When I told a former co-worker that I would really like to go back to school, she highly recommended the Graduate! Philadelphia program. She told me that they were located near the Gallery mall in center city Philadelphia and that they would help me with applying for financial aid and provide other valuable assistance – and their services were free! If Graduate! Philadelphia provided that one service alone, I would have been extremely grateful. All of the procedures involved with applying for financial aid were more intimidating to me than returning to La Salle University after my decades of absence.
I watched the Graduate! Philadelphia video on their website and I was instantly impressed and inspired. It felt good to know that this organization existed to help adults like myself who wanted to return to school, but who are unsure of how to make it happen. When I called, I talked to a wonderful person named Sarah Byker James. We talked about my goals and she told me how Graduate! Philadelphia could help me. I made an appointment to meet her. There were many, very real, factors to consider, including balancing a full-time job with school work and the lack of encouragement from someone in my life, but when I thought it was impossible, Sarah helped me to sort things out. With Graduate! Philadelphia’s help, I had begun!
My return to school was both emotional and dramatic. I was amazed at the joy I felt just walking on campus again to my first class – and soon I was amazed also at how unexpected challenges could hit so soon. I had a potentially major conflict with an instructor. I called Graduate! Philadelphia. Sarah told me previously that if I had issues with teachers, she would be willing to help in any way she could. I can’t tell you the relief I felt knowing that was true and being able to tell Sarah what had happened. So much changes when you know someone is on your side and wants victory for you. It is so much easier to regain your sense of balance and peace of mind.
Sarah listened with a very sympathetic ear and voiced just what I was thinking, “You do not need this in your first week back!” Sarah proceeded to calm me down and coached me through writing a forthright, yet tactful, e-mail to my Professor. She reminded me to include in the e-mail that I had looked forward to this class, which made what happened even more startling. With Sarah’s help, I ended the e-mail in such a way that it invited his reply, without assumption on my part. The Professor replied to me apologizing sincerely, and then he apologized to the whole class because the issue affected all of us. This could have easily gone in another direction if I didn’t have Sarah at Graduate! Philadelphia to lean on for help and I let Sarah know it! This was just one of many times that Graduate! Philadelphia helped me in many ways.
Another example is the excellent seminar that Laticia Booker presented at Graduate! Philadelphia which helped me with the inevitable increase in stress levels. But as Laticia showed us, there were solutions for this as well.
I completed my Associates from the Community College of Philadelphia and this fall I’m attending Chestnut Hill College to get my bachelors degree in Human Services. Then I want to continue on to get my masters. Ultimately, I want to open my own nonprofit organization that focuses on helping those who are suffering from drug and alcohol addictions and other debilitating issues that prevent them from being all that they can be.
I work for the City of Philadelphia License and Inspections, in the Streets Department. A few months ago coworkers suggested that I talk to the city employee liaison for the Mayor’s Office of Education. She gave me Graduate! Philadelphia’s card. I called and came in for an appointment with Laticia Booker. The environment was really open and friendly and very professional. I told her what I had done and where I wanted to go and Tish got things rolling immediately.
At Graduate! Philadelphia I met with April Fowlkes, the advisor from Chestnut Hill College who is a very positive person and who encouraged me throughout the process. After meeting with April I was ready to apply. Now, the only thing holding me back is the financial aspect. I’m unable to get Pell, PHEAA or loans right now because my account is flagged in the financial aid system for pending default on previous loans. I have over $40,000 of loans from my first try at college twenty years ago. They have been in deferment but now I have to work out a payment plan or try to consolidate them with new loans.
Once that is taken care of though, I will be eligible for Pell and PHEAA grants, and through my job I get 25% off tuition. Plus, since I graduated from CCP with a GPA above 3.5, I am also eligible for a 25% discount. I’m trying to use both discounts, but they may only let me use one.
Tish has also helped me find and apply for private scholarships. I recently was awarded the Richard Ash scholarship, which is $4,000. Writing my essay for the scholarship was therapeutic in itself, and it motivated me even more to get my degree. When I found out that I got it, that I was a Richard-A scholar, I bawled my eyes out. I’m 42 years-old and I’m a scholar? I was so happy I called Tish up and asked her to join me at the scholarship reception. I can’t wait until I have enough money to donate back to the Richard Ash scholarship fund to help another person coming up behind me.
What I have learned in this process is that you have to be self-disciplined to get where you want to go. And I learned that hope is real. You have to surround yourself with positive, genuine people. You can’t remain a victim for the rest of your life. When you become free from the past and take responsibility for life, everything opens up for you. You are no longer bound to what happened. You are free.
I started going to Temple University in 1989 but had to leave to help out at home when my father passed and my mother was ill. To help with money I took a job as a Philadelphia Corrections Officer.
Almost twenty years later, I walked into Graduate! Philadelphia. I was supporting my friend Mataz Hall who wanted to go back to school. We ended up sitting down with an advisor from Chestnut hill College, and by the end of the meeting I was signing up to apply for admission.
Everything fell into place after that. I entered the fulltime accelerated program at Chestnut Hill College in August 2008 and graduated in December 2010. The transition back to school was not as stressful as I thought it would be. It was hard as I struggled medically and academically during my first semester, but the help and support from Chestnut Hill College and Graduate! Philadelphia made it manageable.
My first semester here I got a C in sociology. I decided to not let that discourage me but to use that as motivation to go after what I really wanted. I ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude, and with membership in three honor societies: Alpha Sigma Lambda (National Honor Society for Adult Learners); Delta Epsilon Sigma (National Scholastic Honor Society for Colleges with a Catholic Tradition); and Psi Chi (International Honor Society in Psychology). I want to eventually practice holistic psychology, which involves motivational therapy for individuals and organizations.
When I graduated, I wanted to celebrate with my nine-year-old daughter and with my whole community. So many people have been a part of this experience. I felt like the degree belonged to all of us, so I created a banner that I hung outside of my home. It read "Thank you God! Through You, all things are possible. Finally I am a College Graduate! To mom- I kept my word. I miss you dearly and love you always. To my daughter, you inspired me to do this. I am grateful and so proud of you. To my family, friends, and neighbors, thanks for being my "village." I share my joy with you. At 39 years old, it's never too late. What a phenomenal journey!"
I gained far more than a degree from this. I gained self confidence, a better image of myself and connections with amazing, positive people.
What I would say to others who are starting this journey is to think about what excites you, what lights you up and go after it. I'd say that your concerns are normal, that the hardest step is the first, and that if you go after personal satisfaction and fulfillment your grades will follow. You have to encourage yourself and believe that you will graduate.
I had been unemployed for several years due to a back injury I got from my last (highly paid) job. I took a job as a school janitor to pay the bills, but it was at such low pay, with no benefits, and was far from being my dream job that I realized I had to make a change. I don’t want to take another entry level job; I want to do more meaningful work. So I got the ball rolling to go back to school.
I was also very inspired by Barak Obama. He had dropped out of college. Like me, he was not enjoying it the first time around and wasn’t applying himself to the work. But a little later he straightened up and went back to Columbia undergrad and then Harvard grad school.
When I came to Graduate! Philadelphia, I didn’t have a computer or internet at home, so I was able to use their computers to do internet searches and fill out online forms. Working with them, I was able to waive application fees, and start to figure out what I wanted to study and pursue career-wise.
At the Graduate! Philadelphia center, I met with the advisor from Chestnut Hill College. I had a good interview with her, liked what I heard about the college and liked that it was near where I was living. But then, when I was about to leave, an advisor from Penn State Abington approached me and told me that they had a program that offered exactly what I was looking for. We spoke further and then I knew it was a good fit. It was a real gift to have the opportunity to speak with both representatives. Just those conversations helped motivate me further to keep going since there were people who were interested in helping me get to where I wanted to go in life.
I now have a 3.97 GPA (got my first B last semester) and am really enjoying my classes. It’s fulfilling to be back in school. In my former job, I was treated as though I didn’t have much of a brain or I would be asked for ideas and input and never given credit. I feel more confidence now knowing I can still do good work in school and get good grades. I was even just invited to join the Penn State honors program, which offers scholarship money every semester. Hopefully, this will help me be able to study abroad this fall in England or in Sweden next Spring.
Finding the money to go to school has been and continues to be the biggest challenge for me. This is the last semester that I can use the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) grant to help cover tuition since I had used PHEAA money the first time I went to college. I’m taking out loans and pursuing scholarships to cover the costs, but each semester it’s still a challenge. My financial aid officer and Graduate! Philadelphia advisor have been doing all they can to help me identify scholarships.
When I had to stop working due to my back, it was a blessing in disguise. Now I can finally start doing something worthwhile. I wish I had turned my life around years ago to pursue other interests I had, like medicine. But I’m glad to now have a chance to do something useful; to secure a job with a path, not a dead end.
I got tired of working retail so I decided to go back to school and get my bachelors degree. I want to expand my skills and then be able to put them to good use.
I was drawn to Peirce College for their business school. Other colleges in the area do not put as much emphasis on business education, or they have a broader focus. Peirce is oriented towards business and offers a number of different specialized business degrees, and they offer accelerated programs. After I graduate next year I hope to work for the government.
I first heard about Graduate! Philadelphia from a TV commercial where Mayor Nutter mentioned the new adult education initiatives in the city. I came in and Graduate! Philadelphia got the ball rolling right away. With their help I was able to transfer in my past credits from CCP and Temple, and apply for federal loans to pay for tuition and books.
Graduate! Philadelphia is a very hands-on type of organization, they will help you in every way possible to go back to school. But you have to have tenacity to stay with it, push for it. It won’t just fall into your pocket.
Going back and getting a degree to get a better job is not so much about the money for me, it’s about getting a job that I can really contribute to and make a difference in. It’s less a question about money and more of what are you going to do in life?