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At some point in our lives, we are all professional students. Think about it. As law abiding, US citizens, we enroll in grade school until we are at least 16, then immediately have to make life-altering decisions. Will we go to a 4-year college? A technical school? Work right away? Take a year off to roam the world? The choices seem so endless, yet so definitive. This is it. The time when you decide the course of the rest of your life. 

And you aren’t even old enough to buy a lottery ticket.

I don’t know about you, but I was 17 when I graduated high school and didn’t know myself nearly well enough to make a decision about what car I should drive, let alone what I wanted my future career to be. So, I did what any other confused teenager did and went to college for a subject I had no real clue if I wanted to pursue. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. I couldn’t even vote, but I could make a decision that would impact the rest of my life (and my wallet). 

I made it through college and then did what any other confused young adult did and found myself a job. The job itself was perfectly fine – I loved my boss and my coworkers, and didn’t mind the work much at all. But I felt like if I stayed there, my days would be spent sitting behind a computer. And I wasn’t sure how much I liked that idea (in retrospect, I might not have minded it so much, but that’s a whole other story). So, I did some soul searching and lots of Googling and took some online courses. I finally decided on a career as a Speech-Language Pathologist in 2011 and back to school I went! 

Making the decision to go back to school is a tough one. It’s one that you have to have faith in. You have to trust that you’re making the right move, or at least be willing to take the chance. Failure is a true possibility, and the safety net you had when you were younger, may no longer be as strong…or be there at all for that matter. Student loans are scary and not knowing if your future will be any brighter afterwards is terrifying. But we do it. Everyday, people that have been out in the workforce for years, decide it’s time to get re-edumacated. And one of my good friends, Jill, recently did just that. I’m super proud of her for her recent accomplishments, but they didn’t come easy. 

In 2012, she decided to go to school to be a Dental Hygienist. She was stuck in a job that she wasn’t happy with and knew she needed a change. School hadn’t ever been a cake walk for her. She got good grades, but it had always been a huge emotional struggle. Even though she knew she wanted to pursue a different career, it took her awhile to get to make the decision to go back. She eased into her return to education by taking one prerequisite class at a time while still working her full time job. Working full time was hard, but so many people have to continue doing it while in school to make ends meet. Jill was luckily able to enter the Dental Hygiene program full time in 2015 thanks to her wonderfully supportive family. 

That’s a big parallel I see between Jill and mainly everyone I know who has gone back to school. The support of family and friends is so important during this time. You may have to rely on them for housing or may go MIA for awhile during exams. Having the people closest to you back you up, is huge. 

Getting into the program is just a small piece of the uphill battle you’re going to have to fight going back to school. There will be times when you mentally hit a wall and feel like you can’t possibly see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know. I’ve been there. This happened to Jill once a few years ago when she was still taking prerequisites and working full time. She vividly remembers being at her parents house trying to make notes for Anatomy and Physiology II. Somewhere along the way, she just lost it. She burst into tears and felt like it was impossible for her to continue. So, she took a break. She allowed herself time to step away from the insanity that was note-taking, and came back to it later. 

That’s a really important piece of this story. When you’re an adult, you generally have so many responsibilities. Usually, they’re a little heavier than when you’re in your early 20’s. It may be really tricky to find the balance and to allow yourself time to breathe. I’m pretty sure it was around this time that Jill became a workout buddy and let off some steam with cardio from squatting, not throwing books.

She recently (I’m talking like, a week ago) completed her program and is just waiting for her license to be processed. She’s thrilled to start the new career that she worked so hard for and now is even contemplating going back to school for her Bachelor’s degree. 

Despite the difficulties, Jill wouldn’t trade her experience for the world. She urges people not to let fear hold them back. “It took me a long time to get over the fear of going back to school. But once I made the decision to go back, it was life changing,” she explains. 

I’m so proud of her, and everyone I know who has taken a chance. From teaching yourself a new skill to going back to school to learn from professionals in your chosen field, learning is something that happens throughout your life, whether you like it or not. Why not learn about things that interest you? Pick up that book that looks interesting, try a free online course to learn more about a subject that intrigues you (I highly recommend Coursera), or even take that huge leap and enroll in a program. It’s kind of like working out, it may be hard to get started but you’ll never regret it once you do.

Have a great week, my smarty pants readers.