This week is a big one for me, as I re-join the academic world as a full-time undergraduate student yet again. I’m no stranger to the full-time student/full-time employment combo, so it’s not new territory for me. I do remember how much work it is, but I’m ready for this new journey. Finishing my degree is something I’ve always wanted for myself, so here I go!
I dropped out of community college after only one full semester, and ultimately earned my Associate’s degree online while working full-time. It ended up being a good thing for me, because I was able to use my company’s tuition assistance program and graduated debt-free in 2010. Since then, I’ve stopped and started a few times as I worked toward my Bachelor’s degree. I tried University of Phoenix, but didn’t like the group-work format (why on earth an online school requires so much group collaboration is beyond me). After taking some time off I enrolled at Washington State University, only to find that it’s really difficult to be an online-only student at a school that is really designed for full-time students who can attend classes. At most, I was able to manage two classes at a time, and ultimately it just felt like I’d never graduate and I tabled the whole idea.
The idea of finishing my degree never really left my mind. Last year, after being with my current company for a year, I became eligible for their tuition assistance program. It would have probably been a good idea to jump back into school right away, but I was busy planning a wedding and taking classes was NOT in my plans. Now that the wedding is over, I feel like I can handle balancing work and school, and I’m ready to try yet again to finish college.
Since my real goal is to just be DONE already, I decided to enroll at Western Governor’s University. The courses are online, the classes are individual and completing them is based on a competency assessment, and there are no traditional class schedules. I can take as many courses as I’m able to per semester, and each semester’s tuition rate is flat – meaning that the more classes I complete, the less I pay (or my company pays) for school in the long run.
The enrollment process at WGU wasn’t a walk in the park, I admit. When I decided to move forward, I applied online and was accepted, but never heard anything further. I did some research online about next steps, and proactively ordered transcripts from my previous schools to be sent to WGU. I could see online that they’d been received, so when I still hadn’t been contacted I reached out and spoke with an enrollment counselor. Although he was very nice, he wasn’t a lot of help in the subsequent enrollment process; I did a lot of researching online until I figured out what I needed to do.
Financial aid is no picnic, either. In the past, I’ve always had company tuition assistance programs that issued Letters of Credit to the university I was attending, so I never had to pay. This time, the program is tuition reimbursement, so I have to pay upfront and then seek reimbursement after the semester ends and I pass my classes. Not wanting to drain my savings to pay upfront, I decided to apply for student loans, knowing that they will come due six months after I graduate and that I can simply use my tuition reimbursement money to pay them off. While this sounds simple enough, you can’t just apply for loans – you have to apply for financial aid first. I knew this was going to be a waste of time; my husband and I make far too much money for me to qualify for assistance. Still, the rules are the rules, so I filled out my required FAFSA and got my reply that I qualified for $0 assistance, then was finally able to move on and apply for my loans.
Once I got through all the admissions requirements, things got a lot easier. Yay! I was paired up with my Student Mentor, a former student who has successfully completed the program herself and who will check in with me weekly throughout this process. She got me set up with my orientation, and helped me with a road map for what my degree program is going to look like. She gave me a bit of an overview of what I could expect in the next year and a half (hopefully I can be done by then!). I completed the online orientation, and I’m all set to start my first class. Whew!
I really want to finish this time. Wish me luck!