After starting college at a school in Atlanta, Melanie Anderson Swanson transferred to The University of Alabama in 1999 to study Computer Science. But after an internship, she felt she’d prefer a career where she could engage more directly with people, so she changed her major to Consumer Affairs.
“The career opportunities associated with Consumer Affairs fit my personality more. I spoke with someone in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at UA and after seeing how Consumer Affairs merged business concepts with a consumer perspective, I was more confident in changing my major, even though it was going to put me behind,” she explained.
Melanie was paying for college through student loans and working full-time in addition – sometimes with a second, part-time job as well. Though she enjoyed her classes at UA, eventually she focused more on her customer service career than her education and decided to put off earning her degree for a while.
“I was commuting to Birmingham for work, so eventually I just decided it was time to move to Birmingham, and I told myself I’d deal with Tuscaloosa later,” Melanie said.
In 2006, Melanie got married and a few years later, welcomed a daughter and then a son. In 2015, she moved to Olive Branch, Mississippi, to follow her husband’s job. When she began looking for work, she found that her earlier decision had been a double-edged sword. “Even though I had experience, I couldn’t get an interview for anything because I didn’t have that degree. And on top of that, I was paying student loan payments for a degree I had never finished!” These two frustrations led Melanie to decide it was finally time to go back to school.
“With our children being so young and with no family or friends in town yet, I knew attending school in person was out of the question. We couldn’t afford to pick up a day care bill and tuition. And I was committed to finishing school without having to take on additional debt.” One day, a college recruiter suggested Melanie see if UA offered her program online, and they did. After that, Melanie called UA and was connected to a Bama By Distance admissions counselor. “She was super encouraging – like an angel to tell you the truth. And she confirmed that I could finish my bachelor’s in Consumer Affairs 100% online!” Melanie’s husband encouraged her to “go for it,” and she began taking classes that fall.
UA’s distance tuition rate was a crucial factor in their decision-making. “The price couldn’t be beat. I came across ads for other schools and saw what they were charging, and those schools have a lot of hidden fees that UA doesn’t charge to distance students.”
Melanie started with one class at a time because it’s what she could afford, but she wasn’t discouraged by the slower pace. “I realized it was better to be one class closer every semester than to stay on the path I had been on where I wasn’t doing anything at all and time was flying by me.” She added to her course load over time, completing six classes in 2020, even taking on a mini-semester. Currently in her last class, she has been able to reach her goal of completing her degree with no additional student loan debt.
“It’s the same degree with all the privileges of a main campus student,” Melanie said. “I still communicate through discussions with my classmates, and I’m engaged with my professors. And I even had a conference and mock interview with the UA Career Center for one of my classes.” She said the Career Center specialist went line-by-line through her resume with her and showed her how to communicate her degree to future employers. “I feel so confident now that I see how my career and education directly complement each other.”
Other coursework has increased her confidence as well. One class she took, Managing in a High Performance Organization, helped her understand her strengths and weaknesses better – and how to overcome and communicate about those weaknesses. “One of my weaknesses is that I really don’t like conflict, but I realized that I can show employers how I took a class on conflict mediation, which helped to strengthen that skill for me.”
On track to graduate in May 2021, Melanie recently called her mom and dad to tell them it was official. “She broke down crying. As a retired teacher, education has always been important to her, and she’s excited that I’m finally finishing my degree,” she said.
Melanie’s immediate family will attend her graduation, and she is thrilled to have that opportunity. “I love that I get to walk right alongside everyone else, and there’s nothing marking me as an online student, and it won’t be on my degree either. Mine will say the exact same thing as a degree earned on campus.”
Once she completes her bachelor’s, Melanie is considering returning to UA for a master’s online as well. And she’s excited about applying for jobs after she’s earned her degree. “There will be opportunities that I can apply for that I could not apply for before. And when they ask me about my time in college, now I can say I’ve attained that degree – and it was within the convenience of my own personal schedule.”
Published: March 8th, 2021