Category Archives: school

My Old School

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Not too long ago, I heard the city of Philadelphia described as a city of “eds and meds”, meaning that there are a lot of educational and medical facilities in and around the city. Which is true; you don’t have to go too far around here before you stumble onto a college campus or some kind of world-class hospital. And I can tell you from first-hand experience that if you’ve got some kind of condition that you need treatment for, we’ve got you covered.

“I’ll take ‘Doctors Specializing in Multi-Lobed Unruptured Aneurysms’ for $1000, Alex.”

And man, do we have colleges and universities. I know it’s a cliché, but we’ve got every major from Architecture to Zoology here. We’ve got an Ivy (Penn), a couple of satellite campuses of the official state college (Penn State Abington, Brandywine and Great Valley), a huge urban university in a questionable area (Temple in North Philadelphia), an agriculturally-focused one in the far northern suburbs (Delaware Valley University), elite liberal arts colleges (Swarthmore, Haverford), one of the Seven Sisters (Bryn Mawr), a historically Black one (Cheyney), the “Big 5” for all of your college basketball needs (Penn, Temple, LaSalle, St. Joe’s and Villanova), a handful of smaller, private colleges (Chestnut Hill, Rosemont, Cabrini).

I decided to jump-start my college career (I’ve lost count how many times I’ve done that) at my local community college, Delaware County Community College. I applied online during a break in between meetings a few years ago and got accepted 15 minutes later. Community colleges get a really bad rap, I think. Their mission is to serve the community at large and help everyone further their education, whether you’re working towards a specific degree or just want to take a few non-credit courses in flower arranging. I thought I’d save floral design for another time, so I dove right into working on an associate’s degree in Business Administration.

Which is wonderful and great, but if I want to sit for my CPA license, I need a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s as well, since Pennsylvania requires 160 college credits to sit for the CPA certification. Which means I’d have to transfer to a four-year school, which means I’d have to figure out where I wanted to go.

But I already had the answer to that question. Around fifteen years ago, I was driving down Lancaster Avenue in Radnor, PA and I had to stop for a red light. To my left were the double spires of St. Thomas Of Villanova, the huge Catholic church on Villanova’s campus. Students were crossing Lancaster in their ‘Nova sweatshirts with their backpacks slung over their shoulders, hurrying off to the library or to their Russian Lit class.

And I was envious of them. Jealous and angry at myself for not working harder when I was in high school and realizing a little too late that if I was going to go to college, the whole load would be on me. I was pissed off at the ridiculous, stifling patriarchy that colored most of childhood from the time my stepfather entered my life at 9 to the time I moved out when I was 19.

I was up at 5 in the morning, getting ready to go to work. I had been offered a great job at a Big Financial Services Firm a few months earlier and the commute was, and there’s no other way to put it, a bitch. The opportunity was too terrific to pass up, so P and I figured that I’d do the hour-long drive for a couple of months and we’d move somewhere closer in the spring, probably after my graduation from DCCC in May.

I’m half-asleep and there’s a fifteen-pound cat batting the leg of my pajamas with his paw, because he’s clearly wasting away waiting for his breakfast. I take my phone out of airplane mode and I see my new email headers floating across the screen. As I’m putting Frogger’s tuna-and-chicken into his bowl, I see something that stops me cold:

“News From Villanova University”

I give Frogger his breakfast, walk into the living room and fire up my laptop. I already knew my application had been reviewed holistically by the adult/continuing education college at the school and it was passed on to very competitive business school for consideration. Villanova’s b-school’s no joke; it was recently voted the best business school in the country. I’d already been warned by two advisors at both DCCC and Villanova that this is no slam dunk and despite a general 3.78 GPA, I may not be accepted.

And now I get it. Now I finally understand why all of my high school friends, the ones who where in the honor society with the great grades and who worked their asses off, the ones who were waiting to hear from Columbia and Princeton and Northwestern and Syracuse, died a little bit every day when they came home to find a letter from their college of choice in their mailbox. Was it a thin envelope or a fat one? Was it full of possibilities or a polite refusal? Can I brag about it tomorrow or will I cry at my locker?

So here I am, at 5:12 in the morning, going through the exact same thing. I’m 52, in my flannel pajamas and socks, working my laptop. I’ve worked my ass off for my 3.78, and I’ll probably graduate with high honors. If Villanova says “Uh, no thanks”, Temple will be more than happy to have me.

Age does that to you, you know. You accept disappointment a little better. I mean, Temple’s got a great accounting program, too. So, I click.

So.

Son of a bitch. I’m in. I did it. I did it. I got into the college of my choice. I’m…stunned. Really? I’m in.

I’m in. I did it. I’m a Wildcat. I’m a Villanova Wildcat.

Son of a bitch.

I got the fat letter.

 

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2 + 2 = 5

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I’m not sure when or how I decided to major in accounting. I remember chatting with one of the many medical technicians I came into contact with at Fox Chase who was telling me used to be an accountant but changed careers. I also remember driving by a billboard that was featuring a local junior college’s accounting program. And I didn’t take any career evaluations that are supposed to point you towards the right field of study based on whether or not you chose chicken or salmon when asked what you’d order for dinner at a restaurant.

I do know that, despite having some of the worst math teachers in history while I was growing up, I somehow ended up being good with numbers. Thanks to a wonderful (and incredibly patient) precalculus professor, I discovered that if I took my time and worked out the problems I could actually be a bit of a “numbers person”. I’ll admit I was way out of my league when Linear Algebra proved to be too much to handle, but I figured getting through Calc 2 was enough of an accomplishment for someone well into her late 30s who still didn’t quite know what she wanted to be when she eventually grew up.

When I decided to go back and really, really, for the love of everything that’s good on this Earth, finish college, I had a more than a few things to consider. The first item on the agenda was time. As much as I would have loved to have majored in art history and forged a new career as an art historian at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I had to seriously think about how many productive years I might have left. No kidding; this is something you have to come to grips with when you’re doing a complete career change in your early 50s. This isn’t something you have to give much thought to when you’re 18 and just starting out.

The next brain wave to consider was how to leverage twenty years of business experience into something I could build a new career out of, which is why accounting made sense. The problem was, I’d never taken an accounting course. Not that not being sure about something had ever stopped me from jumping into the deep end of the pool before (see the previous fifty-one years of my life for starters), but I just wanted to be sure I’d be good at it and, more importantly, that I liked it. I like to think I’m a pretty good executive assistant, but I do know this isn’t what I want to be doing in twenty-five years.

alma mater number one

Delaware County Community College – Alma Mater #1

Financial Accounting is required for all Business Administration majors at Delaware County Community College, so I took that as my first class. It was my first dip into college since The Great Linear Algebra Disaster Of 2000. And I aced it. Not only did I pass with flying colors, I was good at it and I loved it.

But this was only for the two-year associate’s degree, not the four-year bachelor’s. Which meant I also had to figure out where to go after DC3.

Stay tuned.

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Now, where was I?

Oh, yes. It was March of last year, the last time I wrote and posted anything into this space, in my little corner of WordPress.  I was on the tail end of recovering from my aneurysm repair surgery, taking macroeconomics and managerial accounting at school and hitting the “Reset” button on my job hunt. I was planning on teaching a few spring crochet classes at Hidden River Yarn and I believe I was working on a store sample that was making me crazy. I seem to think there was something else going on too, and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was right now. I’m sure it’ll come to me.

Things were moving along just fine and I stopped writing about it all. Not that I’d fallen out of love with it, but I felt that I’d ran out of things to write about. Last spring I was still a recovering cancer patient. I was only a year removed from the end of my treatment and even though I was writing about experiences other than cancer, I was still framing them around my recovery process. I recently realized I didn’t become bored with writing; I’d gotten tired of writing about my cancer.

This was never meant to be a blog about my cancer fight, which is why it’s refreshing to come back to this a year or so later with a pair of fresh eyes and a renewed spirit. I’ve had some wonderful things happen to me over the past few months or so. I’m in good health and I just had a great checkup at Fox Chase. I started a full-time job at a very large financial services firm and I’m graduating from my local community college with my associates degree in May. My boyfriend and I (and Frogger, of course) are moving to a really nice little town in a few months.

And starting in September, I’m going to be a part-time college student at Villanova University. A 52-year-old college sophomore.

This is the stuff that’s worth writing about. This is going to be fun again.

“Saved By Zero”

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So, I did something this afternoon I haven’t done in well over a decade.

Get your mind out of the gutter. I did homework. Income-Book

Really. I read most of chapter one and put homework deadlines and exam dates into my Google calendar. I watched my professor’s “getting to know you” video and posted my “getting to know me” student thread on the class forum. I discovered that my online textbook can be watched like a lecture and that the review questions are all interactive. I did a review session that wouldn’t let me move on to the next section until I got the answers right. It’s all very, very cool.

I won’t set foot in a classroom this semester, may never meet my classmates face-to-face. And if I play my cards right, I won’t have to drive over to the campus until it’s time to renew my ID card, which would be sometime next year.

This, my friends, is an introvert’s dream come true.

accountant-dogI could get really used to this. Don’t get me wrong; I really love the whole classroom experience, I always have. And I’m thinking that when I start taking my upper level accounting and business courses at Villanova in a few years I may have to take them in a traditional classroom setting. I can regale those youngsters with tales about how it was in the old days when all we had were 17” laptops with half-a-terabyte hard drives.

Kids these days. Hmph.

But until then, I’m perfectly happy to sit here in my little air-conditioned world, on my ass, on my comfy couch working away at my coursework at my own pace. This is a whole new world and while it looks like a lot of work right now, it’ll all get done.

How do you eat a chocolate bar the size of an elephant? One bite at a time, of course, silly rabbit.

Or one chapter, per week, until the middle of December.

“Don’t Know Much About History”

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So, I decided I needed something else to do.

I’m going back to school. 

Yep. I’m going to get the education I didn’t get 30 years ago. And I’m all in.

And since you have to start somewhere, I’m starting at my local community college.  Laugh if you must, but after everything that’s happened to me over the past year, a simple online course in accounting seemed like a good course to start with. Get the toes wet before jumping into the pool and all of that.

Last night I headed off to “New Student Orientation” night at Delaware County Community College, or DC Cubed as it’s sometimes called. So I park my car in the student lot after driving around for a bit and almost parking in the college president’s spot by mistake.

This is also known as “giving myself the tour”.

Anyway, I park and go inside and see that the coffee place is still open. I walk past the Delaware County Police Department recruits and realize they’re old enough to be my sons. Or I’m old enough to be their mom. Either way, I end up feeling like a cougar.

So I get my coffee and head upstairs to where the orientation is being held. At least I think it’s upstairs.

DC Cubed’s campus isn’t laid out like a traditional, suburban, college campus.  Instead of having a couple of main buildings connected with outside walkways, they’re all interconnected with overhead, enclosed glass walkways, which is a little confusing.

Okay. A lot confusing. Each room has a four digit number and according to the college website, the first digit is the building number, the second digit is the floor number and the last two is the room number. Which makes perfect sense unless you realize that the ground floor is actually the second floor and that they must have swapped the numbers on the STEM and Academic buildings because even though I should be on the second floor of the STEM building for this thing, it’s actually on the first floor of the Academic building.

So I give myself the tour of the third floor of the STEM building (I still have no idea how I got there) and ask a student who’s young enough to be my daughter where I am.

“I don’t know. This place is really confusing.”

I start looking for room numbers that sort of correspond to the room I’m looking for and the next thing I know I’m passing the art gallery and see a sign that says, “College Planning” with a big arrow on it. Mind you, it doesn’t say “New Student Orientation”, but it sounds reasonably close to the thing I’m looking for and if it isn’t, the people there might actually know what I’m talking about.

So I give myself the tour of the Academic Building and sure enough, it’s where I need to be. It is not where I thought I’d be, but a lot of my life has been like that.

I check in and get my official “New Student Orientation” folder and one of the women behind the desk says, “You know, your transcripts aren’t here yet.”

Full disclosure: I didn’t see anything on the website or in my “new student orientation” invitation telling me that I needed to have my transcripts there for this and I’d just faxed the request over that morning. It may have been on there, somewhere, and if it was, I didn’t see it.

“Um, I’m sorry, but I didn’t know that.”

“Well, I don’t know if you’re going to get anything out of this. After the presentation, you’ll meet with an advisor and schedule your fall classes and we can’t do that until we know what classes you’ve already taken.”

Oh. I didn’t see that, either. And that means I’ll also be expected to pay for them as well and I know that wasn’t there.  At all.

“And we need proof that you know math before you can take this accounting course.”

Oh. Well, I got through Calc Two and I did really well. “I’m sure you did, but…”  Yeah, okay. Got it.

“Do you want to take the math placement test?”

Now?

“Well, I’ve been up since 5 and I’m kind of beat.”

“It’s not hard.”

I really don’t want to take this. “Sure.”

So I give myself another tour of the Academic building, take an elevator up to the fourth floor, scoot along an interior hallway that overlooks some sort of study area three floors below (I’m beginning to look for moving stairways and talking paintings by now) and follow the signs that say “Testing Center”. I end up in a roundish sort of room with teal carpeting and a test proctor comes out to see me. I explain my situation and the next thing I know I’m sitting in front of a computer filling out my student information.

And as I’m wondering how hard can this be, the first question comes up and it’s an algebra one asking me what’s the correct equation for a discount. Which is pretty easy and I get the right answer and I move on to the next one.

It’s another algebra question. Okay, I can do this one, too. Then a few more that required me to do some factoring and to flip a fraction around for division and do I remember how to multiply exponents. And then it’s asking me for the roots of an equation and if the graph of this function is symmetrical around the x-axis. Or not.

And then it gets weird. And a little more difficult that I imagined. I factor some more and add polynomials and remember that if the coordinates are (-x, y) they’re in the upper left hand quadrant of the plane. And the old rule about absolute zero comes back to me (they’re always positive, which never made sense to me, but there you are) and I give up on more than a few of them and think about how pissed off I’m going to be if I just clicked my way into a remedial math class because an admissions person talked me into taking this.

I make semi-educated guesses about operations involving imaginary numbers and then the last question comes up and it’s an inverse function question. I can’t remember my f of x from my g of x by this point, so I click “C” for absolutely no good reason at all.

I signal to the proctor in the other room that I’m done.  He totes up my score and comes out to log me off the system. “Do you like math?”

“Sort of. Did I do okay?”

“You did much better than okay.”

I clicked my way right into any math class I’ll need to take at DC Cubed. So I grab my scores, head back down the hallway, look for Nick the Headless Horseman, get back into the elevator and hit the button for the first floor. The door opens and I’m in the basement in a construction area.

“Shit.”

Remember what I said about the second floor?

I go back up and follow the bread crumbs to the orientation room. I talk to an advisor, make a double pinky swear that my transcripts are on their way and register for my class.

I am all in and I’m on my way.

Next time I’m there, I’ll have to remember to look for the Fat Lady.