Going back to college as an adult is all about balancing your time between work, a family, a social life, and school. For Julie Witt, a mother of 11 children, finding a way to balance all those things comes sort of naturally at this point.
Witt decided to return to college after more than two decades away from academia. She had attended Eastern Kentucky University right out of high school, but left after about two years when she was offered a job. She had a growing family, so it made sense to work and return to school later.
She homeschooled the children — Cameron, Avery, Lauren, Harrison, Corban, Bristol, Clara, Barrett, Lincoln, Kendall and Noelle — because her husband, Joshua, was full-time with the Tennessee Army National Guard. He was traveling a lot for work, and she says it was hard to balance everything.
“I had no real time for myself,” she said. “Then, when they stopped homeschooling I started working again.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Julie and her husband had five kids still in school, but they were soon sent home because of restrictions. She decided to homeschool them again to make their schedules more manageable, but she wanted to start school herself.
“I knew it was time to focus on myself a little bit,” she said. “I had always loved school and loved learning, but I just didn’t know what I wanted to focus on.”
Even when she told her kids she was ready to go back to school after 25 years, her kids didn’t even believe her, she said.
“They have been so supportive and so cute,” she said. “They’ve even helped me with some of the stuff or asked if they can do anything for me. All around, my family has been very supportive.”
Witt’s father was a psychologist, and she had always been drawn to mental health and psychology herself. She knew her ultimate plan would be to get her master’s degree so she could practice marriage and family counseling, but the bachelor’s degree would come first.
“The MTSU program, not only is it close, but when I looked into the adult learning program and heard about PLA I thought it would be a good thing to explore,” she said, referring to the university’s Prior Learning Assessment program. “I thought this could be a way for me to finish up my bachelor’s degree a little faster.”
With the Prior Learning Assessment course, often referred to as PLA, adult students are able to convert their prior work and training and certifications into college credit and use up to 60 credits toward electives. Students do all of this for the cost and time of a three credit-hour course.
“The class was awesome,” she said. “It was a little intimidating because it is a lot of work, but I ended up with 28 credits when the class ended.”
Witt is now on track to graduate next spring, much sooner than she thought.
“I even got to take the summer off to be with my kids!” she said.
‘Happened a lot faster than I thought’
Witt does all of her coursework and her day job from a converted walk-in closet. She said her kids are usually good with letting her get her work taken care of, but she needed a place where she could shut a door and stay focused.
“I have loved the online format because I can really focus in here and work when I find the best time for me, “ she said. “I love forming personal relationships, but for where I am right now, I have to find something that works on my schedule and this works perfectly.”
She had never taken an online class before and was a little apprehensive going into it. However, once she started she was able to find a rhythm to getting all of her work finished on time. She knew which classes had things due each day of the week.
With the Integrated Studies program, students are able to choose areas of emphasis to fill out their degree plan. She chose sign language and psychology because she had previously majored in deaf education and she said she still has a real desire in that field.
“I’m hoping to be able to use my counseling services for the hearing-impaired community,” she said. “I think that is an underserved community, especially for those types of services.”
Witt also mentioned working with military members, veterans and their families in the future. Her husband and five of their children, the oldest now 25 years old, are either veterans or current members of the armed forces.
“The part that is the most fascinating to me is figuring out why people do the things they do and how I can help them change the way they think and therefore change their behavior so they can have a better outcome,” she said.
Witt knew that what she was setting out to do would take some time with the courses she needed and the necessary practicum hours. She said it was a five-year plan. However, because of MTSU’s PLA program, she is on her way to reach her goal a lot sooner.
“Since I was able to get those credits under my belt I feel awesome,” she said. “This all happened a lot faster than I thought, and I’m so happy about it.”
If you are interested in finishing your degree or starting as an adult, visit MTSU.edu/FinishNow for more information.
— Hunter Patterson (Hunter.Patterson@mtsu.edu)