The social science is clear: kids of divorce have a harder time finishing their educations than their counterparts in intact families. Knowing this, and having lived through it, I have a few tips for anybody in that boat who wants to finish a college degree.
1) Don’t try to do it alone. The very first thing to do is to get embedded with somebody who is absolutely dedicated to helping you finish your education. This is somebody who will be there for you at every step of the process, from beginning to end. They believe in the value of an education and want to help. There are a number of ways this person can be there for you:
- You can live with them, perhaps for free or for reduced rent as long as you’re a full time student.
- They can help financially, either by giving you money, paying tuition, buying books, co-signing loan documents, paying rent, helping with groceries, etc.
- They can help you decide on a major, navigate course descriptions, dealing with difficult professors, and in general help with the administrative side of getting an education.
- They will be your cheerleader. Believe me, the emotional support that you get from a cheerleader is invaluable. Don’t discount this aspect of somebody’s help.
This person might be one of your parents, an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent, a cousin, or even a family friend. Stop for a moment and think about it: I bet that you know right now who is dedicated to your education, and who is indifferent. Gravitate to those who are dedicated and stay in touch with them. Remember that they can’t help you if you check out for long periods of time. My best friend helped me a lot, by being a cheerleader, cooking/grocery shopping for me and even driving me to school at times. Look for that person in your life.
2) If you haven’t finished high school, look into getting your GED. I don’t have personal experience here but there are lots of programs, books, etc. Many colleges will want to see a high school diploma or GED. Here’s a Google search for finishing the GED.
3) Bachelor’s vs. vocational/trade. A bachelor’s or an associate’s is another way of saying, “liberal arts education.” Liberal here means “broad.” It is not a political term in this context. A liberal arts education provides a broad base to help you understand the world from many different angles. Have you ever wondered why you need to take so many general education courses, courses that have nothing to do with your major? It’s because the institution wants you to have a liberal arts education, a broad base of knowledge from which to draw upon as you go out into the world.
However, not everybody needs or wants this. There are vocational/trade programs that might be a good choice. For example, I know two young men who attended a welding school in Oklahoma. I also know of a free trade school for young men. I started out as a bookkeeper, which is another way of saying, “vocational accountant,” an accountant who does not have a bachelor’s degree. I did this by taking the accounting course at Universal Accounting back in 1992. This training course is extremely robust, and a great way to go for somebody who wants to be self-employed doing accounting/bookkeeping for small, private firms.
Vocational/trade schools are a legitimate option.
4) Remedial courses are your friend. I realize that taking one or more remedial courses is embarrassing, but try to look on the bright side. These courses help lay the groundwork for future learning. I took two remedial courses. The first one was as an incoming freshman when I was 18. It was an English course, and I didn’t get any regular credit for it even though it was really hard. However, I had to take it in order to be eligible for the required English courses. Then last fall, I took Intermediate Algebra at my local community college. I took this course voluntarily, even though according to my transcript I was eligible for College Algebra (which is not remedial). It had been several years since my last algebra course, and I wanted to review the concepts so that I would do well in College Algebra. I ended up taking the CLEP College Algebra and passing, in part because I prepared by taking Intermediate Algebra.
If your writing skills or arithmetic skills need work, don’t be ashamed to take remedial courses. It is probably not entirely your fault that you need them. You slipped through cracks that were not of your doing. Just take the courses and get them over with. Regardless of the number of remedial courses you take, your degree will have the exact same value as somebody else with the same degree at the same school with the same GPA who didn’t take remedial courses. Don’t let pride hold you back from advancing yourself.
5) Associate’s degrees are valuable. An associate’s degree is a two year degree. It is a worthy pursuit in its own right, or can be a stepping stone to a bachelor’s. According to this news report, people with associate’s degrees earn more money than people with bachelor’s! See? Every little bit helps. So don’t discount the value of an associate’s degree. When I got my associate’s in 2012, it was very gratifying even though it was just a stepping stone.
6) Consider a state school that caters to working adults. If you work full time and have some credits already, consider one of these state schools: Thomas Edison State University and Charter Oak State College. Both of these are non-profit, state schools. There is also a non-profit, private school called Excelsior College, and it also focuses on working adults. None of them are “degree mills.” A “degree mill” is typically a private, for-profit school that lacks regional accreditation.
7) Get help online. I found a great forum that is dedicated to helping people finish their degrees. Go here to check it out: DegreeForum.net There are a lot of people there who understand the ins and outs of finishing a degree. There’s a section for the schools I mentioned above, a section for grad school, a section for those in the military, and other sections.
8) Stay on one catalog. I found this out the hard way. When you enroll, you are on something called a catalog. This is a certain set of requirements that you have to do in order to graduate. Colleges and universities tweak these requirements every year. If you drop out then re-enroll at a later time, you lose the catalog that you were on and you go onto a new catalog. This means that there is a new set of requirements to graduate. You may have to take additional courses, and/or courses you already took might not apply to your degree anymore. Every time you drop out then re-enroll, you’ve not only lost the time in between, you may lose courses you already took. Avoid that waste. Stay on one catalog by not dropping out.
9) Take advantage of CLEP and DSST exams. These exams are fully accredited, and are accepted by many schools. For example, California State University accepts them. They are cheaper and faster than taking courses. Do as many as you can, and do them as soon as you can. For example, if you just graduated from high school and did well in math, take the CLEP math exams starting with CLEP College Mathematics and working your way up from there. Some schools don’t accept them, for example, the University of California does not accept them. But that’s OK. Your primary objective should be to finish something. The actual school is a secondary concern. See #10. Links to CLEP and DSST exams. Talk to an academic adviser to make sure these are best for you.
10) For kids of divorce, the best degree is the one you finish. It is better to finish a communications degree at a state school, than it is to pine for a mathematics degree from Harvard. You already have enough working against you–remember the social science? We are not crazy to experience it as harder, because it is harder. Pick the easiest route, that is regionally accredited (very important), then finish it with the highest GPA that you can.
11) Choose an RA school. Make sure the school you choose is RA (regionally accredited). Don’t pick a school claiming any other kind of accreditation. Choosing a regionally accredited school leaves the door open for you to attend grad school. Non-regionally accredited schools are often, though not always, degree mills, and grad schools won’t accept your degree unless it is from an RA school. I’ve also seen some job postings that specifically ask for applicants who have degrees from RA schools.
12) Disability services. If you have any kind of disability, use the disability services/accommodations at your school. Similar to #4, don’t let pride get in the way of getting the assistance you need to finish your degree. Your degree will have the same value as somebody else who did not need disability services.
I am living proof that it is never too late. I started right out of high school in 1984 and graduated in September 2016 with a degree in accounting. You can do it too! If you always wanted a degree but struggled, I hope these tips help. You deserve to pursue your dream!