Going Back to School: Complexities for Older Students
The Challenges Facing Older Students
Sometimes there comes a point where you have to say, “That’s it. Things can’t go on like this. Something has to change.” For many adults, that point comes when they realize that they will never be financially secure, that they aren’t qualified to do work they can be proud of, or that they have been telling their kids to follow their dreams and yet aren’t doing so themselves. Quite often, when people reach that “that’s it” moment, their next choice is to go to—or go back to—school.
People react differently to their decision to start taking classes. Some are excited, others are irritated, and some just square their shoulders to face the next several years with stoic resignation. But many people don’t realize just how hard it’s going to be—and a semester or so into it – many non-traditional students find themselves in over their heads.
An article published in The Missourian last week highlights a family with both parents, in their mid-30’s, trying to return to school. That’s not an easy choice, but this couple has two kids, and they’re trying to make a better life for those kids. It’s not an easy choice, but it’s an admirable one. Some of the challenges returning students must be aware of are highlighted in the article, in addition to some that I’ve encountered as a teacher of older or non-traditional students.
Returning to School as an Adult
If you’re hoping to go back to school, here are some things you have to take into account.
- Your kids still need you. Going back to school should really be a family decision, and it should be made clear to kids that mommy or daddy are going to need to be left alone sometimes to study, write papers, or do required reading. But kids get sick, they need attention and affection, they require trips to the ER, they have school activities and sporting events that you have to attend. How will you deal with it if your kid needs stitches the night before your midterm? It’s going to happen—that or something like it.
- The bills still have to be paid. I don’t know why the bank doesn’t understand that you shouldn’t have to pay your car payment this year. I mean, you are going back to school to get a good job with a decent income so that you can pay your car payments (on decent cars that actually run) for the rest of your life, right? You’d think the bank would see it as an investment, but they don’t. Going to school means adding yet another financial commitment. Even if you get good financial aid, you still have to buy books and pay for the gas to get to and from campus.
- School is a lot more high tech these days. Even if you’re in your 60’s or 70’s, you will be expected to communicate by email, read and submit assignments on Blackboard, and give Powerpoint presentations in class. Most students take notes on their laptops, netbooks, or i-pads. Your textbooks will come with codes for web pages that you have to navigate. You will simply have to be or become computer literate.
- Your other obligations don’t disappear. Imagine your life like it is right now—with one more 20-hour a week commitment. 20 hours is just a ballpark, but between classes, homework, and study, you’ll be taking on a lot more work. Be honest with yourself—is college really something you can add to your already busy life? There’s no shame in saying, “Maybe not this year,” or “Not until the baby starts kindergarten.” But don’t forget to explore all the options—part time study, online classes, or getting a job on campus can help consolidate some of the real life obligations and streamline all your demanding tasks.
If you don’t work through these potential challenges before you start classes, I guarantee that you will be working through them on the fly, and that’s never the best way to make good decisions. Don’t be discouraged, though; a huge number of college students are returning or non-traditional students, and they make it work. It’s hard and it’s complicated, but most people find that they can meet the challenges, and that it’s worth it.