Reentering School in Middle Age

Forty Year Old Freshman

Being a person northeastern part of Ohio, an area that resembles many parts of the country affected by the receding tides of industry. My story starts out with me losing my job due to company downsizing with a house and family to support. I found myself with outdated skills, no new jobs, and few options. I could take a much lower paying job at one of the local “box” stores that would barely cover our expenses. Not being independently wealthy, I would have to find some way to reinvent myself.

The only way to do this would be going back to school. Although an education is no insulator against the many different ways a person can lose their job. Education is a step in the right direction in gaining a competitive edge if you’re to survive in a world that rivals the “Jetsons”.

To give a little back story on my situation; I left school at the age of sixteen and went to work. In the days when work was plenty and a strong back was all you needed to provide for your family. Unfortunately, those days are all but gone.

Having never finished high school or having any other formal education other than a G.E.D, the idea of going back to school was frightening. Often times I would sit at the kitchen table and try to help my son with his homework. Before long, I felt more like the student than the teacher. What in the world would make me think I could ever rise to the challenge of going to and paying for college?

After months of procrastinating over the decision, my loving and supportive wife finally gave me a nudge to get something done. Deciding on the right college and picking a major became a job in itself. Finally, after reading college brochures until my head was spinning I settled on an art major. As I read through the coarse titles, I realized I didn’t even understand the names of the courses I would be taking.

It was clear I would have to educate myself on the process of education before I could hope to go any further. Knowing where to begin to unravel the complexities of the system of higher education would prove to be a preliminary challenge. To my dedication of becoming the first in my family to graduate from college. This took some time, what friends of mine who had attended college took as common knowledge; I took as a great revelation of needing to know. However, they and the staff of the college information department were patient with me. Slowly the fog cleared and I gained at least a working understanding of what would be expected.

As I said I am not rich, so paying for college upfront or even as I go wasn’t an option. This left no alternative but to apply for student aid. Being able to navigate the government bureaucracy should count as a credit. At this point, I am convinced I am in way over my head.

The one thing I have learned is that I am among a growing number of older Americans attending college for the first time or returning to finish their degree in the hopes of keeping pace with the changing world. I have been in school for many months. I am doing well and having a great time getting to know the professors and the other students. Although it has been a big adjustment in every respect. Studying has replaced sitting around or going to a ball game. Many nights I stay up late to prepare for a test or write an essay paper. I now have a profound respect for students in college and the work that goes into keeping up with classes and trying to work full time to pay for it.

Going back to school has been the best decision I have ever made. Not only in respect to be able to provide a future for my family, but to broaden my horizons as a person. My narrow scope of the world was focused mainly on what I thought I knew or would ever need to know. Never before did I imagine this well of knowledge existed in the world. The things I have learned opened my eyes to new ideas and new possibilities. A year ago, I would not have considered going back to school; today, I have ambitions to finish a four year degree. With all that I have learned, I look forward to what I will learn tomorrow.

The decision to become a forty year old freshman enlightened me to the importance of my son being able to attend college. The truth is no matter how much I tried to deny it, without college I am doing a great injustice to my son and giving him limited hope for the future. My wife and I have set up a college fund. Although it may not cover all the cost of college ten years from now; at least it will give him the start that I never had.