I gave up a full scholarship years ago to get married right out of high school because I was, well, young and in love. Time passed, and as a sometimes happens, we grew apart and eventually divorced. I would never undo the decision to marry because that eventually allowed me to have my daughter, the best child in the whole world (just in case she reads this). And I now have 2 wonderful grandchildren to love as well. In retrospect I felt that I had lost an important time of my life – the college years. The time when you learn to drink beer and coffee, pull all-nighters, meet lots of new and different people, some who may become your friends for life. The time when you become the person you dream of becoming or the person you didn’t realize you wanted to be. It was always in the back of my mind, a little brain worm that would tickle my thoughts of “what if”.
After a few years of attending college part time at night, I realized that I wasn’t getting what I wanted from it. I was getting the education but not the experience. So after my lovely child went off to college to develop her own life (which didn’t exactly happen at that time-but that’s another story), I made a decision. In the tender years of my early 40s, I quit my full-time, great paying job, sold my house, and went back to finish college full time. Lock, stock and barrel, I moved onto campus and started a few years of life changing events.
Yes, you read that right, I moved into a dorm, but let me explain a little more. First and foremost, I went back to school at a women’s college, a great one actually, whereas before I had been attending a coed university. Why a women’s school? Well, my job was in technology which is dominated by men, so I wanted a break from that. (I wanted to stop second-guessing myself: “is he being a jerk or am I over-sensitive because I’m a woman?”, that kind of thing.) I wanted to be in a place where there was no gender competition. I also wanted to see/experience what a woman centric environment would be like. Not because I’m anti men, but because I’ve always been drawn to areas which tend to have lots of men and not so many woman, like (I’m sad to say) engineering/math/science.
Going to a women’s college gave me those opportunities and more. My college had/has a program for women who were returning to or starting their college education later in life. The youngest you could be to qualify for the program was 24; there was no age limit. The program originally was geared to commuters, but that changed over time, so when I attended a woman could choose to live on campus. It was just what I wanted. Not to live with a bunch of 18 year-olds, but to live, breath, sleep and eat my educational experience.
(I’ve always been a great and grateful student; I love learning new things – when I win the lottery I’m pretty sure my little cottage by the sea will be near a college town!)
So I moved into a dorm, not a traditional dorm with traditional age students (which I could have done, but chose not too), but a dorm for returning students like me. In this dorm I had a small room (about 10 by 10) to myself as did all the other women in the house. My housemates ranged in age from 24 to 60-ish. They were from all over the country and their educational focuses, their backgrounds and their politics were as varied as they were. Some of them I loved, some I couldn’t stand but it was interesting and exciting to be in a place with women who had a shared desire for finishing their education.
My education focus up until then had been math/science/engineering and I was pretty sure I wanted it to remain that way, but I also wanted to learn about a variety of subjects which was right up the alley of this liberal arts college. I wanted to become a renaissance woman, so to speak. So I took art history, sociology, music, language, literature and many other classes along with my math/science courses. Over time I realized I wanted my degree to be broader than I originally thought. (I already had experience in the job field I loved, my undergraduate degree wouldn’t make much difference to my chosen career). So I changed my major from Math to Cognitive Science.
Still sounds pretty geeky right? Well it is and it isn’t. Cognitive Science is the study of thought, learning, and mental organization. It is a multi-disciplinary major that incorporates philosophy, psychology, language, linguistics, technology and how the brain works. I was-and still am-very interested in language and reasoning; how do people think and communicate and why. I loved most of my courses, most of my professors, most of my classmates and being able to be there and do this thing I had always wanted to do. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
Is it the experience I would have had at 18? Obviously not, but it was a fantastic, fabulous experience. Would I do it again? In a heart beat! Did it answer that “what if” question that had been tickling my brain for so many years? A little. I had a devoted (time, thought & money) education experience, but I had it later in life, with an established career and a boat load of life experience behind me. I’m sure many of the decisions I made during that time would have been radically different if I was 18. But that is the thing about “what ifs”, you can never truly go back, but if you make changes, you can go forward with whole bagful of new information and perspective.
If you ever get the chance to make such a life changing decision, take it! You don’t know how it will turn out, but it will be a great discovery along the way!
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