Feeling Too Old to Go Back to School? Here’s a Story to Change Your Mind

Have you found yourself wondering “am I too old to go back to school?” Maybe you’ve thought about furthering your education for years, and time has just gotten away from you. Or perhaps there were too many obstacles in your way before, but now that they’ve passed, you feel like the right time has passed, too.

You may not realize it, but there are a lot of people asking that same question, and many who feel just as apprehensive as you. That’s why I want to share a story with you about my self-defense class instructor, Kevin Beard. I know, you’re now asking “What does this woman’s self-defense instructor have to do with anything she was just discussing?” Let me just say, if you’re wondering if it’s too late to go to college, this story will give you your answer.

I learned about Kevin’s lifelong journey just recently, after walking into class to a surprising scene. Most weeks, I’d greet Kevin as he set up gloves, mats, and other equipment. So I was taken aback when I arrived one day to find him standing in front of the room telling a story, his burly appearance softened by tears streaming down his cheeks. I was worried something had gone terribly wrong in his life, but as I listened to him talk, I heard him use words like “amazing” and “accomplishment.” I realized his tears weren’t out of sorrow. He was ecstatic. Just a few days earlier, he’d received his GED, at the age of 52.

Kevin’s educational and personal challenges started way back in time, during his childhood. Growing up in Denver, he got mixed up with a tough crowd at a young age, and by the time he was 14, he was a runaway, dealing drugs to make money. A few years later, he made an attempt to turn his life around and return to school. But it didn’t take long for his teachers to discover he had dyslexia. “When I found that out, the struggle was too much for me,” he said, “I couldn’t finish school.”

Dejected, Kevin ignored his inner voice that told him to get an education, and managed to support himself by taking odd jobs, often lying on work applications about completing high school. In his mid-30s, he finally landed an opportunity for a job with some promise: working for a sheriff’s department. But he had to come clean with them about his education. Amazingly, they said they’d hire him as long as he got his GED. He agreed, optimistic about this new career potential, and kind of excited about giving school another chance.

Then came another big blow: when Kevin completed his first GED assessment to gauge his level in school, the results put him at a third grade reading level. “I was so disappointed,” he said. “Can you imagine? Third grade. I was thirty-something!” His GED was far out of reach.

But this time, the struggle didn’t stop him. He knew the path to the career he wanted required getting an education and he wasn’t going to give up. So, he chose to tackle one of the biggest challenges of his life. Kevin studied with a tutor, and he did it for more than a decade, learning and practicing and correcting his mistakes, every free moment he had; often late into the night. It was an immense challenge, something Kevin likens to “climbing a mountain.”

In fact, as Kevin took tests along the way, he did something interesting with each of his results. He posted them on his bedroom wall so that he could watch his progress. “I needed to see myself moving forward, and I wanted to reach the summit,” he said.

A few days before Christmas this past year, Kevin was within steps of the summit. But the last push was precarious. He needed 10 more points for an overall passing score, and it was critical that he accomplish this, because the GED was scheduled to change significantly at the beginning of the new year.

On the absolute last testing day of the year, he went in to repeat his social studies test, which was the subject that was most likely to earn him the extra points he needed. “I was freaking out,” he said. “I’d slept for two hours the night before. I needed to pass that test or life was going to get even harder for me, with the changes the GRE was undergoing. ”

But he did it. It was a nail-biter until the end, but he squeaked out the necessary points and passed! He immediately called his mom, elated and crying and the same time, stumbling over his sentences because he was practically hyper-ventilating. “I can’t really describe what it’s like to finally accomplish this,” he said. “I can hardly even put it onto words. People are giving me graduation gifts! One friend took me out to dinner as a celebration. It’s a dream come true.”

This might sound like a perfect ending. But for Kevin, it’s a new beginning. He’s on a roll, and his next step is college. “Now that I’ve accomplished my GED, I’m hungry for education,” he said. His plan is to get an associate’s degree in criminal justice, and then go back for that job at the sheriff’s office.

Even at 52, after years of facing hurdles, Kevin is finally ready to take the next step in his educational journey. So if you’re wondering, “how old is too old to go back to college?” Just take it from Kevin: it’s never too late.

How about another story to inspire you? Watch Carolyn discuss her story of returning to college after 50.

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