From Minnesota to Harvard: “It’s been an incredible journey.”

Editor’s Note: This story was written and submitted by Harvard Extension School, a four-year college partner. It was originally published here.

Throughout high school, Michael Dwyer-Clonts wasn’t a particularly motivated student. So when it came time for college, he bypassed the traditional pathway and headed right into the workforce, starting an early career as a web developer.

Dwyer-Clonts was good at his work and even launched an ecommerce business along the way. But he had the nagging feeling that he wasn’t realizing his full potential.

When he was 28, Dwyer-Clonts decided to pick up his first textbook since high school. In the classrooms of the local community college, St. Cloud Technical and Community College in Minnesota, he found himself invigorated, engaged in his courses in a way he hadn’t been as a teen. He earned an associate degree with honors, then decided to push himself on to get a bachelor’s degree.

A Path to Harvard

While researching programs, Dwyer-Clonts discovered Harvard Extension School and its Phi Theta Kappa scholarship, which would cover tuition for the first three courses. He applied for a scholarship but kept his other options open too.

In the months that followed, he was accepted to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; he even attended the new student orientation and picked up his student ID card. But one day he opened his mail to find a scholarship award letter from Harvard Extension School, and he had a decision to make.

“Looking back, without a doubt that letter changed my life,” he said.

Wanting to minimize debt and maximize his academic experience, Dwyer-Clonts did the math and realized that an undergraduate degree from Harvard Extension School would actually be more affordable than his state university. Harvard’s excellent reputation and additional financial aid options helped finalize his decision.

Dwyer-Clonts thrived in his three admission courses.

“I had never been so intellectually challenged,” he said.

After being accepted to the Bachelor of Liberal Arts Program, he enrolled in a summer course, excited by the opportunity to study on campus.

The course, Introduction to Psychology, was nothing short of a transformative experience. He was fascinated by the exploration of mental disorders, particularly addiction, and he was interested in learning how to help those who were struggling. He also enjoyed connecting with the diverse student population in Cambridge and even met his future wife at the Harvard Coop bookstore.

Before the course was over, he decided to move to Boston to finish the program.

“I met incredible students and professors, all of whom welcomed me fully into the Harvard community,” he said.

Exploring Psychological Disorders and Treatments

Dwyer-Clonts had a personal investment in the study of psychology because he and his family have been touched by addiction. He decided to focus his degree in this area to conduct clinical research and prepare for a new career as a drug counselor.

To help him achieve these goals, he applied for and was granted Special Student status, which allowed him to enroll part time in Harvard College courses. He also received a Special Student scholarship. Thrilled to participate more fully in the Harvard community, he postposed his graduation for one year to work in several research laboratories, including those led by John Weisz and Ellen Langer.

“Prior to my time at Harvard, I was solely a consumer of classroom knowledge, sitting in courses and passively absorbing the material,” Dwyer-Clonts said. “Harvard Extension School was the mechanism for transcending classroom knowledge and actively producing my own original works.”

Under the guidance of Elizabeth Fates, he completed an independent reading and research project. His paper about managing problem drinking was published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine and, later, expanded to a book, A Frenzied Mind: Clarifying the Science Behind Addictive Disorders.

The Future

After graduation, Dwyer-Clonts will begin his new career as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor at a treatment center in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He hopes to continue conducting clinical research there. He’s also writing a second book about lifestyle medicine, and he plans to apply to doctoral programs.

Dwyer-Clonts is amazed and humbled by how far he’s come in a few years.

“In 2011, I enrolled in classes at my local community college,” he said. “Now, in 2016, I published a book of my research and will earn my degree from Harvard. It’s been an incredible journey.

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