My College Experience – 30 Years and Counting

My college journey has not been easy. I graduated from high school back in 1982 with flying colors. My college experience however, was the total opposite. Not because I couldn’t keep up academically but because I simply didn’t have the tools needed to attend college. Let me explain.

Growing up, I was never taught the importance of going to college. My parents, who were both raised and never finished high school. To them, graduating from high school was the equivalent of graduating from college so there were no talks about going off to college to further my education. Instead, it was always ingrained in me the importance of having a job so, that’s what I concentrated on.

Just as the excitement of graduating high school was over, my friends had started hearing back from some of the colleges they had applied for. All this talk about going to college and reading about all the different programs they offered peeked my interest and made me think about the future. Hey, I want to go to college too! Unlike my friends, who started school in Fall of 1982, I applied to start in the Spring of 1983.  Low and behold, I got accepted into to a Community College!  What I didn’t realize was that without financial aid, there was no way that I would be able to afford to buy the textbooks I was going to need for my classes, nor would I be able to afford the tuition. At the time that I got accepted, I was working part time in a fast food restaurant. What am I gonna do?

I didn’t qualify to get financial aid but I was a candidate to be a Work Study student, which meant that I could work at the school (with pay) while taking classes. Sounds good, right? Well, I barely made enough to afford the carfare I needed to get to school, let alone buy books. Needless to say I was only able to complete one semester. I was devastated.

In 1990, I was working as a secretary for the government full-time and felt like this was a good time in my life to finish what I started years before. I got accepted into New York City College of Technology (now known as City Tech) and was majoring in Hospitality/Culinary Arts. I started the semester with a vengeance and determined to make up for my failed attempt back in 1983. I was about 3 semesters in when I started having health problems. I have asthma and back then my asthma was not controlled so every other month I was in the emergency room. College doesn’t take kindly to excessive absences and I was put on academic probation because of it. This can’t be happening I thought. My college dreams were being pushed further behind.
In the mid 90’s, a close friend of mine and I tried going to TCI (Technical Career Institute) to try our hand at technology. We both got accepted and were in the same classes. It didn’t take us long to realize that technology school wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. We stopped going after one semester.

I still yearned to go to culinary school so my sister and I enrolled in a Pastry Arts program at a well known Culinary school in New York City in 1998.  I was elated! It was an extensive 18 month program, and guess what? We finished the program! I had finally finished something I started!

Having completed from the Pastry Arts program was great but we only received a certificate for the program.  I knew if I wanted to get further in my career I would need to get a Bachelors Degree. I started working for a well known university back in 2002. Part of the perks of working for the school was paid tuition for employees so I took full advantage of it. Yes! Things were looking up. I am going to get my degree and for free no less!

I loved my classes and was doing great in school even after my niece and nephew came to live with me…. until I got laid off in 2009. I thought, this can’t be happening. My hopes of getting a Bachelors degree were slipping through my fingers.
The following year I got a job at another well known university and they also had a free tuition program for their employees.  I couldn’t wait to finish what I had started so many years before. The curriculum was not easy and there were times that I wanted to give up but friends and family encouraged me to keep going. I was just too close to the finish line to give up now. I am proud to say that I FINALLY graduated on May 21, 2016 with a BA degree in Psychology!

I am now 52 years old (my birthday was a little less than month after graduation) and my college journey has taken 33 years. It has come with many challenges but it was totally worth it. I try to live my life like that old saying that goes, “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”

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