College – for those fortunate enough to get their undergraduate degrees, it is four years of living away from home, sororities, fraternities, sports, parties, friends, spring breaks and, oh yeah, classes. It is probably the best time of their lives. If you never went, it is hard to imagine college life. If you attended, but never had the opportunity to finish, the experience was incomplete. You may think about getting a college degree, but always find excuses why you can’t. Going back as a non-traditional student, in most cases, means you are no longer expecting your parents to be responsible for your education and you have a job, family or both that put constraints on your time. So, is it even possible?
A number of years ago, it might not have been. Colleges were not as accepting of adult students. Classes were scheduled in the mornings and afternoons making it impossible for someone with a 9-5 job to attend. Not so today. Colleges and universities not only welcome adult students, but most have continuing education counselors that work with you to develop a plan, create class schedules and guide you through financing options. Many of these programs offer independent studies, on-line courses and the ability to create your own course major. A study conducted by the National Student Clearinghouse found that, in 2011, more than a third of college enrollments were adult learners (students ages 25 and older), a trend that continues to grow.
There are a number of reasons for this. For many of us, college is the obvious next step after high school. We may not know at the age of 18 what occupation we want to pursue, but we know it will require a four-year degree. Others may delay going due to family responsibilities, finances, poor grades or just needing a break from academics. Fifty years ago, it might have been enough to have a high school diploma, but in today’s economy with a highly competitive job market, this is no longer the case. Even those who have worked for a company for years find themselves passed over for promotions in favor of newer employees with higher education degrees.
One bright young woman I know grew up in a home where the importance of an education was not stressed. She graduated from high school and began a series of jobs. She was doing well moving up in the information technology field when it all came crashing down. She realized that she needed a degree and this was the time to get it. She signed up for classes at the community college, taking as many courses as possible before enrolling as an adult student at a prestigious university where she was awarded her Bachelor of Arts degree. She now has a wonderful career that has included several promotions and international travel.
In my case, I always knew I would go to college. My educational path took a turn when I married after my sophomore year. A series of moves, my husband’s master’s degree and the start of our family put my college career on the back burner. I was a stay-at-home mom with no real reason to go back. Although I had promised my parents I would finish, it was my own desire to do so that made me take the step. I would not trade my experience for anything. The professors appreciated having the input and viewpoints of the adult learners, which often differed from those of the traditional students. I found a new appreciation for studying hard and making good grades – it is amazing how that happens when you are the one paying. I worked hard to make sure my daughters and our family’s routines remained unchanged. My youngest daughter recently paid me the highest compliment by saying she was never aware that I was in school. It was not always easy, but it was most definitely worth it.
With the support of my family, I not only completed my degree but also attended a term at Oxford University in England and graduated summa cum laude. I am positive this would not have been the case as a traditional student. I had a promise to keep, and I am ever so grateful for making it. No matter what your reason for wanting a degree, believe in yourself and make it happen.