Success Stories

Thinking about returning to college to finish your degree? Read the stories of five students like you who earned a bachelor’s degree from one of our Grad TX Universities.Watch inspirational videos from real people who successfully returned and earned a bachelor’s degree.

Michael Hanks

Michael Hanks

BS, Political Science
2011 graduate of University of Houston-Downtown

“Just because you don’t do well at one level doesn’t mean you should fear the next level.”

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What was your experience like returning to college?

I was working full-time. When I started at University of Houston Downtown, I eased into it. I started off just taking a couple hours at a time but toward the end I was working and going to school full time. Most of my classes were in person; about 30 percent of them were online. All my classes were at night. The earliest class began at 5:30.

How did you balance work, school, and your family?

Well, I’m married and I couldn’t have done it without my wife’s support. I did miss out on a lot of the social things because I was at class in the evening, but it paid off in the end. I’d leave for work in the morning and my three kids would be asleep, and when I came home from my night classes, they were in bed. Sometimes, if they were still up, I’d spend time with them for a few hours instead of going straight to my schoolwork. On those nights I wouldn’t start my homework until after midnight. Sometimes I had assignments that carried me straight through the night. I’d just close my book and then get ready to go to work. That was tough. Time management was really important. I had to make good decisions about how to spend my time.

But it was important that I do this for my kids. I wanted them to see that getting a degree is important. I want them to grow up and go to school and graduate also. I want them to see that it can be done.

Now that I’m finished, my wife is going back to school to get her degree, and then I’ll pick up the slack for her at home. That’s how it works.

What was the most rewarding part of going back to school?

I discovered that I really love school and once I realized that all I had to do was put forth a little effort to make good grades, I could enjoy the rewards I got. I loved seeing that I made an A in a class. I got hooked on that.

In high school, I was a B and C student. In community college, I was a B student. But when I got to the university level, I became an A student. I just got better at it. Just because you don’t do well at one level doesn’t mean you should fear the next level.

Would you have done anything differently if you could do it all again?

I would’ve taken more classes in the beginning. I’d always heard how impossible it is to work full-time and go to school full-time. So for a long time, I only took two classes a semester until my counselor advised me to step it up. I was making good grades, so why not? So I started taking more classes each semester, but I wish I had done it earlier so I could have been done sooner.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of returning to school?

Don’t always look for a major that you’re going to use for a job. Look for something that you really enjoy, that you would enjoy doing. That’s the way to be successful. If I had taken finance classes to be an investment banker because I thought it could make me a lot of money, I might not have done as well because the passion wouldn’t have been there. But I found something that I liked, so it wasn’t work. I enjoyed the reading and the studying. I enjoyed learning about something I liked.

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Teneka Duke

Teneka Duke

BAAS in business administration
2005 graduate of Texas A&M Commerce

“Don’t back away from it just because you don’t know all the ins and outs. It’s a learning process.”

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How did you decide you wanted to get your degree?

I graduated from high school, got married, and had a family by the time I was 21. I had a really nice job for a rural community, so I didn’t go right into college. But as I progressed in my career I realized that education was going to be an important component. My friend, who was also my boss at the time, encouraged me to get my education. So I enrolled in college and it took me 14 years to earn my degree.

Did you enroll in the BAAS program right from the beginning?/ What was your education journey like?

I started out at Paris Junior College and earned my associate’s degree there. Then I transferred to Texas A&M Commerce. I was taking anywhere from 3 to 6 hours at a time. When I had 21 hours left, I went to see an adviser who told me about the BAAS program. It was a perfect fit for me. I was able to apply my work experience and it enabled me to finish my degree in two semesters instead of two more years at the pace I was going.

Why did you choose the BAAS over another degree?

There were two very attractive components. Number one, I could use my work experience. Number two, I could take my classes online. Before I enrolled in the BAAS program, I was a commuter student driving 50 minutes each way. But the BAAS offered online classes, which made it so much easier for me to do.

How did you pay for your education?

My employers were very pro-education and the ability to take college classes is a part of my benefits package. I always tell people to check with their employers. A lot of people don’t know that their employers will pay for college. But even if your employer doesn’t cover it, look at funding opportunities though grants. Talk to your college. Ask them about educational grants. They have a lot of that kind of information.

What advice do you have for others thinking about returning to college?

Number one, don’t back away from it just because you might not know all the ins and outs. It’s a learning process.

Working with an adviser is very important. If I didn’t understand something or if I needed more information, the college was always very helpful.

Have a good support system. I could not have done it without the support of my family.

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Hilda Flores

Hilda Flores

BAAS in Applied Business Technology
2001 graduate from UT Brownsville

“I didn’t have to start from the beginning. I was able to build on what I had to get my BAAS.”

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Why did you decide to return to college for your bachelor’s degree?

Originally, I attended college right after I graduated high school. But like most students, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study. Unfortunately, I didn’t seek the guidance of an adviser. I just did it on my ownand it took me longer because I wasn’t taking the right courses. After I earned my certificate in accounting, I took a break and started working full-time job as a secretary with an insurance adjuster. But it wasn’t long before my full-time job was cut to part time, which greatly affected my salary.. I decided to go back to college for my associate’s degree.

Once I had my associate’s degree, I was working as a secretary, and after a few years I received a promotion. But after that, in my division, a higher paying position was very hard to come by with only an associate’s degree. I couldn’t advance even though I had the experience. I needed that piece of paper that said I had my educational credential. So I realized the only way I was going to advance in my career was by getting my bachelor’s degree. So I enrolled in the BAAS program at UT Brownsville, and now I’m a program coordinator. I couldn’t have obtained that position without my bachelor’s degree.

I am so glad the university offers an opportunity for us to continue with a seamless transition into the bachelor’s degree. I didn’t have to start from the beginning. I was actually able to build on what I already had [the associate’s degree].

How did you balance being a student with your work and family?

I had to juggle. Back then online classes were not available, so I actually had to attend class. I attended night school. I’m a wife, mother of two and a full-time employee. I couldn’t have accomplished my educational goals without the support of my husband and my parents. It is very difficult to be the wife, the mother, the housekeeper, the full-time employee and student. My kids were young when I returned to school, but I knew that I needed to get my education. My ultimate goal was to help my family and getting an education was the only way I would be able to do that.

While I was at school, my mom often babysat my children. But she passed away before I completed my degree, so that was really hard. I was working 40 hours a week, and helping my kids with their homework in the evenings. I spent as much time with them as I could, so two classes a semester was all I could take.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking about returning for a bachelor’s degree?

Definitely see your adviser and declare your major. Find out exactly where you’re at and what courses you need to complete your degree. Not everyone needs to take the same classes. Knowing how long it will take to complete your degree really helps, too. You can decide if you want to go at your own pace (one or two classes) or if you really want to hustle and take three to four classes. Once you know where you’re going, it makes it so much easier to get there. In the end, the sacrifices made are worth the investment in your future.

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Michael Hurley

Michael Hurley

BAAS, Criminal Justice
2008 Midwestern State University

“If I can do it, anybody can. I’m nobody special. I just wanted it.”

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Where you working while you were going to school for your degree?

Yeah, absolutely. I took online classes, and I did it in the evenings and on the weekends when I wasn’t working. To me, it was very convenient, but you have to stay on top of it. Everybody says, “Oh you can work at your own pace,” which is true as long as you’re doing it within a few days of those lesson plans.

So I’d get off work at 4:30 in the afternoon, go home and have dinner, and then I’d start studying. Most of the time, I’d turn off the TV and would read and study the textbook for that week, and I did that every night until the test. My TV watching was very limited, because man, those tests are not easy.

Do you feel like you need to be very computer savvy to succeed in an online class?

No, no, they work with you on that. I’m ignorant when it comes to computers. I’m a real pencil-and-paper guy. So computers aren’t my bag but the teachers really help you too, telling you exactly what you need to do.

Success in this program is more about staying on top of your work because there’s no teacher standing in front of you to egg you on. You have to want it. You’ve got to stay on top of it and do the work and get it done on time.

Did you have an adviser that helped you through the process?

Yes, you’ve got to have that. I had an excellent adviser. She knew my academic record, she knew where I wanted to go, and she knew the timeframe I wanted. She kept encouraging me and making sure that I had all the right information and took all the right classes. But really, it wasn’t just one person—the whole BAAS program at Midwestern was very supportive of all of us. I can’t recommend it enough.

How did earning your degree affect your career?

It opened up a lot of stuff here for me at the police department. I got more money once I got my degree. Also, I teach at San Jacinto College, and I got a better position there because I had a four-year degree instead of a two-year degree. So it paid off.

It’s funny because there’s this attitude that says, “Hey, you’re just a cop, all we need is a high school education.” But the world is so complex. And the reason you go to college is to learn to cope with that. So old men need their education, too.

What advice do you have for others thinking about returning to college?

You’re never too old. I’m 65 and I’m still in school, still going strong . Education is something they can’t take away from you. You can lose your job, you can lose your house, but your education is yours. Once you got it, you got it. If you’re still breathing, you’re in the game. And I tell you what, I struggled through it. I went through a hurricane that did $14,000 in damage to my house. I had surgery to remove a brain tumor and had to learn to walk again. But through all that I still managed to do my school work. If I can do it, almost anybody can. I’m nobody special. I just wanted it.

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Annabel Marquez

Annabel Marquez

BAAS Applied Technology
2011 graduate from University of North Texas

“Now I have nine years of experience under my belt and a college degree that demonstrates what I’m capable of.”

Read her story »

How did you decided to return to college and finish your degree?

I graduated from high school in 2002 in El Paso, Texas. As soon as I graduated, I moved to Dallas to go to school. But the cost of living was so much higher than I expected, and so I stopped going to school because I really needed a full-time job. So I got a job as a customer service rep for an independent insurance agency. But then in 2005, I realized: I really do want my degree. I’ve always wanted it, and I really need to complete it. So I started taking classes at the community college, and then I transferred to the University of North Texas and enrolled as a full-time student.

What made you decide to get the BAAS degree?

Well, it was the most beneficial for my timeframe. When I finished at the community college, UNT’s BAAS program was able to accept all the courses that I had already completed. I considered some other local universities but they wouldn’t accept as many credits, and I had already invested so much time into my education. I didn’t want to spend even more money and even more time than I had to.

The BAAS program allowed me to take almost all of my classes online, and since I was working full-time, that was important. I met with an adviser and he gave me a breakdown of the program. After that, I went online and reviewed the course listings and realized they fit exactly with what I wanted to study. They laid out really well what classes I needed to take and when. So when I saw all of that, I was just like: This is definitely the road that I need to head down.

How did you balance being a full-time employee with being a full-time student?

I’ve been a full-time employee the whole time that I’ve been attending school. I started out in customer service and now I’m a senior account executive. My first semester, I wasn’t sure how it would be, so I took three classes and I did really well. The next semester I got aggressive and took five classes, but that really burned me out. After that I mostly stuck with three classes a semester. I dedicated two to three hours every evening to my homework. I kept a calendar for all my assignments and I crossed them out when they were finished so I had a visual guide to help keep me focused and determined. It was hard, but it was worth all of it.

How did you pay for your education?

I did a lot of sacrificing and saved as much money as I could to pay for college. What I couldn’t pay for myself I paid for with student loans. I have an unsubsidized and a subsidized loan.

What are some of the advantages of being a working student?

I got my work experience in at the same time that I was doing my school work. So it actually gives me a larger playing field because not only do I have nine years of insurance experience under my belt, but now I have a college degree that demonstrates what I’m capable of. So it was a win-win, even though it was a challenge.

What advice do you have for other adults thinking of returning to college?

You have to be self-motivated with a great sense of time management. Stay focused and determined and don’t give up. It’s such a huge reward when you can finally be like: Wow. I finished this!

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More Success Stories From Generation TX

Grad TX is a proud partner of the statewide Generation TX movement to put more Texans on the path to higher education. These local heroes are adults who made the decision to return to college and earn their degrees.

Vince Young

After leaving college early to play football in the NFL, Vince Young has returned to college and is excited to finish his degree in education from the University of Texas.

Watch his story »
Shirley & TryLisha

After her daughter went to Stephen F. Austin State University, Shirley realized it wasn’t too late for her to go to college. Now mom and daughter are changing their future as a team.

Watch her story »
Senator Wendy Davis

A single mom at 19,
Senator Wendy Davis began her education at Tarrant County College and ten years later went on to graduate from Harvard Law School.

Watch her story »