2013-06-11

Uni: A retrospective

Was it worth it? 

I think I can hear at least one or two people wondering that to themselves.

I am going to try to give you an honest analysis. I try not to get negative or TMI, especially in print, but, I don't want to be unrealistic and snow anyone by only highlighting my triumphs, and not my stumbles or regrets.

In my computer science classes, one of my fellow students was actually the mother of someone that I went to high school with (not that he remembered me, lol, I was a wee bit invisible, being so painfully shy). She (and others) took me to task a couple of times, because she believed that I shouldn't be going to school full-time with young children at home. Looking back, I feel like I did the right thing. Despite the student loans, I'm glad I only took from 2008-2011 to finish my degree. My oldest son saw me busting my butt studying and working, but, my younger son won't remember it at all. He was drinking formula and eating mushy peas, so the frozen dinners didn't bother him one iota. I envy that my fellow student stayed home with her kids and I respect that she got them to college before going herself, but, I know how fortunate I am that my employer, and my wonderfully supportive husband, provided me that opportunity at a much younger age.

Of the 200 or so people in my department, only two of us signed up for that Bridges to Bachelor's* program initially. Me, and a lovely woman whose children were grown. Since then, we've had at least four more people sign up, all of them newer folks. Our administrative assistant (who was recently promoted to office coordinator) was counting down from the date of her hire to her 1 year anniversary so she could sign up (her kids were also grown). She just found out she'll be graduating in December of 2014! She's also a member of the ASL (adult honors society). Another young mother signed up and is doing great, she works in our call center. Then, a carpenter, a young guy with a lot of enthusiasm. I talked to him before he signed up, and looked over a couple of his first papers.
Now, we've got another mechanic signing up. He was a bit hesitant, as he just had a baby last year, but, I told him to push through now, and his little one won't even remember him being busy and stressed... just successful. He looked relieved to hear from someone who had been there and done that.
I hope someone else out there can take some heart from my experiences the way that he did.

Student loans? 

Oh, yeah, dirty word, erm, phrase. As I mentioned, I hate holding debt. My fiscal conservatism is the reason for my low stress and high happiness in most cases.
First things first... consolidate your student loans. My initial loan payment was nearly $600 a month, but, after consolidation, it's only about $200. Through the FedLoan services site, I can make my payments online and I add extra $ to the one with the highest interest rate, and I'll be paying off that first one on Monday and starting on the next highest (although all one payment, each semester is a 'separate' loan with slightly different terms, so be sure to pay online and get down the higher rates first).

A New Job? 

The point, for most people, of completing an educational goal is improving one's job prospects.
As you see, I have not made any announcement of having obtained a new position.
A raise? Alas, also. My position requires only an Associate's Degree, so I did not receive a raise when I completed my Bachelor's (no complaints, though. I did receive a sizable raise when I finished my 2 year degree, as I was hired as a temp worker with only a high school diploma. I was also allowed to rewrite my job description twice over the years, which allowed a paygrade reclassification each time.).

For the first year after graduation, I applied only for internal transfers. While part of the reason was having to repay educational expenses if going elsewhere, I also wanted to make my best faith effort to stay within the organization that has supported me so well. I did have some promising interviews, but, was finally deemed too inexperienced. Now, I am looking outside of the company. I have to stay in St. Louis for at least the next 8 years and, as any jobseeker knows, competition for jobs is still pretty fierce. Yes, my boss knows I'm looking. I spoke to him before he was contacted by an internal manager about my interviews. He knows there's not room in our small department for my upward mobility and has always encouraged me and told me he'd provide good references when I do make a change. He has always been a fair-minded and even-tempered man and I so appreciate having been able to work under his guidance for so long. He has also taught me a lot about critical thinking and being a fairly inoffensive (yet effectively mind-expanding) devil's advocate.

I had hoped that my role as a project manager on that enterprise project would lead to the creation of a new position as a system administrator. It was proposed, but, hiring freezes at work (no layoffs, though!) have made me realize that option isn't available to me for the near future.

Any regrets? 

No, none at all.

I feel like I grew a lot as a person, more well-rounded and tolerant and with an expanded mind.

While I do somewhat regret the financial sacrifices, it is something we have been able to live with.
Mick's family lives across the pond, and many of mine live out on the west coast, and the sting of being unable to travel freely to see them has been sharp and painful. Not to mention the juggling hassle of sharing one aging vehicle for work and family errands. But, of course, my husband's crazy retentive mind has helped with splurge purchases for toys and clothes for the kids as well as household items, so we haven't really suffered. It's all still luxury compared to my upbringing. We've also got Skype and Facetime and Facebook to keep connected with our loved ones, which is fortunate.

I also sometimes joke about my 'midlife crisis'. When I was 29, I had one of those (please don't quibble over semantics with me), wondering if I had missed out on anything from my youth by never partying or being irresponsible. Anyone who saw me at AU2009 might vaguely remember my straight black hair (normally I'm an unruly wavy auburn). Yeah, that's me, buck wild. lol. It's okay, I got over it in just a couple of months, having realized I did things just fine... then had my hair dyed back to it's natural shade.


What's next? 

With work? Who knows? I'll certainly share with you when I find out, though, since this story isn't really finished until something does change on that front.

Educationally? I would really like to return to grad school and finish my Informatics degree. It was really interesting coursework and I certainly feel a passion for it. I stopped taking classes for this degree in the summer of 2012, due to financial reasons, but, I will return one day. Thank you to my counselors and past instructors who've encouraged me since then that they will be there to support me when I do come back.
Maybe one day I'd even try for a doctorate? As long as my heart is still beating and my fingers can still fly over a keyboard, anything is possible.
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