Cultural norms require college-bound teens to select a life plan before they’ve really even lived life. As a young adult, Peter Collins did the same. Full of aspirations and dreams, Collins admits he didn’t entirely know what he wanted to do; yet he was being asked to figure it out and figure it out fast. So, away he went to school to pursue his dreams.
Fast-forward more than 10 years and Collins, who is now living in Winter Garden, has a wife, a house and two kids. He enjoys his career as a full-time employee at Universal Orlando. In Central Florida, it’s not rare to know a family with one parent working in theme park land. Marked with early hours and often late nights, family life and schedules can be certainly non-traditional for those who spend their lives making magic for others.
Double the crazy schedule expectation when both parents work full time for a theme park, and that is the picture of life for the Collins family. To call their lives fast paced would be an understatement.
Making a Plan
Collins is one who always seeks opportunity for his family. Nearly two years ago, he began to reflect on the job market and his career skills. Wanting to improve his marketability, he started thinking about going back to college. In 2014, he enrolled at Valencia College to pursue an Associate of Science degree that focuses on drafting and design.
“I’ve always had an interest in it, and, as a bonus, it complements my work experience,” Collins says. He is expected to complete his degree in 2017.
Like many adults, with time in short supply, the family had to consider the financial investment required for this endeavor. Collins admits the idea of squeezing more time and more money from the family plan was daunting. “It helped that my current job offers reimbursement, so I get to go back to school for a fraction of the price,” he says.
However, every time he thought about spending an additional four hours on top of his work schedule, plus time for homework, Collins confesses it made him cringe. Still, one day, as it seemed everything had fallen into place, he signed up. As for squeezing school into the family schedule, Collins says, “We’ve managed to juggle all the classes and activities mostly through good communication and a shared calendar.”
Diving into the Unknown
Going back to school as a 30-year-old isn’t a common plan. Collins admits he was a little nervous before classes started. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he says.
As luck would have it, Collins falls in the average age of the students in his class. Though he does note the differences between college now and college when he went the first time. “[Back then] all class offerings were listed in a big paper catalogue that you had to search through and highlight,” he says. “Now, everything is online, making it incredibly easy to sign up and pay.”
An added bonus is that Collins had two classes with materials in eBook format, certainly lightening his backpack load.
So many adults contemplate returning to school, yet the same fears of time constraints, a heavy workload and agedness often serve as a deterrent. However, it seems many adults are throwing those concerns by the wayside and taking the dive into continuing education.
According to Valencia’s online reports, nearly 30 percent of its 2013-2014 school population consisted of students ages 25 and over. Beyond the added education, Collins claims the greatest award he’s gotten out of going back to school is within the new people he’s met. He loves the new skills he’s learning and enjoys interacting with people from different experiences.
“It’s hard to be aware of how small your view is when you’re surrounded by people in the same career,” he says. “When you get a chance to talk to someone from a different experience, sometimes even a different country, it really opens your eyes and lets you think in different ways.”
Heading Toward Graduation
Even though there are nights every week that he can’t be home for dinner and doesn’t get to tuck the kids in to bed, Collins knows his choice will do great things for his entire family. “I have an amazing wife who is supportive and able to be home when I can’t,” he says. “The kids know Daddy is going back to school, and I hope this teaches them that they should never stop learning.”
Collins wasn’t sure what to expect when he returned to college after all those years, but his most surprising result of the endeavor is how much he loves it. His paraphrase of a famous Benjamin Franklin quote, “The best place to keep your money is in your head,” serves as an encouragement to him as he plugs away at classwork each week.
He offers this piece of advice to others who are considering returning to school or going to school for the first time as an adult: “Use your life experience to think about what you want to do and do what you love. It is way easier to plan your life when you’ve lived it a little already.”