Try, Try Again: How Waiting (for a Time) Worked for Me

kevinihrig-2924742Try, Try Again: How Waiting (for a Time) Worked for Me

by Kevin Ihrig

“I really need you to wait,” my wife said, and with that, I withdrew from classes barely started and lost a substantial part of my tuition. It was 1999 and I had just enrolled in the Colorado State University Online MBA program, at the Fort Collins campus. The program didn’t require that I take the GMAT, and the tuition was reasonable. I had a pretty good job that seemed stable, but like all of us who go back to school, I wanted more.

I had planned a graduate degree even when before graduating with a bachelor’s. But when I finally finished my four-year degree after six years, I couldn’t see staying in class. Homework had ruled my world for years, along with tests, textbooks, professors, and most of all, due dates. I was ready to go into the real world, and say good-bye to all those school headaches. Little did I know that homework would be replaced by overtime and travel and tests by important projects that have to be done today. Textbooks changed to thick, disorganized files in cabinet after cabinet, while demanding supervisors replaced kindly professors. And due dates? Well, this was the worst realization: due dates never go away; they just become more important as the projects grow. And so I decided I could at least get a graduate degree and move into management.

At the time, we had one son, five years old, and we owned a house in Gilbert, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. I thought our life was calm enough to go back to school. When my wife asked me to drop out, I already had my first class videotapes, and had arranged for my employer to pay half my tuition through our tuition assistance program.

Dropping out dropped my attitude a few notches. This wasn’t my first attempt to go back. Once previously, at least a year earlier, I had nearly enrolled in classes at the University of Phoenix. Not wanting to rack up the $18,000-20,000 in debt it would take to finish, I chickened out. But this time, I was ready to start, I thought. Out of respect for her, I dropped out. CSU could wait, and so could I. But for how long?

By August 2000, nearly a year later, my position disappeared. The company offered a transfer, but I declined, since we would have had to move to a much more expensive city at a lower salary. I found a job in northern Utah quickly, and began planning to go to school there. The company had a waiting period before I could take advantage of tuition assistance, so when my availability date rolled around, I jumped on it. Unfortunately, classes didn’t start right away, so I couldn’t actually enroll in classes, and I had to take the GMAT entrance exam at my own expense.

I used the challenge to prepare for classes. I studied for a month using a text from a well-known test prep company, and a computerized training system, too. The computer version helped more. During my preparation, I took two computerized practice tests. On my second practice run, I scored high enough that I thought I was ready for the real thing. When Kaplan gave me my score, it was only nine points lower than my practice score, validating the practice test as an excellent tool.

By the time I had studied for and taken the GMAT in the summer of 2001, my company had a serious layoff. Once again, I thought, I would have to wait. We now had two children, one only four months old, and I was out of work. Six weeks after the layoff, as I worked one morning on a letter to a prospective employer, my neighbor called and told me to turn on the television. After the tragedy of September 11 and the onset of recession, prospects for work were bleak. Who knew it was the perfect time to go back to school?

In my area I had a choice of five local schools and online schools. My opportunity came in the form of a new program, barely a year old, at Weber State University, a state run school in northern Utah that was only ten miles from my house. I was thoroughly impressed with this program. And having looked at many other programs, and two close up, I knew this one would work well for our situation.

As a bonus, I received a substantial scholarship of $2500 per year for two years. I learned later that the university provided these in an attempt to attract students, but I didn’t know it at the time I applied. The award was enough to pay tuition for about ten classes out of the eighteen needed for a non-business student to graduate. Surely I’d have a job by then, and a way to pay for the rest. I was elated at the prospect. And this time, unemployed with time on my hands, my wife supported my decision.

During the time that followed, I worked hard in my classes and to find a job. As severance, savings and unemployment insurance ran out successively, I wondered how I could finish, and how we could keep our house. Five months into my search, we found out my wife was pregnant after twelve years of marriage and two adoptions. We were happy, but it was definitely a shock, and I still had no offer in sight. As three more pages on the calendar turned, eight months in all, I finally found a job.

We kept our house, miraculously, and my new employer had an excellent tuition assistance program. My scholarship still had over a year to go, and I now had a source for the remainder of my tuition costs. The Weber State program held all classes in the evening, well after I finished my workday. My relief was enormous.

I took only one class every eight weeks. At first, this lengthened the usefulness of the scholarship. Later, it prevented us from being overwhelmed by class and project meetings while working full time and raising a family first of two children, then three.

Yes, three. Since our family was growing, I took a summer off as we contracted to have a larger house built and do part of the work ourselves. I ended up taking two classes later in the construction process, but did well in them. Just two months after moving into our new home, my wife was pregnant again, with our fourth child.

By this time I had been going to school for over two years. I was scheduled to graduate in December, my wife to deliver in November. For that last class, I selected one that did not require any class attendance. It would consist of fifteen papers of various lengths over the course of eight weeks covering aspects of a topic I chose with my instructor. The flexibility allowed me to take a week or two off when the baby arrived without jeopardizing graduation.

As it happened, I took a month off, and we had the baby at home by accident. A hazard of waiting too long to leave for the hospital, she was born in our bedroom, healthy and with a full head of hair. My wife’s doula (a birth assistant) and I along with several paramedics and EMT’s attended her (the midwife was at the hospital waiting) but there were no complications. After caring for my wife and our other children, and taking substantial time off of work, I resumed my coursework.

In December 2004, right on schedule, I graduated with an MBA from Weber State, now with four children, two of whom were born during my studies: 11, 3, 2, and the last just five weeks old. Waiting wasn’t so bad. I met wonderful people and we shared a great experience. My grades were excellent. I learned what I went to learn, and completed the degree I had wanted for so long.

And my wife? She seldom uttered a disconsolate word during my studies. In May, we celebrated fifteen years married, and she is considering a masters degree in counseling.

Kevin Ihrig graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1992, and received an M.B.A. from Weber State University in 2004. He lives with his family in Syracuse, Utah.