Woes of a Non-Traditional Student

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Flickr / Groover Library

Kelly Daehler
Staff Writer

I chose to begin college in my forties. Who thought it was a good idea? Oh yeah, me! There are times I kick myself for the additional role I’ve added to my resume besides wife and mother. I had an epiphany when I decided I was tired of working for a paycheck at jobs I dreaded. I was going to prove to myself and my kids that age is just a number. There is no such thing as too old to enroll in college. Happiness is necessary, and what can make you more peaceful than a job you look forward to performing every day?

It took me thirty-some years to talk myself into gaining the tenacity to tackle the foreign world of navigating an entire college campus. All the confidence I had built over the years of living in the real world could not prepare me for how inadequate I feel every first day of a new semester.

The number of jobs I’ve had are equivalent to the ages of most my fellow classmates. Since I’ve experienced such an array of different fields of experience I now know what my passion is. I will not graduate with a degree that eventually becomes useless to me. Too often young adults are forced into college. Between being on their parents’ dime and coerced attendance, some of  those students may not possess the motivation to succeed.

I have other degrees. I’ve been a nurse for nearly ten years. When I decided to become a nurse, I chose a profession that I knew I could make a living at, as jobs are abundant and the need for nurses grows every year. It does not necessarily mean that’s what I have always wanted to be my entire life.

Although I feel incredibly accomplished as each semester ends and I’m nearer to my life’s dream, there are many responsibilities that coexist with my dedication to completing my education. I can’t exactly live on campus – I don’t believe my husband and children would be comfortable with me cohabitating in a dorm.

Being a non-traditional student is like being in the service – I do more before 8 a.m. than most traditional students do in their entire day. An average day begins and ends around 5:30 a.m.. It is an endless cycle of hoping I’ve completed the necessary assignments in time. Every morning includes a meltdown from either me or a child who refuses to get out of bed. It seems the faster I try to move, the longer it takes me to get out the door.

After classes, I begin a perilous race home, trying to keep my anxiety low-key while shopping, making dinner and tucking kids in bed. I should feel relief that I have two older children who have graduated from high school. We face the epidemic issue that they lack that whole “adulting” ability, so I remain the caretaker of two “adult” boys as well. More meltdowns and screaming ensues because one of seven animals defecated on the floor, tore up the garbage or somebody invaded someone else’s privacy. When sweet peace fills the house, I sit down and begin a long night of homework again.

I am not complaining. So far my experience has been great, and no one has made fun of my gray hair yet. To you young’uns, or millennials – when you see an older student, don’t be afraid to engage in conversation. It is quite possible they have incredible stories to tell. After all, we did live through the ‘80s. I promise you we knew how to have a lot of fun back in the day when MTV was nothing but music videos.

To my fellow non-traditionals, I’m proud of you. I know how much courage it took to get here. We’re at the prime of our lives, and even though our responsibilities are multiplied by ten, we are proof that it is never too late to really begin our lives. Don’t let this experience overwhelm you because there are many of us fighting the same issues in the classroom next to you.

I have plenty of knowledge from the years I’ve lived. It is to my advantage that I know how the world works. My only complaints are that I’ve never been asked to sit with other students at lunch and I’m still open for invitations for this weekend’s most awesome party.



Categories: Columns, Opinions

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1 reply

  1. I’m working on my second Master’s degree as an “adult,” this time in Pharmaceutical Regulation. My first was in teaching. It’s hard but I am positive the gains will be worth it…good luck, my friend!!

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