The First Steps Back to College After 20 Years

-A personal essay by Pamela Simpson.

Sometimes taking that first step is the hardest thing to do. Letting go of the fear of falling or failing, keeps too many of us from trying, and ultimately, from succeeding. This is very common among adults considering returning to school. But sometimes we face our fears, be it by force or simply our own choice, and like a baby…we learn to walk….we succeed.

Pamela (2nd from left) with Cohort 543 who will complete their degrees in August!

Pamela (3rd from left) cheering on Cohort 543 who will complete their degrees in August!

I was one of those adults. I thought I would’ve completed my bachelor’s degree long ago. Life got in my way, and I never did. Then, I became a casualty of the economy. I’d been laid-off, and was unable to compete in the job market without my bachelor’s degree. With my years of experience and my Associate’s degree, I couldn’t believe that I’d hit a wall in terms of attaining gainful employment.

Disbelief and anger set in first; then, the acknowledgement of the reality of it all. My anger became action. I couldn’t accept settling, so after some research, I enrolled in Nyack College’s Bachelor’s Degree Completion program. I wondered if I could succeed after being away from school for so many years, and whether I should even try.  But, I knew I had to. I jumped in, with all my fears and excitement. Before long the excitement thrived and the fear died. This is not to say that it was an easy journey; it wasn’t.

Six months after the first lay-off, I took the first job I could find (though underemployed), keeping with the thinking that it’s easier to find a job when you’re employed. It wasn’t. Without my bachelor’s degree, I was out of the running, and becoming gainfully employed seemed out of reach.

In the first six months of the 12-month degree completion program, I found myself immensely challenged and overwhelmed, working 40 hours a week, participating in my (then) 12-year old son’s schooling and extracurricular activities, the day to day tasks of family life, and now, a student myself after many years.

OM CTA buttonLosing that job six months later didn’t make things any easier. The demands of working had been lifted, but were replaced with the emotional and psychological impact of being unemployed and unable to find a job. Either my experience made me over qualified, or lack of a bachelor’s degree disqualified me.  Working, not working, taking care of my family and going to school, all were enough to make me quit, but I didn’t. Yes, it was challenging! But in the greater scheme of things, it was quick, just one night a week for one year and absolutely doable.  I’m glad I took that first step. I’m glad I dove in, and thus, graduated in 2011 (after being away from school for 20 plus years).

By making that phone call and seeing it through, I’ve opened doorways to achieving greater things. Now, I never have to say “I should finish my bachelor’s degree.” Now, I can say what’s next.  Thanks to Nyack College’s adult friendly, supportive bachelor’s degree completion program, I’ve attained personal gratification and, opened up educational and career pathways for myself. Now I’m doing something that I absolutely love.  I help inspire other adults to take that first step, to push past the fear associated with change, and to persevere. I support students along their college path so that they too can gain a sense of personal gratification through finishing their bachelor’s degree.  I tell them that they can turn “to do” into “DONE” and pave professional, educational and personal pathways for their next journey.


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