The second time I went to my first day of college, I sat alone in the cafeteria, pretending to be casually busy with my phone while my inner dialogue yelled at me: Why did I do this? How am I supposed to handle sticking out from everyone else for four years? But momentarily, I was distracted from my thoughts of doom by a group of three girls screaming with laughter at the next table: “And I was, like, oh my god—I don’t even like know how to, like, deal.”
I glanced at the group from the corner of my eye: they must’ve been eighteen or nineteen. Long bare legs, short-shorts with fashionable holes, strappy leather sandals and tissue thin t-shirts—the kind I never wore because they put my belly roll on display. I was wearing an oversized, shapeless navy blue t-shirt, which I kept yanking down to cover my belly roll. Denim mom-style capris with out-of-style jewel embellishments on the back pockets, cheap rubber flip-flops from Old Navy. My toenail polish was chipping and my cracked heels needed sanding. In other words, I was just your average super-stressed 34-year-old mother of four who had gone “back to school.”
My initial tangle with college was fulfilling but abbreviated: I was a sharp student and I loved learning; through 18 credits I was a straight-A student. But when I got pregnant with my first child, my husband and I simply couldn’t afford for me to keep going, and so I dropped out.
Fast forward a decade of doing the stay-at-home-mom thing, circa the time my youngest started preschool, and I was struck with a revelation: It was my turn. And so I decided to re-enroll. I was excited, but also terrified: What if my brains had been leached out through my breast milk? My kids were so intelligent! They must have stolen my smarts! Previously, I’d studied Literature with a capital “L,” but after having kids, I could only handle the genre that is often condescendingly referred to as “chick-lit.” How was I supposed to focus on anything heavier with Dora the Explorerblasting in the background?
But ladies, despite the aforementioned struggle of placing bedazzled jeans in the context of today’s collegiate youth, I’m here to tell you that going back to college was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was a hard adjustment; I sat alone in the cafeteria most days. Sometimes, I would silently count how often one particular classmate used the word “like” as she answered a professor in class (the record was 45 in two-minute conversation. Not judging! It’s just a different generation.)
Naturally, it wasn’t a typical freshman experience (except for the freshman 15—I managed that part quite well). I identified more with my professors than classmates because they were my age, and I took pride in my points of view that generally differed from those of the 18-21 year old students. But most importantly, I discovered that my main fear was unfounded—my brain still functioned. It just hadn’t been fed for a while (unless you count PBS Kids). I jumped back into real literature, fought my old nemesis (mathematics), discovered my true love (writing), got mentored and grew and loved every moment of it (except the math). I wrote a kickass essay for my capstone project, and finally, graduated magna cum laude.
All of which is to say: It wasn’t too late for me then, and it’s not too late for you now, no matter how overwhelming it might seem. Going back to college has been one the best experiences of my life so far—so much so that I’m headed back again: I’m ready for you, grad school, and sharper than ever.