Thinking about going back to school as a non-traditional student? This is my journey as a non-traditional student.

Written by: Melanie Marinelli, Senior Corporate Communication Major, APSU

About five years ago, I found myself unemployed for the first time in years. The real estate market had crashed and left me laid-off from my job. I had worked for real estate law firms for just about 20 years. I was able to receive unemployment; however, I knew the recession would be severe enough to outlast my unemployment benefits. I found myself in a dilemma. What do I do now? What road do I turn down now at 42 years of age? I raised my two children with the paychecks from real estate law and now I must make a new plan for the future.

About three weeks into my very boring and frustrating job hunt, a good friend of mine who is my age and was tired of being a bartender for 20 years, called me and simply said, “why don’t we go back to school together?” I thought about it for about five seconds and I simply said, “okay, let’s do it!”

However, it was not quite THAT easy. You see, we also both needed to earn our GEDs before we could even think about college, but that was now the goal and nothing was going to get in the way of earning our college degrees. We had both had carried the burden of shame for never obtaining a high school diploma and we wanted to earn, not only a higher education, but the self-esteem we lacked for so long.

So the journey began. We studied for the GED together and we both passed with fairly high scores, which earned us scholarships and financial aid. Fast forward a bit, and I had completed my first two years with a 3.8 GPA and my self-esteem was over the moon! My friend also completed her Associate’s degree with honors. We LOVED school and our new found purpose. Nothing was going to stand in our way for our ultimate goal of a Bachelor’s Degree.

But then as life does, it threw me some unexpected challenges. My 7-year relationship ended with my fiancé, now leaving me alone in Clarksville to finish my degree while caring for my 89-year-old father and 16-year-old son with no other income besides child support, my father’s social security, and student loans.

Now…this is the part in my story when the road became rough. My strength, resilience, and drive were tested. I found myself responsible for everyone and everything from the bills to doctor’s appointments, all the cleaning, pets, full-time school and every other obstacle that comes up in life on a daily basis. My health started to decline and my love for school as well. I suffered a full year of depression and exhaustion. In years prior, I may have given up at this point. I would have been too overwhelmed and scared and may have thrown in the towel. But I was not the same person I was when I began. I finally sought out help and I am now back on track. I am in a much better place, but the journey did not leave me unscathed.

As I approach the end of my journey this coming December, I look back and even though it has been a rough road, it was worth every single bit of it. As a working mother who started out as a high school drop-out and carried that humiliating secret every step of her life, I now feel free. I no longer feel less than others who are educated. Also, my friend graduated last May, cum laude, and has told me more than once that school has changed her life. She says that she found herself at APSU.

If you are thinking about going back to school as a non-traditional student, I highly recommend it. Just make sure you have a good plan in place for your responsibilities outside of school. I have made lifelong friends with other students and professors. My journey has been very hard at times, but the rewards highly outrank the negatives. You just have to take a leap of faith and do it.


“What you do today can improve all of your tomorrows.” – Ralph Marston


“Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.” – Booker T. Washington


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