Dear Kelly,

I’m new to Mercer University and just found your column. What would be your best advice for someone who wants to be successful but has been out of school for quite some time and worries that they might not be able to do this?

Wow, to begin with, welcome to Mercer! You have just made the courageous decision to step outside of your doubts and into a new challenge that has the potential to change your life. That’s not an easy task in itself, is it? With the question you have asked, I would be willing to bet that you probably talked yourself out of applying to school a few times in the past. But here you are. You have chosen to pick up the gauntlet, and the fact that you are seeking advice on how to be successful demonstrates your desire to reach your goal.

As someone who waited 22 years to finally return to school after dropping out twice in my early 20s, I completely understand your concerns. So, the first thing I need you to realize is to be successful, you must change your mindset. Rather than worrying IF you will be successful, I want you to tell yourself you WILL BE successful. Our inner voice can make us, or it can break us. Too often, we allow our inner voice to dictate our abilities rather than push us to reach beyond what we think we are capable of doing. Unfortunately, this often results in us quitting before we’ve truly had the chance to take off.

Therefore, I encourage you to eliminate the negative self-talk that may be encompassing your thoughts right now. Instead, I want you to ask yourself, “Why am I here? What do I hope to accomplish by getting a degree?” Once you have answered that question, I want you to spend some time with the answer. Understand that when I say, “spend some time,” I really mean it. What’s the end goal? How will it feel when you accomplish it? What will it look like when you have that degree in your hand? What will you have proven to yourself, and furthermore, what will you have taught yourself about your capabilities?

You see, anything worth having often comes with challenges and sacrifices. Those challenges and sacrifices help you grow into the person you want to become and maybe into the person you never imagined you could be.

When I finally, at the age of 44, decided to give school another try, I only intended to earn a simple, one-semester certification. I never dreamed that I would have earned an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree five years later. I entered higher education hoping I would be able to maintain a “B” average, yet never made less than an “A,” graduated with a 4.0 GPA, and earned entry into four different honor societies. I began this journey thinking I only wanted to attend online classes because I was worried I would fail in front of people, but through challenging my comfort levels, I ended up graduating top of my class, being the commencement speaker at my graduation and began writing this student success column, which has had thousands of views over the last couple of years.

I tell you all of this to say: You’ve only scratched the surface of what you are capable of. In fact, I would be willing to wager that the person that you can be hasn’t been unlocked yet and is roaring to come out. That’s what makes your decision to apply to Mercer so exhilarating. The professors and advisers you will meet along your journey will be your guides in helping you discover what you are truly capable of. They will challenge you, and I promise that the courses will not be easy. Remember that nothing worth gaining ever comes easy. There is sacrifice and hard work involved. There will be times when you question whether you will be successful, but that’s when you stop, seek guidance, and reflect on that first question I asked you, “Why am I here? What do I hope to accomplish by getting a degree?”

There are two quotes that I also encourage you to learn and say often, especially when you are in those moments of doubt:

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” — Fred DeVito

“If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice.” — Jay Shetty

You’ve got this; you can do this. Just know that you won’t always get things right, and you won’t always have the correct answers. You will stumble, and sometimes, you may fall, but in those moments, your determination to get back up and keep trying will transform you into a new person you never knew existed. You have the power within you; allow yourself to believe that, and know that you have an entire team of people behind you, ready to support you along the way. 

As always, I wish you health, happiness, and continued success throughout your journey.

Kelly Browning, student success coordinator at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.


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