About to start college a little late at age 20...Any advice you want to give me?

First off, let me give you guys a bit of background info as to how things got to this point:

For starters, I’m not a slouch; I’m not one of those guys who breezed through high school and couldn’t have gone to university anyway. On the contrary, I did well enough to graduate within the top handful of students in my class & to get accepted into every school to which I applied. The problem was…well, I live in the US, and college isn’t free here like it is in many other Western countries, so obviously money played a huge factor in my inability to begin uni immediately. There were also some family & personal issues that I had to contend with & that have since been more or less dealt with, though who knows what might arise over the next few years.

So, in my case, it was never a question of “if” I was going to go to college, but “when.” Over the past few years since I left high school, I’ve worked quite a bit in actual JOBS and have certainly matured a lot as an individual; not to mention all the money I’ve saved up & the fact that I’m probably in a much better situation now than I ever could’ve been in three years ago.

Which brings us up to now: I start at my local junior college on Monday. I’m only taking a couple of classes to start with (I have been out of school altogether for quite a while after all), but I imagine that in subsequent semesters my load will be close to full, and I’m lucky in that all of the AP credits I have put me over a semester ahead already.

At 20, I hope to finish up at the JC level within the next 2.5-3 years and to be finished with school ENTIRELY by the time I’m 25.

Any advice you want to give me? What would be the best way to reintroduce myself to the academic environment? How can I best strike the proper balance between work (which I WILL be doing concurrently with my studies) & school? Has anybody else ever been in a similar situation as me?

Basically, any & all advice is welcome.

People who take time off between high school and college, especially to work like you describe, tend to have a better mindset than kids fresh out of high school. Especially here in Canada where the drinking age is 18/19. Socializing with your peers is great, but so long as you have the party bug out of your system (as I did by the time I was 20 or so), I’d say you’re ahead of the game!

First, don’t sweat it - you story is very common, lots of people skip a year or two for financial reasons.

Second, if you’re already used to working then you know how to keep a schedule. That’s a HUGE advantage. Keep a schedule. If 9 to 5 worked for you before, then stick to it. Just because you’re not in class doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do. Keep regular hours and do your assignments, the required reading, go to office hours with questions, whatever. Put in the time like it’s a job and you’re expected to be productive those hours.

The discipline you gained by working a real job is a great asset. Many new college students find the freedom they have actually works against them.

I started college late, it wasn’t a big deal and I enjoyed it a lot despite being about 5+ years older than everyone else. It actually worked out really well for me. Once I turned 24 the government considered me an independent adult, and stopped factoring in my parent’s income for student aid. When that happened I got more grants.

I’ll tell you exactly what I tell my brother, who’s your age and also in college:

Take advantage of what your school has to offer!

I’m not exactly coming at this with vast amounts of post-college experience (I’m 26, graduated 2 years ago after taking a year off to deal with personal issues and then having to take an extra year to take some credits I missed), but the amount of stuff available just to college students makes me tremendously jealous now that I don’t have it. I didn’t take advantage enough when I was in school, though I did do some cool stuff. If I were able to go back in time, I’d do more. Even when I was in grad school last year, I just didn’t have as much time to do the same stuff that the undergrads do, so do it all now.

Also, if you can possibly manage it, study abroad. Really. It’s a tremendous experience that’s a lot harder/more expensive to duplicate after college. If you start planning now, you should be able to work it all out, and colleges often offer scholarships to cover additional costs for you and your financial aid can generally be applied to the study abroad programs.

And as many people will tell you, it’s not too big of a deal that you didn’t go straight from high school to college. My undergrad university had tons of mature students – which you wouldn’t even have qualified as, age-wise – so you would’ve been in good company there. Keep up the good work habits and you’ll be set, much better than a lot of people (myself included). Also, I expect that you won’t be as rusty at academics as you think and will be all set to dive into the crammed schedule in future semesters.

Good luck! You’ll be fine!

It is better to graduate a year or two later than you’d like if it means you can avoid taking out student loans.

Seriously … just don’t do it unless you absolutely have to.

Well, I just finished my first semester 21 years after graduating High School. My motivation for going back was hitting an insurmountable road block in my career. I went from an entry level position and worked my way up to Manager, responsible for a main location in my company. I was personally responsible for 500 employees and a multi-million dollar budget.

When my Director retired, Human Resources rejected my application for the vacant position. No degree automatically renders you ineligible for consideration for any position over Management. I was also told that it was highly unusual for anyone to be considered for anything higher than Supervisor without a degree. Any degree, even one unrelated to the industry I busted my ass to excel in.

I was looking at turning 40 with the prospect of changing industries in the worst economic down turns since the Great Depression or knuckling down and getting the degree. The only problem being maintaining my job required a minimum of 60 and sometimes as much as 90 hours a week.

I was free of debt, aside from my mortgage, but had almost nothing in savings. I bit the bullet and quit. (My company would NOT allow a manager to self-demote.) I will now have student loan debt, but the situation is what it is.

I have just completed my first semester of college and my first classroom experience (aside from corporate training) in 21 years.

I honestly believe the self discipline I have gained from being self sufficient and advancing my career has made me a successful student. (4.0 GPA for the semester.) I see many of my classmates lack of work ethic, and think to myself of how quickly I would have fired them, if they were one of my employees. They do not value the cost of the education they (or their parents) are paying for. In each of the classes I have completed, I saw students drop, withdraw or just fail and shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh well, looks like I’m gonna have to retake this class in the fall.”

My advice to you is to think of the education like any other purchase you would make. You want to get the most value for your dollar. Every time I had homework due or a test coming up, I told myself, “I’ll be damned if I’m paying my hard earned money for a B or a C. I’m paying for an A.” Would you go out and buy a car, run around town with no oil in it and just say, “Oh well, I guess I have to go buy another one,” when the engine seizes up?

Don’t settle for anything but the best. This is an investment of not just your resources, but of precious time. If you don’t understand something, you are paying tuition for an education. Utilize tutoring resources, ask for office time from your professor. They work for you, they don’t pay you a salary, you pay theirs. Expect and insist on the very best from your Schools and professors.

What Jess said. Schools have a lot of ammenities (gyms, rec programs, health programs, counseling, cllubs, etc.) that you ultimately pay for. Use these. Unless you go on to work for Google, you’ll never again have such easy access to these things.

Likewise, studying aroad is the absolute best oportunity you will have to spend a large chunk of time abroad. It will change your life forever. Do it. And go someplace exotic- China or Ghana or Peru as opposed to London or Australia.

Honestly your timeline seems a bit long to me. A smart, organized person shouldn’t have too many problems working a full time job and carrying a full Junior College load. Being a couple years behind your peers is nothing, but much more than that and you will start feeling it. I’d consider hunkering down and powering through it.

Work and internships are just as important as academics. Get a job in your field as soon as possible.

Don’t invest a lot of time in a relationship without an endgame in sight. Relationships can use a lot of your energy. They can, of course, bring a lot of happiness as well. But don’t invest and invest in something that isn’t working or doesn’t seem to be headed anywhere in particular.

Just FYI - at 20 you haven’t been out of school “for quite a while” :stuck_out_tongue: You spent a year or two in the real world. Believe me (and I’m still pretty young) two years seems like forever when you’re 20, but seems like nothing when you’re 30 and beyond.

You should do fine at the academics - having to actually work between HS and now will have given you the discipline you need to succeed. I remember my own college experience and kinda chuckle (and feel ashamed) because at the time I remember thinking that the workload (maybe 4 hours a day, at most) was unreasonable. Of course since then I’ve joined the actual workforce and disabused myself of such lazy attitudes.

Relating with your fellow students - that might take a small bit of work. Most probably enter college, like me, with fairly real-life inexperienced attitudes. Having been in the real world for two years, you will come off as a grizzled veteran :D. On the plus side, you can buy liquor in a year or so. So win-win.

But don’t do what I did, and refuse to take them because you don’t want to go into debt. That’s what started my downward spiral.

I re-entered college as a married 27 year old. I’d spent quite a few years driving trucks and working on oil rigs, etc. and decided to go back and finish my degree.

Being older and with some marketable skills under my belt, it was fairly easy to find a good paying job* with a flexible schedule so I could avoid student loans. I graduated 2 years later on the exact same day my high school held its 10 year reunion.

Continuing my better-late-than-never theme, I received my Master’s degree 1 month before my 50th birthday.

20 isn’t exactly an “older” student. :slight_smile: You’ll fit in just fine.
*my son is returning to college after an absence, and working the same job I did. Apple, near tree, etc.

I started at a major university at age 24. No problems whatsoever. I’d spent the time between high school and then bumming around in dead-end jobs in Texas, trying to decide what the hell to do with myself. Looking back, I find it laughable now that I considered myself an “older student” when there were a fair number of middle-aged classmates returning or even going for the first time. I had one classmate who was in her 60s; she’d given up college 40 years before to marry and raise a family, and she with her personality not only fit right in, but also hosted many a dinner party for her fellow students. A lovely lady.

join clubs or societies. Try out things even if you never thought you would be interested in them. I was dragged to field hockey practice. A game for girls and protestants from private schools! No one could convince me it was worth while.And now I think its one of the coolest sports. Those clubs can be a great way to make friends too. And in colleges and universities there is a club or society for nearly everything and if there is not you may be able to set one up with like minded people.

For your modules having past papers and the solutions attempted by past students help enormously. You can cut through a serious volume of work in a short time if you or any of your friends can get your hands on them. That depends on class camaraderie though. Some people would never share anything.

Don’t be surprised if you’re not even close to the oldest student in the class, or even on the upper end of the curve. There are lots of older - and I mean 30’s, 40’s and 50’s students in our community colleges, not just as outliers, but as the general population of the student body.

I went back to community college at 32, and was about in the smack dab middle of my classmates, age wise. Honestly, I would have considered you one of the “fresh out of high school” kids, and been pleasantly surprised at your maturity and study skills.

Forget about the difference from age 18 to 20 … totally irrelevant! Congrats upon your enrollment and best wishes on your studies.

I was in my mid 20s when I went to community college. It was long ago and far more affordable. Even back then, 18 bucks a credit hour was manageable. School has skyrocketed in price. When I sent my son, I was sticker shocked by the outrageous price on books. Tuition was robbery.
In my classes there were people from all ages. Your age will not be a problem.

I finished my degree in my 40s, and wasn’t the oldest in school. You’ll find lots of “non-traditional” students in an Junior College (you might stick out a little if you were going for your undergrad at a small private liberal arts campus with dorms).

My advice - start each class each semester doing as well as possible. There were MANY classes that I couldn’t get less than a C in when I was walking into the final - and I usually knew exactly how many points I needed on the final to get an A for the class (and often, it wasn’t very many). That makes it so much easier if life happens and suddenly you can’t put forth the time studying. The last thing you want is a final you HAVE to cram for or a paper you HAVE to write completely in two days when your job wants overtime. I always kept a running tally off the syllabus for how many points were needed to get a C, B and A. And as I collected points, I tracked that.

Set aside time each week for studying. Have a space. I had little kids, so I often went to the library and sat in the quiet study area during that time.

You’ll probably find Junior college not terribly challenging for the most part. However, treat it like it is. Give your classes MORE academic rigor than they ask for - that will help you develop good habits (and good grades) for a four year school or grad school. I could have done “fine” by skimping on the homework and reading in front of the TV, expect more from yourself than the school expects.

Very good point. It’s really nice to have a cushion, even if you don’t end up needing it. The way I figure it, I’m going to have to work at some point - either the beginning of the semester or the end of the semester. Why not put the work in at the beginning when the material is easier? Then if Something Happens, I can slack off and still pass.

It also relieves a lot of stress and tension when you realize you can pass the class with an A if you get only a 42% on the final. Test anxiety? What test anxiety? :wink:

Ex-college prof here.

First of all, I generally liked older students. Had a clearer set of goals etc. But you’re not an older student. So don’t think of yourself as all that different.

Note that the classic study methods of students are the exact opposite of good study habits. E.g., cramming the night before an exam.

Learning, for real learning, takes time. Plan it out ahead. Start by reading the text books ahead of the lecture. You won’t understand it all but it will help understand the lecture a lot. It helps build a mental framework around which you can add the details. Ask questions in class. (The smart kids are the ones that ask questions. It’s the dumb ones that just sit there. The prof knows this.) Participate.

Don’t do anything else in class. Note taking is useless. Don’t use any devices. Just pay attention.

To memorize something, take an exponential delay method. Look at it, come back a few minutes later, then 20 minutes later, then an hour or two, then later that day, then the next day, then after a couple days.

This gets all the brain’s memory systems involved and convinces the brain that it’s important enough to keep around.

Nothing sticks in the brain unless you’ve had a night’s sleep.

Keep in mind that something you learn in a “101” class is expected to still be in your brain 3 years later in that “521” class. Cram and flush doesn’t work. Knowledge builds. Expect to retain everything.

You are not learning a list of random facts. You are creating an internal model of a complex system. Things link together. Look for the links.

I find note taking to be useful, but only because it provides a focus, I have something to do during class, and it keeps my mind from wandering. Other people have a physical component to learning, writing helps them remember. I knew a kid when I was an undergrad the first time around who would take notes, then go back to his room and type the notes. He believed that because of the hearing, writing, typing repetition, he usually had memorized anything that needed rote memorization (or simple recall) long before the test. I never thought he was the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but he was a straight A student in a challenging program (mechanical engineering at the University of Iowa) - discipline can sometimes make up for innate talent).