Can I Convince My Friend to go Back to College?

All I Could See was her Life in Squalor, a Baby on the Hip, and a Minimum Wage Paycheck Without a College Education


I was having a rough time adjusting as a 30-something-year-old freshman in college. But my circumstances didn’t deter me from trying to convince my best friend of 13 years to analyze her life and go back to college. She had only gotten the equivalent of an associate’s degree from a technical school and was riddled with low-paying jobs for as long as I’d known her, never affording her living expenses.

Our telephone conversations consisted mostly of me talking about college, and her talking about how much her life had veered into a ditch. But after seeing my school achievements, she was convinced that she could make progress as a nontraditional student as well.

She stepped out of her box and mentally prepared herself for the new challenge as an older student. She went so far as to pick out the college that she was to attend. I was excited for her. I was convinced that she had made the right decision and was on her way to a better, financially sound future.

Though a few days later, she called to tell me that she had done the unthinkable. She had chosen immediate financial gain over long-term security. Since she had gotten laid off last year as an administrator for a major airline, she always had dreams of becoming a flight attendant. We were the same age, and she had been given a second chance in life to have a better future for herself and her future children. But she was willing to throw it all away for the market price of $13 per hour.

Going Back to CollegeA big mistake, a big mistake, I thought she was making. I’d have to be her lecturer, her teacher, and the mosquito buzzing in her ear that would never go away. I had to change her mind, convince her that this opportunity would be the last of its kind for aging women like us, and everything else was just life–whether happy or unhappy.

She needed to think this thing over because she was clearly out of her mind. No one would choose that kind of life for themselves. I hung up the phone in a total funk and could barely speak. I had heard enough.

For the next few weeks, I thought about how successful I could be and how unsuccessful her life would remain, so I called her to see if she had come to her senses. She decided she wanted to do it, but was still training to be a flight attendant and stated the flexible hours would allow her to go back to school. I knew that Nina. She was to join the likes of other scholars who had English literature degrees and pursue a dream of becoming an English teacher or a writer, or both. But there was a catch.

She informed me that she had inquired to her school of choice, a community college, and was met with a slammed door. The registration office of the new college told her that her previous college credits, from a non-accredited school, were not transferable. She’d have to start from scratch, do it all over again. She was heartbroken. And so was I. But I still felt it wasn’t to late to start now. She insisted that she didn’t have four years to put into school at 33 years old; she felt she was too old, and instead, opted to go one year to another technical school to be a closed captioned transcriptionist. I was livid, but mostly at the fact that she hadn’t done her homework. She had chosen such an isolated field and would be riddled with low-paying jobs for the rest of her life–something she was familiar with–but then I’d have to hear about it when things fell apart, so it was equivalent to my life as well.

I couldn’t believe she was unwilling to sacrifice four years of her life for the rest of her life. Granted, she was 33 years old; I agreed with her on that. But she’d have at least another 50 years on this earth, with four of those spent at college. She didn’t see the logic.

She continued on with flight-attendant school, then, consequently, realized that being a flight attendant was not for her: “Too much work and so little pay,” she confirmed over the phone after five weeks of unpaid training. Her motive was the benefits of travel while she went back to school, which she had already registered for, but she called to tell me something else. She was pregnant.

I became mum while her future scrolled before my eyes. All I could see was her life in squalor, a baby on the hip, and a minimum wage paycheck; not to mention the additional money she’d have to pay a babysitter out of her meager pockets; not to mention that she might have to drop out of college to take care of her baby, the baby she hadn’t told her boyfriend about who still lived at home with mom and dad.

She was never practical about things and always had childhood innocence about her. And I was over seven-hundred miles away, so Aunt Brie wouldn’t be able to show up every morning to baby sit the tot; I had schooling to deal with myself.

I questioned how she intended to go back to college and pay for childcare at the same time, but she didn’t know yet; things were going to work itself out. But she hadn’t worked out how the scenario would unfold. I had to shake her back into reality because knowing her, she couldn’t have both; one would have to give. I started my lecture.

“Nina, let me tell you a little secret about college. Making it to class every morning is only half the battle. The real lessons begin when you walk through the front door of your apartment; it’s the homework that’ll kill you.”

She stopped talking.

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One Response to “Can I Convince My Friend to go Back to College?”

  1. University Bookstore on August 6th, 2008 7:20 pm

    I certainly can understand the pains of being a student. While I obtained my B.A. from the age of 18 – 22, I met a special woman and was married at 23. Later that year, our first daughter was born, and the unspoken understanding of postponing graduate school in order to be a provider was also born. 6 years later, I applied to graduate school and was accepted. In addition to working long hours (40+ per week), I’m taking 3 classes per semester. Graduate school isn’t easy, nor is it meant to be. I’m 31 years old right now, and I won’t obtain my M.A. degree until I’m 33 — that’s 4 years of graduate school at 9 hours per semester for my current situation.

    An education is something that no one can ever take away from you; while that little piece of paper signifies hard and long academic work to future employers, it also means personal accomplishment. Frankly, I know that I’m a smart person who has a lot of potential. And without that little piece of paper, it’s very difficult to prove to an employer that I’m the smart person that I know I am. In other words, pieces of paper are designed to communicate both to employers and to future clients that I possess expertise in my field.

    I’m glad that your friend is going back to school. I see 30 somethings, 40 somethings, 50 somethings and even 60 somethings in my classes. She’s NOT alone. In essence, education is a life long process. Every once and a while, we get a little piece of paper for our efforts. :)

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