Returning to school, whether to get your GED or an advanced degree, is a noble pursuit. Not only are you giving yourself advantages in life and work, but you are enhancing your community as well. However, jumping back into the academic world is far from easy. Undoubtedly, school has changed since your last class, and your first day back to school will feel terrifyingly alien. Though you deserve to be proud of your decision to become a non-traditional student, you will probably consider jumping ship before the first bell finishes ringing.
Yet, if you can stave off that impulse, you will have the opportunity to learn and grow in ways you never expected. Here are six lessons I learned from my time as a non-traditional student that I expect will help others succeed in their adventures back at school.
1. Online Classes Are Just as Hard
E-learning is the new craze among universities, as online classes aren’t nearly as costly as those that take place in physical classrooms. Online courses have a number of benefits, especially to non-traditional students who lack the time, energy, and resources of their younger peers. For example, online classes can be accessed anytime, anywhere. However, many returning students overload themselves with online courses, expecting the format to be much easier than classes — only to fail their first semester. Online classes require just as much work and dedication as normal classes, if not more. If you know you aren’t the best at self-motivating, limiting distractions, and working on a computer, perhaps you should stick with traditional courses.
2. Other Students Feel the Same About You
You are different from your fellow students — you can see it, and they can see it, too. More likely than not, you don’t want them to judge you harshly for those differences, so you stay away. However, the younger students around you are equally afraid of your judgements. They know you have more experience outside of the classroom, and to them, that world is terrifyingly imminent. More often than not, they want to know more about extra-curricular life, but they don’t want to seem naïve around such a real-world veteran. The best course of action is to break the tension and offer your friendship, despite the fear of rejection.
3. Smoking Isn’t Cool Anymore
When you went to school, you probably remember envying the older kids who hung around doors with smoldering cigarettes. Today, those kids aren’t so lucky anymore as campuses ban smoking around classrooms. Most college campuses are becoming entirely smoke-free to encourage the health and well-being of students.
If you still have a nicotine habit, you would do better with alternative, smoke-less devices, like clean-burning, rechargeable e-cigarettes, which are much more widely accepted around the country. Following trends, especially any that impact other students, will make you significantly cooler and more accepted at school, which will in turn make you more likely to feel comfortable and stay.
4. Everyone’s Experiences Are Valid
It is true that you have more outside experience than many other students in your class, and that experience may incite you to share during relevant class discussions. Still, you should strive to avoid over-sharing, which could hog the conversation and cause others to form poor opinions of you.
Other students in the class have comments to share, and you must be respectful of their contributions by listening — rather than trampling on their statements with your experience.
5. Asking for Help Isn’t Weakness
You are returning to school for a reason — to gain knowledge and skills that you lack — so you should do everything in your power to ensure you graduate with top marks and are prepared to return to the workforce. If that means getting extra aid outside the classroom, so be it. Many non-traditional students fear asking for help from fellow students and professors because they believe their worldly experience should be sufficient aid in the classroom. However, you are paying for this education, and you deserve every opportunity for teaching and tutoring.
6. The Work-School-Life Balance Is Nearly Impossible
If you thought balancing work and life was tough, you are definitely going to have trouble adding school into the mix. Even traditional students joke that you can only have two: good grades, regular employment, or an active social life. In order to feel fulfilled in all three categories, you must have impeccable timing and an unquenchable spirit — which you might very well have if you have decided to return to school.