More Pencils, More Books, More Dirty Looks?

Earlier this year, I finally sucked it up and enrolled in college again.

The last time I was in school was in 2007 or so. After many years of stop-and-start enrollment, I was mostly spinning my wheels. My major had changed several times. And, of course, I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do for a living at all. Working retail forever wasn’t it, so the first step was the jump to working in an office while going to school part-time.

What I know, now, is that leaving school that last time was a terrible decision among many. It seemed like a great decision, then! I was living alone, with all kinds of bills and obligations. My office job was hourly, part-time, and offered no benefits. The healthy savings account built up from the prior and much better paying job was gone, lost to long months of unemployment—and the slide into depression- and anxiety-related numbness that I mistook for freedom.

So, the question was: keep going to school aimlessly and determining which bills need to be paid every month and which could slide a while? Or accept a full-time position at work with more responsibilities (and health insurance!), which meant putting school on hold until the bank balance showed enough of a cushion to let me go back? The right answer was the one everyone else kept giving me. Obviously, the answer I chose was the other one.

The idea that I might never see enough of a cushion on that bank statement to feel comfortable going back? Ha, that’s funny. No. Of course that never occurred to me.

There were a few near misses in the intervening years. Good conversations with admissions counselors who helped me see how the path forward would go. Increasingly persistent University of Phoenix emails I didn’t read. I applied to a low-residency writing program with a piece of original fiction and was accepted with great notes (a very welcome boost to the ego when I desperately needed one). And then that nice career that had developed out of the job I chose over school dissolved, along with 90% of the jobs in the department I worked in.

Unemployment was much less terrifying in my twenties. I’ll just leave it at that.

My non-writing skills are mostly technical, lots of graphic design and web work, mostly in marketing departments. I moved up regularly at the old company, and was assured along the way that my career path—and my skills and desire to constantly push them forward—wouldn’t require a degree. The work and experience were strong enough, I believed. It was still the plan to get a four-year degree, eventually. It’s just that eventually kept slipping farther away.

But when I had to start looking again, after almost a decade of not even checking job listings, it turned out that, actually, no degree was keeping me out of a lot of places. Recently, there was a job that was such a perfect fit, I actually dreamed about it at night. But after a wonderful interview, I got the call that they wouldn’t be making me an offer after all. I was still—perpetually—only 45 credits away from earning my degree, but they couldn’t even offer me a short-term contract without it. It was disappointing, sure, but it was humiliating, too! It didn’t matter how good I was or how much they wanted me to do the job. What mattered was the degree I didn’t have.

Because I work full-time and freelance as well, the school I chose was entirely on the strength of their online program. A single weekend residency! They’re one of only a handful of schools nationwide to offer a BA in English Lit totally online! The program’s focus lets me merge my at-times-unbearable love for reading (and talking about reading and writing about reading and reading about reading…) with my professional interests in the web, publishing, and social media.

At the end of next summer, I’ll finally have earned my degree. I can’t wait to see what doors it opens.

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