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Suzette Randolph HintonBack to School: Standing in Line Again

By Suzette Randolph Hinton

It had been 20 years since I last stood in a line on a college campus. I was an undergraduate freshman waiting in the admission's line to register. I swear that line was two blocks long! Yet, here I was back at school again - this time with a few strands of gray hair and joints that ached every time the wind gusted between the buildings.

I’d thought I had chosen a time when nobody at the college would be in line. It was one hour from closing, for goodness sakes. Nonetheless, here I stood with textbook bag in tow, slung over one arm and bouncing against an aching back. Giggly kids laughing with each other and talking on their cell phones surrounded me, not the least bit concerned about how slowly we were moving. I braced myself as another gust of wind chilled me to the bone.

What had brought me back to school? I had been severed from my job and my counselor felt returning to college would improve my marketability for re-employment. I didn’t have anything else to do. Besides, I preferred continued education over rejection letters from employers. So I chose the associate degree program at my local community college.

Prior to returning to campus, I had worked for almost five years with my husband. I remember how good it felt to leave the corporate world to join my husband in a business venture. Initially, I provided administrative/clerical help as a subcontractor. We were pioneering a nonprofit company that would aid previously institutionalized individuals with mental deficiencies. With staff available 24/7, these individuals would secure housing and learn to function more independently in society.

Who would have thought that after helping to build a business, being promoted to financial controller, going from a solitary five-figure salary to a combined six figures, and moving to a prominent neighborhood, I would be penniless and standing in line as a college student again? Only a few months ago, I had a career and a marriage. But with the marital separation came job severance and unemployment. I had nothing but piecemeal furniture, my clothes and my son, at least for now. I was facing a custody battle. I didn’t even have a car of my own.

Fortunately for me, my counselor informed me of the availability of financial aid: grant money that I was eligible to receive. It was called a WIA grant which stands for Workforce Investment Act. This act was an initiative on the federal and state level to assist adults and dislocated workers with finding and securing viable employment. As part of that initiative, unemployed individuals were offered training. My counselor informed me of two opportunities: computer training or substance abuse counseling. I told her I preferred substance abuse counseling.

You see, my counselor didn’t know that only a year prior I had inquired about the master’s program for counseling at a local four-year college. I spoke with the dean who informed me that my college transcripts were no longer viable as they exceeded their 10-year window. He said that I’d have to get another undergraduate degree in order to pursue a master’s degree with their university. Disheartened, I gave up.

At the age of 40 something, I wanted my work to have meaning. When my counselor said the words “counseling,” it was as if time stopped and everything else faded into the background. I heard the hallelujah chorus in five-part harmony. It was my moment - my opportunity to get into counseling.

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