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College opens doors

Fred F.
Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health
Walden University, 2008

There was never a question in my mind I’d go to college. In spite of a strong passion for fiction-writing, upon graduating from high school I decided to enroll in an electrical engineering program at the University of Rhode Island. That was a mistake.

Becoming an engineer was in keeping with my love for tinkering with and inventing things.  I soon discovered, however, that engineers get to use that creativity only after memorizing and mastering huge amounts of technical information.

With my heart not completely in it, I burned out of that program.

Like other people who struggle their first time in college, I enrolled in a community college—thus exploring academic options, while continuing to work.

The Community College of Rhode Island was the right change for me. There, I took courses in a wide-variety of academic programs. The instructors were enthusiastic, gregarious, and highly-motivational. Once I had my confidence back, school again became a pleasurable experience.

Finding the right school is as important as finding the right academic program. I learned that lesson the hard way.

All this time I had a full-time job and then got married to a clinical psychologist. If you’re thinking that this was convenient (i.e., “chance to get some free therapy”), you’re absolutely right . . . just kidding—I’ve never been in need of therapy, in theory.

Being married has its perks. It made it possible to quit my job so I could pursue a bachelor of arts in English. Rhode Island College, a casual but academically-ambitious school in residentially-diversified and busy Providence, was my school of choice. This time, it was an excellent selection.

At last I was being true to myself. Engineering paid well but it just wasn’t me. Writing, however, was my passion. A degree in English, therefore, made perfect sense. RI College also had a great reputation for graduating teachers. English majors, I‘d always been told, write or teach. My not taking teacher-certification courses clearly marked my chosen career path.

Assuming it would enhance job-finding opportunities, I decided to obtain a graduate degree. The possibility of teaching at a college, for example, thrilled me—but that generally required a PhD. Rather than pursuing a plain master, therefore, I looked for a combined master/PhD program.

While looking at a number of colleges, I stumbled upon Walden University, which specializes in online education. The school had a master of science/PhD degree combination in public health. The program was a dream-come-true.

The most difficult part of finding the right school for me was overcoming pervasive negative comments about online schools and programs. Since I knew that I would be moving periodically and needing to stay employed while going to school, an online program sounded perfect for me.

The criticism thrown at online education is mostly unfounded. I worked as hard for my graduate education as anyone. More importantly, it gave me the intellectual and academic tools I needed to prepare for the technical/medical writing career I now greatly enjoy and am generously rewarded for.

As a medical writer I work on health-related writing projects (articles, research reports, pharmaceutical drug-approval documentation, etc.); technical writing relates to information technology. All the life science courses I took in college (some for the fun of it) prepared me for the work I do today.

Up to the graduate level, I paid for my education out of pocket. I did, however, use government loans to fund my master/PhD. Although it was an expensive proposition (over $75,000 just for my master), my degrees have been worth every penny I’ve spent. I feel that in the long run, society benefits from the knowledge we obtain and hopefully share.

In general, it’s not good to borrow, but federal loans allow you easy re-payment plans and even deferment if you are unable to repay your loans for a while. The higher salaries you can  qualify for will give you more leverage to repay whatever you owe.

If I were doing it all over again, I would give the following advice to myself:

  1. Start your search for a college long before you plan to enroll.
  2. Look at all college possibilities: military academies, art and science powerhouses, technical schools, community colleges, 4-year-universities, etc.—don’t exclude any legitimate possibilities.
  3. Select a school with costs in line with your resources, and a good reputation and academic-superiority in your area of study.
  4. Pursue a program and resulting career you will be most happy with, qualified for, and compatible with—not necessarily what pays most!
  5. Finish a degree that directly ties in with what you want to do for a living.
  6. Aggressively look for/apply to scholarships from both government and private sources.
  7. Enjoy school and make the most of it—your time there will go by too fast.
  8. Take as many courses (preferably within your field/major) as you can—there is no such thing as “too much education.” Life science courses I took for fun, for example, now help me confront well-paying medical-topic writing assignments.

In conclusion, I’d advise those looking to go to college to find a program that directly results in a career for which you were born, pays well, and brings the best out of you.

EduTrek Comments

  • Online education may be a great option if you are going to be employed full time or need to move around while going to school.  Fred had some difficulty overcoming negative comments he’d heard about online schools, but found that it was a good fit for him.   Examine your own situation to find out what will work best for you.
  • Finding a school that’s the right fit for you is as important as finding the right academic program.