When Marisol Mayberry looks at her college degree she — like many graduates — looks back on her path to education and is proud of what she has accomplished. Although it wasn’t easy, the time, sacrifice and knowledge gained have become an important part of her identity.
“I learned to balance my life,” she said. “I learned to be more proactive in what I wanted out of life, that I can achieve goals in all aspects — spiritual, emotional, educational.”
Unlike most college students, Sister Mayberry’s path to a degree spanned over 12 years and many countries. In 2003, she left her home in Guatemala to pursue her dream of obtaining an education from Brigham Young University and only two years after starting, her husband — whom she met while attending BYU — graduated and a job opportunity took them to California.
“I had left my country and my family behind,” she said. “And that weighed on me. I knew getting married was important, but I knew education was important, too. So I enrolled in community college for one year but it really made me miss [BYU] quite a bit.”
A few years after leaving BYU, she was in Church when she heard an announcement about a program for former BYU students being able to “finish what they started” wherever they were living.
When she heard about the bachelor of general studies program offered through BYU she knew it was something she wanted to do.
“I could do the program wherever,” she said. When she had a baby or when she and her family moved to France for her husband’s work, she was able to continue her studies.
In April 2015, after years of hard work and sacrifice, Sister Mayberry — along with her husband, Kevin, and two children with another on the way — travelled to the BYU campus for graduation.
“It wasn’t just my degree, it was for the whole family,” she said “It was a group effort and I think because of that my kids also felt the accomplishment.”
Like Sister Mayberry, for many, finishing their degree at BYU is something they have always dreamed of doing. Whether to complete a goal, advance their career or further their educational goals it is often time, distance and finances — among other things — that get in the way.
“A lot of our students take classes and graduate mostly because they just want to finish,” said Trav D. Johnson, director of the bachelor of general studies program. “They want to have a degree from BYU and they want to be an example to their children or in some cases their grandchildren. But many others do it to improve their chances to get a job or advance in their job, or to go on to more schooling.”
As an option for people who have been an admitted student on the Provo campus, the BGS degree is designed to help former students complete their degree. The program, which began in 1999, tries to use as much of students’ previously earned credits as possible.
“The bachelor of general studies program is for students who have been at BYU for at least 30 credit hours on campus, and then have left for whatever reason and want to come back or at least finish their degree,” said Brother Johnson. “We have about 900 students in the program and right now we are around 100 that graduate each year.”
The BGS degree is like any other degree at BYU — it requires a student to agree to and live by the university’s honor code with an ecclesiastical endorsement from their Church leader and has specific course requirements.
“The nice thing is everyone can complete the degree by taking independent study classes,” said Rob Hunt, program administrator for the bachelor of general studies program. “Students who live locally have options — they can take classes at the BYU-Salt Lake Center or they can take evening classes [at the Provo campus].”
For some, becoming a fulltime student by attending classes on campus for a semester or two has helped them finish their degree, but for most, returning to the Provo campus is not an option.
“All of our students could go back to main campus if they wanted to, the tough thing is main campus usually wants someone who is going to stick around and be fulltime, and a lot of our students can’t do that,” said Brother Hunt. “The nice thing about our program is how independent study works — which most of our students take. You can enroll in a class and you have up to a year to complete it, and it is all up to your own pace. You can work quickly. You can take a break. It is very flexible.”
Students declare their major as general studies and choose an emphasis in one of six areas: American studies, English, family life, history, management or psychology. Once the requirements are complete, the bachelor of general studies degree is a fully accredited bachelor’s degree from BYU.
“You have to have a minimum of 120 credit hours; you have to have upper division credits,” said Brother Hunt. “You have to have all your university core classes — religion, global and cultural awareness, arts and letters and all those things. The only difference is you are working on an area of emphasis instead of a major. It is set up just like a BYU degree.”
Depending on how many credits a student has to complete his or her degree, finishing could take a few months or up to a few years. Whatever the timeline, completing the degree is a blessing for all who finish.
For Jim Macedone, who started his college career at BYU in 1989, finishing his degree was something he tried to do multiple times. After a few starts and stops over the years, the father of five enrolled in the BGS program and focused his efforts. On Dec. 18, 2015, he finally put on a cap and gown and walked for graduation. His diploma proudly hangs on a wall in his home.
His next step: grad school.
“I wish I would have started a little sooner,” he said. “There are always things that are going to be in the way. You can fit one more thing.”
For more information about the program visit bgs.byu.edu.
The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.