When I returned to school in the fall of 2006, I fully expected to be able to graduate two years later. Things didn't quite turn out that way. It took me four years - two of going to school part time and two of going to school full time - in order to complete my degree. Sometimes it seemed like I would never graduate. There were times when I would think, "What am I doing here? Am I being realistic? Is it worth it?"
One of the major characteristics of being a nontraditional student that clearly sets us apart from our younger counterparts is that life is happening all around us - aging parents, school-aged children, a mortgage, a job, single parenting, etc. School is just one of the many balls we are juggling. Larry the Laptop, Minnie the Mini and I were best friends for a number of years. Wherever I went - high school and college sporting events, weekend visits to see children out of town, spring break in Phoenix, etc. - Larry or Minnie went, too. Folks got used to seeing Larry or Minnie and me together. I was never without Larry or Minnie, my backpack and books and my flash drive.
Sometimes it seems like the journey will never end - late nights spent studying or writing that paper because you spent the early evening helping your children with homework; weekend afternoons trying to balance time with family and time with the books; scheduling parent-teacher conferences between classes. No one ever said being a nontrad would be easy - and it isn't!! However, there is a whole world of support out there for those of us who have had the courage enough to return to school as an "older" person. Google "Nontraditional Students" and one gets over 770,000 entries! Nontrads are important in many ways, especially as colleges try to reverse the trend of low graduation rates. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/guest-post-non-traditional-students-key-to-college-completion-goal)
I remember a former classmate of mine - Bob. He was 52 and returning to school to get his degree in History so he could manage a friend's construction company. Bob died of a heart attack in April of 2008 - one month before he was set to graduate. He was always so encouraging - he made cookies for his younger classmates, carried a total of 19 hours, and was an "expert" in many of his history classes because he was more than twice as old as his classmates and had lived through the era they were studying.
You may find yourself asking the same questions I did - "What am I doing here? Am I being realistic? Is this all worth it?" Yes - as a brand new nontrad, a seasoned veteran and an anxious one-semester-away-from-graduation nontrad - it's worth it. By the time you are finished with your degree, whether it's Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's or PhD, you will have accomplished something great. You will have accomplished a huge goal you set for yourself. So hang in there! Yes, it's a long haul but well worth the journey. Stay tuned . .
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