Not every 20-year-old has the luxury of having a parent sign a round trip four- year ticket for their child to attend college, let alone an Ivy League school.  Add in charges for dorm life, midnight pizza parties and whatever other clandestine goings on the family of said student does not need to know, and the price goes even higher.


So many life variables enter the “when to enter college” decision. Usually when one is older, they may have a hint of what to do with their lives or at least where their happy place is located. But money, as per usual, is a huge factor in the decision. Or you could be said student who has no money and not have a clue what to do with your life. Now that’s an eye-opening dilemma.


Personally, I had no family inspiration to enter college. Money was tight in my world and no one in my family recognized college as a good thing or at least something important. It took me 20 years of low-paying, dull jobs, and unappreciative workplaces for me to realize something had to give.  I needed that degree to push me into a decent workplace.  Perusing the wanted ads in the newspaper made me see the words “Degree Required” as a blaring neon sign of my having no options.


Without warning, I noticed an ad for an administrative assistant at a private university. Not until I was interviewed and hired did I realize that I had won the lottery. One of my benefits was free tuition (that amounted to a $90K degree at a very prestigious university) as long as I maintained a “C” average.


This was not totally a slice of heaven in that I had to work a 40+hour week and attend classes each night equaling a very exhausting 12-hour day. I had to rewire my brain after a workday plus sit in several classes nightly and concentrate. Knowing this decision would make me the proudest I had been in my lifetime my free tuition was the prize-winning gift in my life. As a footnote, on the heels of a liberal arts degree, I kept on paddling and received a master’s degree. So, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Free tuition, new life.


If you waited to enroll in college, bets are you will be the oldest one in all your classes. This means no “Mr. or Miss Personality” contest for you. That 20-year age gap gives you a different outlook on life and it especially appears when you write papers in your English/creative writing classes. You will embrace and write about life decisions other students never dreamed about and prepare for a snub or three. Just keep your eye on the prize – the degree.


Aside from wanting a career that was challenging and paid the bills, my going back to college late in life was much more about a sense of accomplishment, and taking care of unfinished business while knowing no one in the world could take this recognition away from me. My proudest moment was walking into the registrar’s office after work on a late Friday afternoon and getting my diploma. My heart pounded out of my chest the entire drive home. I finally identified as an intelligent part of the human race, and capable of having a good job.


I had been aware there would be hurdles and challenges for me sitting in a classroom of young students. The amazing thing is that there are educational advisors who really lend their attention to older students. They understand work and family obligations and they become your best mentors. Don’t be shy, they need to know who you are, know your face. So, feel free to stop in their offices during office hours and ask any questions. They admire older students and how we must overcome our anxieties.


It’s a brave choice to return to college later in life.  Not only did it open doors for me in my career choices, I also ended up making life-long friends and moments filled with laughter. A friend that I made in college has been in my life for 30 years now. We both took an Opera 101 course, and I will always remember how we filled an ice chest with wine and cheese that we thoroughly enjoyed before class. It seemed like the perfect pairing with an opera course. These wonderful memories along with the idea that it is never too late for learning are what pole-vaulted me on campus.  A college degree was my lottery ticket to a good life.