Non-traditional Students, The New Traditional
For so long, attending college directly after high school has been the normal timeline for life events. With the number of shifts our society has undergone in the last few decades, more and more people are waiting to enroll in college. So much so, the “non-traditional” student may be turning into the new traditional.
There are many reasons why it’s difficult to attend college as an adult with a full set of responsibilities, but there are also reasons that make this experience easier and almost more worthwhile. If a person doesn’t enroll in college until they are twenty-five, thirty, or even into their forties or fifties, they have had time to consider what it is they want to do with the rest of their lives. They have probably worked different jobs and discovered what they like to do, or where their energy is best spent. By the time they step into a lecture or sign on to an online course, they know what they want. They want an education. At eighteen, many students are looking for an experience.
Society tells us that after graduating from high school, the next step is to go to college. Sometimes though, this is not everyone’s story. After graduating high school, I planned on going to college. I even enrolled in courses and showed up for the first few classes; however, I was not ready for college. I was facing many internal struggles at the time, and I was not taking care of myself. When it came down to it, school was not a priority for me. As I think back to that time in my life, I realize there are many eighteen year-olds just like myself, who could benefit from addressing their struggles first, before signing up for their first class.
I can’t deny there are many difficulties that come along with attending college as an adult. Most in their late twenties and beyond, carry financial responsibilities like mortgages, rent, and various other bills. They work jobs, whether full or part-time, in order to pay their bills. Many even have children on top of all of the financial responsibilities, which introduces new conflicts like affording childcare. School has to be fit into our adult schedules, versus having school be our entire schedule. I was twenty-six and working full-time by the time I found enough courage to enroll in college. Financial aid paperwork was daunting and student loans terrified me, but at that point in my life, I had hit a dead end. Despite not being sure how I was going to afford school and fit college courses into my full life, I showed up to my first class and just kept going. At twenty-six, I felt there was something missing that I don’t believe I would have recognized at eighteen.
Ultimately the lack of fulfillment outweighs the burden of financial stress. For those who truly are students deep down, they know when the time is right for them. This may not happen right after high school, or even shortly after, but once they’ve had the opportunity to explore jobs and get to know who they are, the answer comes easier. More and more people are waiting to start or complete degrees. So despite what we believe is “normal,” and even though it seems easier to attend college directly out of high school, it is important to know that there are no age limits in the enrollment process.
By the time I started college, I had been working full-time at a place where I made a decent living and had a full set of benefits, and yet I wasn’t happy. This may sound like a bad thing, but it was this experience that allowed me to choose a major based on what it is I love and who I truly am. Attending college reminded me that at one point in life, I was passionate about writing. In the last four years I completed my bachelors in English and started an MFA in creative writing. I’ve gotten to participate in multiple writing opportunities, such as being the president of The Writers Group at UMSL and editing for The Current. For me, starting college in my late twenties has proved to be more beneficial than if college would have worked out for me at eighteen. When people ask if I wish I would have done things differently, I tell them I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if I had completed a degree the first time around. Sometimes when I’m stressing about working and bills and the mortgage, the thought crosses my mind that maybe I should settle for good enough. Then I sit down to work on my novel in progress or a feature for the school paper like this one, and I’m quickly reminded how grateful I am. I turned thirty this year, I’m a full-time grad student, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.