Sherry A. Phillips

Suspense Author

Going Back to School Over 50

There, I’ve said it. I’m thinking of going back to college and yes, I just celebrated my 50th birthday in January. Am I insane?

I don’t think so. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last sixteen years. Some of those years I worked for myself, some I helped my husband start his organization. Most of the time, I have been a full-time mom, with 5 of those years as homeschooler.

I’m also one of those “artsy” people. I love films and I love writing. I have so many books and characters floating around in my head on any given day that sometimes I think I may be schizophrenic. I’m not. I’m just a writer.

I have a BFA in Theatre from VCU. Believe it or not, it was not getting any acting gigs while living in California that led me to writing. My creativity needed an outlet and after reading too many boring books, I thought, “I could write a better story than this!”

These days, I get up at 4:45 am just to write before my day as a mom gets started. If I wait until later, sometimes the writing never happens. And I like my characters too much to let them float around waiting to tell their stories. So I get up and let their lives spill out of my head, into my fingers and onto the computer. I usually get around 1,000 words a day written.

I hope to be a published author one day. If I don’t sell to a mainstream publisher, I will more than likely self-publish online.

Writing is something I enjoy, so it is something I will continue.

However, the percentage of writers who make their living as writers is about like that of actors. In other words, a very tiny percentage of people will ever make enough money to support themselves writing, let alone become the next J.K. Rowlings or Stephen King.

We can dream. We can continue to write and hope, but there are no guarantees.

So, since I have 3 kids and want some kind of a career that I enjoy that can actually pay the bills, I started asking myself what is it that I would like to do? The answer may surprise you. It’s architecture.

Like a lot of people, I enjoy watching HGTV, but unlike a lot of other people, I have shelves of books on houses and interiors. I have files of magazine articles on architecture and homes. I have the entire collection of Sarah Susanka’s “Not So Big House” books. The first thing I do when entering a house is think, “How could this house be designed for better living?” I think designing and building homes for the modern family is something that would give me a lot of satisfaction.

And I could work for myself!

When I looked for articles on heading back to college after 50, I came across a great article on BacktoCollege by Alia Curtis:

The decision has to be based on survival. Viewing your situation on the grounds of survival clarifies direction, and a more practical question can be considered, “How can I survive comfortably as I progress into my retirement age?” If survival involves brushing up old skills or relearning new ones, returning to school is a clear-cut, confusion free decision. So the next question is, “Where do I start?”

You start at the beginning.

1. Be prepared to do research. Specific information is mandatory. Research what is required on your present job that will enable you to compete with the new generation. For example, the public school system is changing dramatically. In some areas, teachers that have been on the job for years have to reapply for their positions. The new trend is charter schools and the demand for future teachers is skills that will rescue the student that has fallen through the cracks. These skills require techniques that improve communication between student to student and teacher to student. New approaches to assist learning will be in demand. A long-term teacher could research the higher learning institutions for degrees or certifications that will make her/him more marketable. If you are not employed, research the job market; find out what the top jobs are and what skills the employers require. If you are not sure what direction you want to go in I would suggest reference books like Cool Careers for Dummies, by Nemko Edwards, or consult your local library or online bookstores.

2. Having assessed the required skills, research the institutions of higher learning that offer degrees or certifications that teach or enhance those skills. You can request a syllabus in many cases and compare the curriculum and prices to determine which is best in terms of your needs. Many institutions have Web pages that answer questions concerning curriculum, admissions, financial aid, location, housing, contact information and/or scheduling. You can choose between distance learning or physically attending a college or university. If you are not computer savvy, your local library will provide you with that information.

3. Having found the institution of your choice, research the admission requirements from their brochure or Web pages and familiarize yourself with application forms. Many downloadable forms are available online and to review or practice filling them out makes it easier to prepare for the paperwork that is required.

4. Many perspective students will need financial aid. After determining what the cost of your education will be find out if the institution offers financial aid in the forms of grants, scholarships and/ or loans. It is best to familiarize yourself with financial aid applications and their deadlines. You can review the downloadable forms on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Web site. Reading and practicing filling out the forms clears some of the confusion in the application process. Applying online is efficient and convenient and directions are given step by step. It cuts down time in the personal financial aid application process. It clearly defines deadlines and once you have applied, it files and records your application. If you need to reapply all of your past information is available accessed by a personal PIN number.

5. Besides federal and state student aid, there are monies available for both graduate and undergraduate school in the form of scholarships and fellowships according to your area of study. Time spent in gathering that information could contribute hundreds or thousands of dollars in reducing your education fees. Need-based grants and merit awards are also offered by the institution. Be prepared to take out loans. Remember that you are investing in skills and information that will enable you to compete in a fast moving, high paced, youth-oriented environment. The financial aid department of any institution or a student loan officer at your local bank will give you all the information you need about low interest loans and repayment.

6. Once you become a student, time management is a vital practice that will determine the ease or difficulty in approaching your studies. Make a schedule and stick to it. It is not impossible for the older adult to successfully juggle school with work. Some institutions have degree programs that require attendance only on weekends. This can be a very convenient schedule for those who choose to work while they are attending school. Others have evening courses, or distant learning or online courses. The Web pages of the distant learning institutions state if the school is accredited and by whom. There are many types of program schedules that make it plausible for an older adult to re-enter school.

My motto is the only time it’s too late to start something new is when you’re six feet under.

It means I will be a super-busy wife and mom going to school, raising my kids, writing and thanking God for His many blessings!

Thankfully, I have a very supportive husband!

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