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Loved every minute

Tammie B.
Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
Goddard College, 2008

In 1985 I was a divorced, 25-year old mother and the first woman in my family to ever attend a four-year university. The challenges of caring for my daughter, keeping up with classes and working full-time eventually became too much and I gave up on my educational dreams. By 2004 I was enjoying a successful career as a massage therapist, but I could never quite shake the feeling that I'd let everyone from my great-grandmother to my future grandchildren down by not finishing college. Mostly I’d disappointed myself, so at 45 years old I decided it was time to finally earn that college degree.

I was able to enroll in Cuesta Community College and a local satellite of Columbia College on Cuesta’s campus simultaneously. Unlike my first difficult semesters in college as a single mother working full-time, I was now fortunate enough to have a husband who earned enough to support our household and I could devote myself to studying full-time.

Originally my goal had been to teach high-school English, but after rebooting my college career in mid-life I thought teaching at the college level would be more fitting. Thanks to an accelerated plan I completed 3 years of classes in just under 2 years by taking both in-seat and online classes.

Something happened along the way that changed the direction of my education and, without being too overdramatic, my life. Two different teachers actually took the time to talk to me about the quality and style of my writing – both encouraged me to “do something with it.” The truth is I’d always wanted to be a writer and had been writing stories and poems my whole life but didn't take it too seriously. Like many people I didn’t view writing as an actual job. I’m not Hemingway, I’m not Anne Rice; I need a paycheck.

The spark to become a writer – whatever that meant – wouldn’t fade, and as I narrowed in on earning a bachelor of arts in English studies I also began to look at graduate schools that offered master of fine arts in writing programs. Because I have a family and was firmly settled in my small California town, relocating to attend graduate school wasn’t an option for me. I spent hours researching schools that I might possibly be able to commute to when I stumbled on a program that offered “limited residency,” meaning I would only have to be on campus a limited time.

Going to graduate school would require huge school loans but eventually I decided the costs were worth it. I applied to Goddard College because their MFA-Writing program had an excellent reputation and students had to fulfill a teaching requirement which I thought would help me secure a teaching job. If I could go back and do something differently it would be to do more research about the qualifications needed to teach in a community college. I thought a terminal degree in my field and a teaching practicum would be enough to compete in the job market, but it wasn’t. Colleges wanted teachers who had classroom experience, grad students who’d spent time as a TA and could hit the ground running. A low-residency program didn’t offer me that type of experience.

There’s good news and bad news at the end of my college story. I’m now struggling to pay a huge amount in college loans and four years after graduating I’m still underemployed. The good news is that not getting a teaching job forced me to put my writing skills to work. I enjoy being self-employed as a freelance writer, I’m learning how to earn money through self-publishing and I very recently signed a book contract with a publisher. It turns out that “writer” is actually a real occupation!

If I were to offer a piece of advice to someone contemplating higher education it would be to do their homework regarding future employment. Obviously there are no guarantees, but knowing what type of education and experience employers are looking for before you choose a program could certainly help you get hired more quickly.

My college experience was wonderful, more than I expected. My time at Goddard College will always be one of the best times of my life. If someone asked me whether or not they should take the risk of going to school at mid-life I would say absolutely, now, do it. Go.

EduTrek Comments

EduTrek Summary Points

  • Carefully research what kind of experience and education future employers in your field are looking for.  
  • Don’t be afraid to go to school for the first time in the middle of your life, or return to school to finish a degree or a more advanced program.
  • Take advantage of accelerated programs that allow you to finish your degree faster.  You may be able to combine on-campus and online learning to accomplish this.