If you are closer in age to your professors than your peers than this might be the post for you.
I haven’t finished college yet. I have a job which pays me well and is on target with where I’d be if I had gone to college. I am not worried about my job security. There is no financial gain from me completing college at this point. So, why am I here? Why are most of the older students here?
Because, for once, it’s about us.
Yes, there are bonuses to getting a degree. I can move further in my career. If the worst happens and I lose my job I’ll have a degree to fall back on. Caps and gowns are super sexy. But that isn’t why most of the older students I’ve met are in college again. It’s because we’ve lived for someone else for so long and now it’s time to do something for ourselves.
Some of us put off college to support people we love with their educational goals. Some of us had to work crappy jobs to bring a paycheck home and feed the family. Some of us stayed home and raised a family. The reasons why we stayed home don’t matter. The point is that we all chose to pursue a life for someone else and now is our turn to change that.
And, to be honest, it’s fucking hard. I’m not saying college is easy for anyone, but it’s especially hard for older adults. College is a social world all on its own. In order to perform well you need to interact with your peers. This is increasingly hard when you do not understand their culture. Sure I’m only 5, 10, okay 13 years than the little baby freshman, but 13 years in terms of culture might as well be 50. I’ve learned that I don’t understand the clothing they wear, the music they listen to and I sure as hell do not understand their language. We also have different attitudes about life and school. For a lot of students this is their full time job. Maybe they have a part time job and, yes, there are some with full time jobs, but college is their priority. My job is mine. It has to be.
So how do you connect with people you could have babysat for in high school? It’s hard. If you’re lucky you’ll find a few who don’t see age, but more often than not people look at you and wonder why you’re there. Then you strike up a conversation and it makes you feel old as hell. So, in order to succeed socially in college, adult students have to try so very, very hard.
Then we have jobs. Most of us work either full or part time and our jobs aren’t always easy. Some of us have careers with strict schedules. I have a boss who allows me to run out for a meeting or an event and I am DAMN lucky. Not everyone has that option. So we take night classes. And, let me tell you, night classes are hard. You have to try and focus on something the professor is explaining even when you’ve been working all damn day. And since you’re old, odds are you’re exhausted by 7 o’clock and just wanna go to bed.
So on top of the jobs and the social life there is one more major hurdle in being an adult student. Your life. Your life doesn’t just consist of hanging out with friends. No, it is doctor’s appointments (because you’re old and falling apart) and community event meetings (because you’re old enough to give a shit now) and family (because aren’t they a time suck) and friends who really need you (because I promise crises in your 30s trump your 20s) and taking care of your home (because mom isn’t doing your laundry any longer.)
And before any of your whippersnappers starts harping about how much you have on your plate, please remember that I worked full time and was married when I was 22, so please blow it out your rear. That was nothing compared to having a career and a home and a family and boyfriend and friends. Nothing.
There is a lot stacked against the older students. And, yet, what I’ve found is that we are the ones who try harder. We work harder. We want more. And it’s because this is the first thing we’ve done for ourselves in a long time. This means something to us. We are reclaiming a part of ourselves we thought we lost years ago. I know that when I finally graduate it’ll be because I earned it. I pushed myself more than most and I learned it.
I might need a walker to get across the stage, but I’ll have earned it.