Going back to school after 16 years…My journey in choosing the right school for me

Next Tuesday, September 4, 2012 I will be going back to school. I am nervous, excited, thrilled and a bit on edge about taking this leap. In the fall of 1995 and the fall of 1996 I went to Minneapolis Community College for the fall semester.  In both years I was getting straight A’s until there was a snow storm on the week of finals.  I didn’t bother to find out the reschedule date. Two years in a row, mostly the same classes, I failed them all.

That was eons ago and even though I have been a successful professional in a very challenging career, I have been scared of repeating my old academic patterns. This time I decided to do my research. Going to college is a big decision. It’s expensive, time consuming; and there are hundred of options, rules, transfer policies – this is a big complex world. A world that I had no idea of. I definitely did not know it when I was 18.

At 18, I was a mess. I was newly out of the closet and yet I had no footing. I was wandering around trying to find a place where I belonged – nothing seemed to fit. Back in those days, I felt like an outsider looking into the gay community. Everywhere else I went I felt like an outside because I was gay. This is a very common experience for those who have newly come out – much less liberating than is often depicted.

One day when I was 19, I felt so alone in the world, I sat on my kitchen floor and couldn’t quit crying. I stayed there for about 6 hours. Finally I got a phone book out and called a help line. I knew I needed help, I was lost, sad, and confused. This action started my journey towards self-improvement. The operator recommended a support group in Minneapolis called the Men’s Center.

That support group changed my life and in some ways saved me. Saved me from self-destruction and isolation. All of a sudden I had a group of friends who shared their experiences and guided me. I started to see myself in a different light. I was somebody who mattered. I delved into self-discovery with a passion. I naturally wanted to contribute and give these discoveries away this to others. This journey led me to Landmark. The Landmark Forum rocked my world and turned it inside out. I walked away with freedom and possibilities. That time of my life was pure magic.

Looking back, I can now see that what I needed was a self-discovery education. I went to work on me. I have no regrets and yet I always wanted to go to college.

In my pursuits of finding the right school I had to go back in time.  A lot of my peers at the Arts High School would attend USC and NYU and other prestigious conservatories and universities. I didn’t even bother to look. Where was I? I swear I can’t remember one person ever talking to me about this; I vaguely remember going to a college fair. I must say- I never really took going to college seriously. I loved the idea of it, but in reality I wanted to live life, hang out, and work.

Now I have taken this very seriously. Over the past 5 months I have looked at around 12 different schools in and out of state. My amazing husband Nathan has been so great, because every time I would go to a different school I would come home with pamphlets and brochures. He has had to endure hours of conversations of me debating the following questions:

  • where should I go?
  • how it will work financially?
  • should I take out a school loan?
  • how can I go to school during the day and not make a lot of money? 
  • do I want to go back to work full time and go to school at night and weekends? Do I want to give up my time?
  • should I pursue the Arts again or my newer interests like marriage counseling? 

In the process, I found a school that I am really excited about – University of Phoenix. While many people relate to University of Phoenix as an online school (as I did) they have campuses all across the country. They have the largest enrollment in the U.S. with over 400,000 students. The school is fully regionally accredited- which is the highest level of accreditation a university can have. The school is designed for working adults. The average student is 36 years old. The price is less that the University of Houston and more than Community College.

When I visited their campus in Houston I wasn’t expecting much. My sister had warned me about non-traditional/ for-profit schools. One afternoon I decided to check it out because I just could not wait in-line for 2 hours again at the Community College. I had already done that several times and no one would really help and support me. It was like the DMV on steroids. 

The minute I walked through the door I fell in love with everything about University of Phoenix. The extraordinary learning resource center which was filled with alive young professionals- it’s like an iMAC computer lab/Starbucks hybrid; the Enrollment Advisor who was great, professional, caring and understood exactly what I was going through; the classes are structured in a way so I can go to class one night a week; and they gave me a beautiful folder to keep all my stuff in! 

I left there with a future I didn’t know existed. I could now both pursue my career while I fulfill on my goal to achieve a college education. I would not have to go to class 4 night a week. It would take around 4 and a 1/2 years.  How awesome, right?

Everything was awesome until I did something that I have seen a lot of people do after they first discover Landmark – I went home and did a Google search.

OMG! Landmark is like a drop in the ocean compared to all these complaints and opionions about for-profit Universities. University of Phoenix has it’s fair share. For weeks I researched and read the good, bad, and ugly. Here are the main negative reasons to attend a for-profit University that I discovered and where I see University of Phoenix fits in:

  • There are for-profits that essentially are not regionally accredited. They have some lesser accreditation and represent themselves as equal to other universities. They charge exorbitant fees and then students are left with a lot of debt and a worthless degree. This doesn’t apply to University of Phoenix.
  • The for-profit schools have a higher percentage of students who default on their loans. Read this: Federal student loan default rates on the rise – University of Phoenix. The government has wisely jumped in to deal with this across the board. Most of the defaults are from students who did not graduate. For-profits have open enrollment and higher tuitions; so if someone is not ready for school they fail out with a lot of student debt. Two years ago University of Phoenix implemented a 3-week Orientation that is mandatory. 80% of the students chose to continue. Since this change, enrollments have gone down for the school but drop-out rates have also decreased.
  • The for-profits used to pay their Enrollment Advisors based on the number of people they enrolled until the government stopped it. University of Phoenix was definitely guilty of this. University of Phoenix has not had this practice since 2010. The enrollment advisor I met was professional, very helpful and supportive. I was not pushed, called, or pressured in any way.
  • A for-profit Degree will be laughed at or not considered by recruiters and HR departments. After speaking with a lot of people on this topic, the reality is: this is not true- at least as it pertains to University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix has an acceptable reputation and as time marches on, will gain more and more agreement. The reality is you need a degree from a regionally accredited university to meet qualifications to get an interview. The rest is up to you. In my situation, simply having a degree combined with my professional experience could give me a lot of opportunities in certain industries (like non-for-profits) that I wouldn’t have otherwise- but my experience will far out weigh my degree. I believe this is true for most successful professionals that are my age.

With having taken all of this into consideration I have made the right choice for me and I will be attending University of Phoenix. 

I learned a great lesson in all of this: My friends and peers who went to those great colleges really wanted to go to them. They worked hard for that. It was their dream. I never found a school that I really wanted to go until I was 35. It’s name is University of Phoenix. It’s untraditional, stirs up reactions both positive and negative, and it dares to take on an entire system- it’s just like me. Perfect fit. Don’t you agree?


9 thoughts on “Going back to school after 16 years…My journey in choosing the right school for me

  1. Hi Brian! I really enjoyed this blog. This echoed so many truths within myself. The fact that I did not finish my college education is my life’s greatest regret. It has limited me in so many ways. It was weird when I read your statement above that said ” I swear I can’t remember one person ever talking to me about this; I vaguely remember going to a college fair.” I feel and have felt the same way! My parents never really pushed me to explore different colleges or even told me what my options were ,(since my options were very limited due to finances…which I never even knew!) I too vaguely remember going to a college fair but I couldn’t envision myself at college and was more concerned with living life.
    I did go to school, many schools, and failed out of a lot of classes. Not because of intelligence but because I was bored, not interested or maybe due to self-sabotaging behaviors. But now I STILL have $30,000 to repay and nothing to show for it.
    I was “lucky” to “fall into” a career in radio and enjoyed it for many years, but it’s a dying industry and doesn’t pay well if you are not in a top ten market. Now I have to re-jigger my concept of myself, which I am sure you are doing too.
    Good luck in your new endeavor and I hope you enjoy every bit of it!

  2. Wow Sarah! Thank you for sharing that with me. To this day I have found you to be one of the most smart, entertaining, and quick-witted people I have ever met! Thank you for sharing your experience with me- it helps to know I was not alone. Again, thank you- it is appreciated.

  3. Brian, thanks for sharing about your education journey. I, like Sarah, immediately identified with the lack of actual counsel I received in the college decision-making process. It was a blind spot for me (didn’t know I didn’t know, ya know?).

    I always got 99.9th percentile scores on tests since childhood and my Dad raised me to believe I would and should go to Radcliffe. (He went to college on the GI bill and his Masters was from Harvard.) I was very artistic and I’m sure I would have loved “liberal arts” and found a creative path there.

    HOWEVER,one day a friend’s father mentioned a pharmacy school in Boston in a conversation about college and I decided to go to pharmacy school. I had an interest in chemistry and wanted to know how drugs worked and to find the cure for cancer. My Dad was a marine biologist so I was positive about going into science. But decades later my Dad told me, “I never understood why you didn’t go to Art School!” Well, BECAUSE NO ONE HAD A CONVERSATION ABOUT IT WITH ME EXCEPT MY FRIEND’S FATHER THAT ONE TIME! How random is that?

    So now (having never finished my pharmacy degree way back when, and knowing I don’t want to be a pharmacist) I have a long career in bookkeeping because when I moved to NYC and needed a job I couldn’t type but I was good with numbers. Several times I have looked into other careers and colleges and just never managed to get a plan together for such a huge transition. First of all I never want to take the zillion and one classes unrelated to the actual major. Then come the time/money/life plan conversations that leave me totally disinterested in what seemingly would be putting my life on hold, working my butt off 24/7, starting over at an entry level, etc. etc. etc.

    I still want to go to Radcliffe, in a parallel life perhaps, or maybe get a writing degree at York College, because I love to write. Mostly I am content learning and developing from life experience. I design jewelry, do photography, paint, write, on my own or with friends; I even sell my work…………but it still feels like I need a degree.

    For sure, I would be able to get a better job in accounting with a degree, but truth be told, I don’t want any more accounting in my life than I do at work. So here I am, much older than you, and not knowing if I will ever go back to college.

    However, I am very proud of my sister’s oldest daughter, who is now in art college after taking a bit of time off to work. She insisted on what she wanted, an actual art school, not a community college. She got financial aid and scholarships. She works and pays the rest of her costs and has no debt. She lives at home. My sister and I agree that the next generation of our family is turning out so much better than we did at the same age. So maybe the next generation is learning from our life lessons even if we didn’t graduate college.

  4. Brian,
    I enjoyed reading about your education journey. I hope the University of Phoenix turns out to be everything you have trusted it will be. Financially it is a big investment.
    I thought I had my bases covered and had also done some research and was as enthusiast as you were when I enrolled at Herzing University. I thought these caring people at my local campus were looking out for my best interests and truly cared about my education and career goals. After 14 months of attending classes and fighting with them over numerous issues I can say I didn’t foresee any of it coming. I am questioning my decision to attend Herzing and wondering if the thousands of dollars I owe for this education wasn’t for a worthless piece of paper. Newest battle I have is that Herzing failed to verify my attendance in 2010 and the IRS wants a very large sum of money as a result. I am waiting to hear the outcome of the appeal.
    I am excited you have found “the college” for you but I am skeptical. I wish you only the best and hope you have a better experience than I. Good luck in the pursuit of your education goals.

  5. Brian, I am so proud of you. I too have been looking at finishing school. I don’t know if I ever shared with you about drinking my way out of a private college, very expensive…one year was $30,000 back in 1984. I took some classes here and there and then decided I did not need a college degree to provide sales and marketing services anyway.

    Now after being unemployed for 10months and applying for at least 5 positions each week, school was looking pretty good. The lack of financial funding or support stopped me again.

    I have started my own Business Coaching business, which is very exciting and yet what I really want to do requires more education. I did not check out University of Phoenix and after reading this I am ready to take on both my business and school! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!


    P.S. I am still working on getting my website up, check it out soon!

    • LeAnn- I highly recommend checking out Western Governor’s University which I believe is offered in Colorado. Its online only, but is very inexpensive. It is a non-profit and highly respected. I could not get in because I had had no past college experience.

  6. Dear Brian,
    I read your story and I was moved by it in a couple of ways. The incident on the kitchen floor when you were 19, and finally called for help. When I needed some severe help I walked into the Veteran’s psych clinic and saw a large sign that said: “It takes the strength and courage of a warrior to ask for help.” So, from my experience, at 19 you became a warrior and, for me, have been one ever since.

    . During the 1960s and 70s, I dropped out of school and was drafted into the Army where I served in various places including Viet Nam. When I returned I attempted to resume my studies but had no energy or focus on it. (I had always wanted to attend Notre Dame, but never did. Although I did attend two Catholic colleges and one state run.California School)

    I soon went to work and had a family, and my education got put on the back burner.

    I went back to college after 35 years (age 65) Before I retired from business I was working for a large corporation who provided tuition support for employees who returned to school and followed a student path that was consistent with the company’s goals.
    So the obvious choices were: business administration; finance or organizational communication. I chose the latter and was very successful for the semesters I was there. But my heart wasn’t really in it. (I should have studied music, but that was not supported by my company.)

    The school I attended was St.Edwards University.here in Austin. One irony is that St. Eds is the sister school to Notre Dame – founded about the same time by the same order of priests. They play a sisterly baskeball game every year.

    For me, my years at St Edwards were the best years ever in my education. The classes were designed for working adults, and I met so many terrific people and got to participate in group study and projects. I really felt a part of something, and we were all headed in the same direction. It was really great and I still keep in contact with some of them.

    So, my recommendation is: whatever your career goal, when you are back in school choose an area of study that inspires you; play full out and look for all the opportunities to meet great people; and have fun with it. Be the warrior you are. AND While there is great reward in hard work, there is also something to be said about having great fun..

    Thanks for sharing.
    All the very best to you.
    Tom Young
    Austin, TX

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