Students that re-matriculate to an undergrad program after years in the real world often think of their story as outside the norm. But according to the Department of Education, only about 35 percent of students graduate in four years, and only 56 percent finish in six.

The long haul is more common these days, and the wisdom gained from those who did make it back — to graduation, and beyond — is more valuable than ever.

“I see a lot of young people who drop out or fail out because they can’t ask for help. Just admitting shortcomings and seeking help is not a part of their success framework,” says Hassan Davis, who failed out of Berea College twice before graduating as the student body president in 1992.

Since then, Davis obtained a law degree from the University of Kentucky and has received fellowships from the PEW and Rockefeller foundations. “I think it’s important to share your dream. As soon as you do that, you’d be surprised who steps up to help you make that happen,” he says.

After 40 years in the workforce, Jerry Spright graduated from Colorado State-Pueblo in 2010. “The consequences of not having a formal education were enormous,” he says.

He is now just four credits from a master’s degree. “The toughest part was convincing myself it was indeed a doable thing.”

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