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Back to School: Finishing Up a College Degree Years Later

BYU Class of 2013
When my family and I posed for a photograph at my college graduation, I was 40 years old. 

During my pursuit of a college degree, I’d withdrawn from school twice: first to serve a full-time mission; then to start a family. When I got married in my senior year and left school, I didn't know how long it would be before I’d be able to return and finish my degree. In fact, as time progressed and my family grew and the responsibilities of a stay-at-home mother became extremely overwhelming, I started to doubt if I’d ever be able to return to school at all. As years went by, I grew to be comfortable with the fact that I “almost” graduated from college.

One day while waiting outside of my bishop’s office for an interview, I accidentally caught a glance at a flyer on the bulletin board with a quote from President Uchtdorf that reads, “For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea––It’s a commandment.” It suddenly became clear to me at the moment that with all my children now in school and I had more free time to myself, there wasn't a better time to finish my degree than this. Besides, with numerous schools offering online courses today, it’s convenient to work toward a degree anytime, anywhere.

Going from being a stay-at-home mother to being a non-traditional student on campus is quite a change, however, I've found the followings help make the transition easier:

  • Familiarize yourself with technologies: Being absent from school for over 15 years, I didn't realize that on a twenty-first century campus almost everything is computerized. Hence, acquiring basic computer skills such as Microsoft Word and Power Point is a must to be able to keep up with schoolwork and present a research project.
  • Ask for help: There might be times when you need someone to take, or pick up, your children to and from school. Sometimes you might need help running errands. There’re many people who will be more than happy and willing to extend a helping hand, all you have to do is ask.
  • Pace yourself: I've found that when I took a number of classes within my physical and mental capacities, I did much better academically and emotionally than when I over-scheduled and carried a heavier load than I could handle. “Don’t run faster or labor more than you have strength...” (D&C 10:4).
  • Study with your children: If you have school-age children at home, consider scheduling a daily routine to study or do homework with them. You set a good example to your children through your dedicated efforts in pursuing knowledge. You teach them that learning is a lifelong process; age shouldn't stop anyone from learning.
  • Share what you’re learning with your family: Talk to your family about what you've learned in your classes. It makes for a fun dinner discussion, and may spark an interest in your children to explore new knowledge.
  • Find other non-traditional/returning students for support: There might be other non-traditional/returning students on campus. Connect with them or join a group specifically designed to provide support and resources for non-traditional students. It motivates you to work hard knowing you’re not alone.
  • Discuss your academic goals with an adviser: During my 15-year absence, some school/department requirements for graduation have been changed. By taking my academic goals to an academic adviser, I saved myself time looking in a sometimes-confusing sea of class options and also future career choices. Academic advisers are trained professionals to provide students precise recommendations as to how and what they should do to achieve their goals. 
  • Communicate with Heavenly Father, always: Most important of all, always communicate with Heavenly Father through sincere prayers. He is interested in your life and is eager to bless you with all that you need to succeed in school and to finish your degree. Even if sometimes that could be just finding a parking stall on campus.

We've been counseled that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:18-19). I know that as we dedicate our lives to keeping God’s commandments––even the modern commandment to receive an education––we’re entitled to His divine help in our pursuit of all that which is virtuous. With the knowledge we acquire, we’ll become a better instrument in God’s hands to help build His Kingdom on Earth.

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Allison is a mother to three teenage boys. She is currently working on her memoir. Visit her at: Allison Merrill.

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