In 2006 I became a single parent, after 20 years of marriage. I had finally worked up the courage to leave an abusive relationship and begin a new life with my children. This was unfamiliar territory to me. I had not worked a full-time job for many years; I’d earned an associate’s degree after high school, but had not gone any further in my education. I quickly realized it was a totally different world compared to when I had gotten married. Back in the 1980s, I could have obtained employment in my chosen field (early childhood education and human services) and been able to earn a salary that would have supported my children and me. But I was no longer able to do that; I quickly figured out that I would need more education in order to meet my family’s needs, and I decided to enter a field that allowed me to make a difference in other people’s lives.
I began looking into counseling degrees. I was working full-time in an office environment and was concerned about being able to make time for school and work. But I knew that I needed to begin somewhere, so I applied to Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where I live. I’d looked at other colleges but was impressed by Wilson’s willingness to work with non-traditional students. I also saw that Wilson’s environment was challenging, stimulating and supportive, all things I desired.
As I began the process of obtaining loans, grants and scholarships for school I was blown away by the amount of money it now took to get a college degree. When I was at Harrisburg Area Community College in 1983, my parents and I were able to pay for my education ourselves. I realize there is a large difference, going from a two-year state school such as HACC to a private, four-year college like Wilson, but I began to immediately worry about how I was going to pay for my education. Working with the financial aid department at Wilson, I found I was eligible to receive some federal and state grants, and some scholarships; I made the decision to take out loans as well, to make sure I would be able to complete my education once I began school.
I started out as a part-time student; I took three classes and worked 40 hours a week. In 2009, I lost my job and entered school full time. I was out of work for almost a year and a half, and during that time the aid I received from federal and state grants and scholarships helped offset the amount of money I will ultimately need to repay on my loans once I’ve completed school. I began working again at the end of 2010 and maintained full-time status at school in order to complete my undergraduate degree as soon as possible; I plan to continue my education and enroll in a master’s program. I am now in my last year at Wilson and will obtain my bachelor’s degree in psychology in the spring of 2012.
When I look back over the past few years I see what a tremendous opportunity I have been given by being able to go back to school. I am filled with gratitude for this chance to make a new start. However, as I begin the process of looking for a graduate program, I am very troubled by what I’ve heard regarding aid from the government. I am a woman who struggles financially to maintain the basic needs of a family. If it wasn’t for the grants and scholarships that I have received, and continue to receive, I would never have been able to come this far in the process of completing my undergraduate work, much less even consider graduate studies. This financial aid is an essential part of why I have been able to go back to school at all.
My education has made such a huge difference in my life, and it will make such a difference in what I am able to give back to society professionally. It is unthinkable that this opportunity might not be offered to other women and men looking to make a change in their lives. The aid that students receive from the government for education is vital to the well-being and improvement of individuals and society as a whole; I cannot conceive of the loss of human potential and the benefits to society should we take away any opportunity to seek an education.