Going Back to School: Funding Your Dream
by Donna Kiser
First, realize you have a dream and that you desire to reach it. You would think this was the easy part… however for some, myself included, this can be the most difficult point to reach when you are 40 something years old.
You may have considered going back to school when it dawned on you that your middle management corporate career was really a dead end position, but you still trudged onward. After all, it’s what you know. You may have given school deeper thought when you began to dread getting up every morning. Unfortunately, there are millions that feel that way, and in our society, we continue on because we feel we’re supposed to.
You’ll make that final decision when you discover that what you’re doing with the 40+ hours of your life each week is useless. When a new day no longer excites you and you’re not eager to perform your daily functions, you’ll make the leap to change those daily functions. When your children are grown, raising families of their own, you’ll suddenly experience that middle age enlightenment of how precious each moment is and how ridiculous it is to waste even one.
Once that point is reached, you’ll begin to look at what really excites you, what you love to do, and you’ll realize what your dreams have been all along. Once you realize your path, then you will have the desire to attain it, because desire is where the ability lies. If it’s truly the path you want to follow, then you will find, as I did, the challenge of how to do it as exciting as doing it. After a few semesters into the pursuit of your dream, you’ll not regret the day you walked out of the office and onto the campus.
So you know what your dream is and now you’re going for it. Good! Funding it, regardless of the field, can be both overwhelming and exhilarating. There are plenty of grants available, both federal and local, and you should definitely apply for all and any, beginning with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is accessible online. Your prior year’s tax return and adjusted gross income will be required for these applications. Although the Federal FAFSA is the primary application, your state and your university may require that you submit an additional form (for example, many colleges require the CSS Profile).
Be aware that if you do not have dependents and have a history of a good income, you may be ineligible for many need-based grants. The important thing is not to get discouraged – there are many other opportunities out there for funding. Too, after a semester or two of side jobs and a re-invented lifestyle, you’ll be eligible for additional grants. Possibly a small local grant for older women returning to school and the low-interest Federal Stafford loan are enough to allow part-time status, which gets the foot in the door of the college where more financial aid opportunities exist.
One in particular that has served several purposes, and one highly recommended, is Americorps. It provides a small monthly stipend, a $1,200-$1,500 scholarship, and a sense of fulfillment.
Americorps is a national organization that serves a wide range of community areas utilizing varied talents and skills, which is something you’ve spent all
these years acquiring. Use them! Whatever area of expertise or passion, they have a volunteer position that will help you meet your goals while contributing to your community. You may choose working with seniors, and for 20 hours weekly, they may place you at an adult day care where you might lead a writing workshop and a reading group…all perfectly coinciding with your dream. You feed your passion, get paid to do it, fund your continuing education in it and enrich the lives of others. What better way to spend 20 hours of your time?
nother wonderful resource in locating funding are Internet free scholarship searches. You complete some personal as well as some academic information and then search for scholarships that are compatible. The possibilities and the supplemental income are endless. FastWeb, for example, sends you an update whenever a new scholarship that fits your situation is available and you decide whether to apply or not. Some of the scholarships are offered by major corporations such as Calgon. Many are offered by not-for-profit organizations
such as Jeannette Rankin or The Sunshine Lady Foundation. Others are offered by businesses in the interest of advertising, such as Textbookx.com. You might also find local scholarships, such as the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association Scholarship. So you see, the range is unlimited.
The next wonderful step in funding your dream with these types of scholarships, is the essay that most require with the application. This can be quite competitive since they are advertised nationally and the eligibility is extensive. If you’re new or returning to school after some years, writing an academic essay can be a daunting experience. What’s more, these organizations ask you to do something that older women, women in general, are not comfortable doing…tooting your own horn. Once you get into the swing of this though, it can be a freeing and rewarding activity. By the time you’ve reached the ages of 30 or 40, you’ve accomplished quite a few things and have probably seen at least a little of the world and life. They want to know about it. And since they will fund your dream for telling them, tell them!
And don’t be afraid to include hardships. They want to know you’re able to overcome obstacles because realistically, when you return to school in middle age, you will encounter obstacles. These organizations corporations need to feel comfortable that their money will not be wasted. Make them comfortable! Tell them what they want to hear.
Keep two very important things in mind when writing these essays:
1. Make it personal.
2. Answer the questions.
If, for example, they ask you how your life experience has contributed to your goals and how it will affect your future, don’t be vague or generalize. Don’t just write that raising a family has taught you to be flexible. Tell them about the time your husband planned a business dinner at your home on the same night of your daughter’s prom, which was the same weekend that you needed to complete the million dollar project due at work the following week, and what you did to pull it all off splendidly. Don’t tell them that struggling to raise children alone taught you how to persevere. Explain how you worked two jobs, spent hours helping with homework, attending extracurricular activities and then stayed up all night to wash the clothes and clean the house.
In other words, be specific. You did it! And you are still doing it…you are accomplishing what you want to do. It’s exhilarating and because you desire it, the realization of your dream will be a success.
Donna Kiser retired from a ten year sentence in corporate America to follow her passion for writing and creating. She is currently a student at Columbia College Chicago, in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in creative writing.
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