But what the hell, let’s not just stop there: My name is Julie, and I am a 35 year old college student.
Okay, so I’m back in college earning my masters degree. But it’s been 13 years since I had my own student ID, a student parking pass, and attempted a headstand beer bong. When I graduated from college, I thought I said goodbye to the hours spent in dusty academic libraries, the days spent
bullshitting writing twenty paged papers, the late nights dedicated to cramming for midterms and final exams. For me, my college diploma wasn’t just a piece of paper that recognized my completion of the required courses set forth by the University of California; it was my medal of honor: I came, I saw, I conquered. So, after my name was called, after I grabbed that diploma, after I shook the hand of my department dean and moved my tassel from the left to the right of my mortarboard (Or is it from right to left? Whatever, I got my diploma.), I thought I was forever done with higher learning.
I was wrong.
You know that saying, “It’s like riding bike” – how once you learn to do something you never forget it? Well, that statement is somewhat bullshit. Sure, you never forget how to ride a bike, but that doesn’t mean you don’t stumble and lose your balance a little when you ride again a few decades later. The same goes with going back to school. But, just like riding a bike, you get that balance back and you’re going full speed.
So, as I take a break from studying for my latest midterm, here are just some of the A+’s and F’s of going back to school. Don’t worry: I won’t quiz you at the end.
A+: You’re Never Too Old to Go Back
One of my most vivid memories from my first day of college as an innocent, naive 18 year old was sitting next to a woman old enough to be my grandmother. I’ll admit it: I thought she was the professor – perhaps even a new age professor who decided that standing in front of an entire lecture hall of students was sooo blasé.
Yeah. She wasn’t.
It was pretty much this minus the Kate Spade merch.
But now that I’m older – obviously not octogenarian old – I still think back to that woman and want to thank whoever she was because she serves as a reminder that college doesn’t see an age. They just see people who want to learn.
They also see dollar signs, but that’s a different complaint.
F: You’re That Person Now
You remember that person: the one who always hand their hand up. The one who usually sat in front. The one who always had to have an answer or a comment. The one who always had incessant questions. Pretty much, the one you were screaming at in your head, “Shut the hell up, Sharon! We have one minute left in class and now you want to debate the teacher on his stance on 19th century American poltitics?!”
Chances are that person was older.
And a better chance is that now, you are that person.
I get it now: when I was younger, going to class was another check in a box that I had to mark to get closer to my diploma. I would participate in class discussions, ask questions if I had them, but to be honest, I didn’t always appreciate my time in my classes. But, in my opinion, by being older, I want my time spent in a classroom to be meaningful. If that means asking an extra question, voicing my opinion, or even disagreeing with the professor, I’m going to do it.
But I swear to my fellow classmates that I’ll try not to be Sharon because she was a bitch, and I do need to go home at some point.
A+: School Supplies: Notebook, Pens, Highlighters, Life Experience
Deciding to go back to school at an older age gives you a certain advantage over your younger counterparts. Specifically, you know what it’s like to not live with your parents anymore or have a job that has a yearly salary.
But really 35 year old student Julie is different from 22 year old student Julie.
Having a few extra life experiences allows you to bring more to the classroom than when you were younger. All those years of struggle and successes, experiences that made you grow up, moments that challenged you beyond any classroom assignment – you have that under your belt. And it’s through these moments that influence how you are as a student now and possibly makes you a better learner.
F: Why Do I Need This?
To be naive is sometimes a thing of beauty. If you were like me, you were certain that every single lesson in your major classes were somehow going to help you in the real world. Then the real world called and told you, “Hey, dumbass. How did that Shakespearean English course help you file your tax return?”
As an older student, I’m cursed with the gift of knowledge: I know that certain classes will never make any impact in my future. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure I’ll recall a study that I had to read for a research paper I once had to write. Perhaps during a conversation, I’ll throw out some theory I had to once memorize for a test. But sometimes, what we learn in certain classes gets relegated to short-term memory or some becomes trivia knowledge that we conjure up to show off to others or settle an argument.
But at the end of the day, it never hurts to learn something new. Unless you’re learning something new in Cross-Fit – then it hurts all over.
A+: Adding New Members to Your Village
One of the best aspects of returning to school is meeting new people. I know – I sound like one of those perky student tour guides who brags about how great and welcoming the student body is when all you want to know is what time the on-campus bar closes.
But it’s true: by going back to school, your circle of friends begins to expand.
When you get older, you typically see the same people, do the same things, go to the same places. You get comfortable but you also go into a somewhat social rut. Next thing you know, the characters on Golden Girls have a more active social life than you do.
Going back to school is an opportunity to get out of that rut. You meet new people who have the same goals as you, people you would never have had the opportunity to meet if it hadn’t been for your decision to become a student again. Sure, you may be a little older than some of them, could possibly be their cool, older aunt or even – God, help me – their mother. And sometimes you’re older than the instructor.
But don’t let something like age get in your way.
Going back to school is not just about going to a class, listening to an instructor, and taking a test – it’s also about making connections. And what’s great about those new connections is that they can lead to new possibilities or adventures. That’s what’s beautiful and amazing about becoming a student once again. Getting a new degree? That’s just a sweet bonus.
So, here’s my tip: go to class a little early, sit near other students, and strike up a conversation. You’ll never know where it leads. Just don’t talk to Sharon because she’s a pain in the ass.
Have you ever made the leap back into college? If so, what advice do you have for others? Leave a comment below or send us a tweet!