Back in Session: Why I Returned to College After 22 Years
Share this Article
It was Christmas before the pandemic — a time that feels so foreign yet still so memorable.
I was alone in Los Angeles with my dog while dog-sitting my roommate's and friend's dogs. Cuddled on the couch with three animals, I began to reflect (as I tend to do at the end of the year) on the past 16.5 years I'd spent in Los Angeles since leaving New Jersey.
It wasn't long after 9/11 when I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a TV writer and producer. I'd dropped out of Seton Hall University four years earlier after an internship at a prominent music label turned into my first role in the entertainment industry.
I felt confident, despite being a college dropout, that my lack of a degree wouldn't hinder my career path. I could be like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. Dropping out was the new generation's formula for success.
So when my friend asked me over AIM if I wanted to move to L.A., I responded, "Let's go!"
The Career Bubble Bursts
Leveraging my experience to get my foot in the door took time before I was able to secure an opportunity — and the glamour wore off pretty quickly.
As I worked, college became more and more of a distant memory. But many jobs required a degree, so I made it look like I had one by putting Seton Hall University on my resume with no graduation date. Eventually, I landed temp gigs at production companies before becoming a production assistant.
And I took off and didn't look back.
I worked on show after show, moving up from production assistant to coordinator. I even found myself on the red carpet for "E! Live From the Red Carpet" starring Ryan Seacrest.
But production required grueling hours, so I decided to transition to the office. There, I became an assistant to development executives.
"As I worked, college became more and more of a distant memory. But many jobs required a degree, so I made it look like I had one by putting Seton Hall University on my resume with no graduation date."
A degree could have prepared me better for the corporate side of TV, but I was able to use what I'd learned to get on-the-job executive training. I excelled, receiving good feedback for every executive desk I sat on at Viacom and CBS.
Then I hit a plateau. In 2017, my career stalled. By the end of the year, I was unemployed.
I believe this was due in part to something I'd witnessed years ago at the last music label, where an assistant up for promotion lost her job after HR discovered she'd lied on her resume about graduating college. This story haunted me and, in my opinion, ultimately contributed to my eventually being released from CBS.
After that, I aimlessly looked for ways to use my skills in production and development to secure contract work. But I found nothing, lost everything, and fell into a depression.
I tried to make money by driving for Uber. But the pain of going from the red carpet and corporate office to being subjected to the worst types of riders simply added to my depression.
After three years of driving customers around, I made the decision to return to school and finally finish my degree.
A New Semester Starts — and So Do the Challenges
The excitement to go back home after 16.5 years and return to school with a plan felt exhilarating. And yet, I had no idea it was only the beginning of many obstacles I would face.
I returned to a family in New Jersey who had become distant, and I was met with daily petty arguments that seemed to reveal hidden resentments. I also had outstanding financial obligations at Seton Hall that needed to be reconciled, in addition to FAFSA documents and loan transfer paperwork.
I received pandemic stimulus checks, without which I couldn't have attended college, as neither of my parents was willing to help me financially.
Even Seton Hall didn't welcome me back with open arms. Originally, an academic advisor there directed me to attend a cheaper school — but I pushed and pushed and pushed relentlessly.
What's more, when I'd dropped out, I apparently hadn't followed through with a withdrawal for a political science class, which added to my existing bill and appeared as an "F" grade on my transcript, impacting my GPA.
"The excitement to go back home after 16.5 years and return to school with a plan felt exhilarating. And yet I had no idea it was only the beginning of many obstacles I would face."
After many calls and emails, I was finally allowed back into Seton Hall — but my toxic home environment continued.
The mental adjustment to being back in school became overwhelming. Attending school during the COVID-19 pandemic meant taking classes online. And not knowing the layout or interface — with no one to help me — led me to cry in frustration during my first week back in class.
Nevertheless, I pushed myself and became isolated from my family in a bedroom with my dog.
After the fall 2020 semester, another obstacle presented itself: I didn't have enough financial aid to cover my bill. The school would not allow me to register for the spring.
Fortunately, the bursar's office, after much back and forth, directed me to someone on staff who finds money for students in my situation, and I was awarded some grants.
Inching Closer to Graduation
I hit that last semester with the vigor of completion in my sights, not knowing that only weeks before confirming my graduation, my academic advisor had not told me that a class I'd taken the previous semester was preventing me from graduating.
I'd received a grade of "NS" — no show — because my family situation had been at its height of toxicity at the time and impacted my focus. I went back to that professor to see if she'd give me a grade if I submitted the necessary work, but she would not.
Again, I was at the mercy of my academic advisor to guide me on my next steps. In the end, I was told I'd have to retake the class.
But then it got worse. Upon further inspection, my academic advisor realized it wasn't just one class but eight credits I still needed to be able to graduate.
I didn't feel like I should be subjected to someone else's mistake, especially someone I'd trusted to guide me in my academic journey.
"I didn't feel like I should be subjected to someone else's mistake, especially someone I'd trusted to guide me in my academic journey."
So, I wrote a detailed email explaining my situation, and the school figured out a way to fix it. I would register late in the spring semester for one class and take two in the summer, allowing me to walk at that year's commencement.
As I write this article, which is a part of my last class to complete my degree, I can tell you this: It will be worth everything to finish what you started — but it won't be easy.
Everything imagined and unimagined will get in your way. Yet when you overcome it all, it will make you stronger and more determined to accomplish everything else you plan for your life.
I write these words on Aug. 27, 2022, having walked on May 24, 2022. This officially completes my requirements to become a college graduate for the class of 2022.
After 22 years, I went back to school and became the first college graduate in two generations in my family. It wasn't easy — far from it — but it was worth it. And if I can do it, so can you.
Meet the Author
La Neice Mitchell
La Neice Mitchell is a third-generation Montclair, New Jersey, native. She fell in love with television and films as a child. This led her to traverse the suburbs of New Jersey, through the gritty streets of New York's music industry, and through L.A.'s bright lights of Hollywood to become a television entertainment professional.