your studying do the trick!