"Non-Traditional" Students: A moment of your time.

Well I’m back off to school again this fall after a two year break. I got my A.A. when I was 23; now I am 25. I realize that I’m not really all that much older than most of my classmates, but I am a bit different in that I’m married, make my own rent and car payment (and educational expenses) and all that jazz. I never fit in particularly well with peers before; now that I’m a little more “academically mature” (as my 34 y.o. husband nicely put it) I feel that gap a little more than I would normally.

I’m going to be at UCLA, which is very much a transfer-friendly school. I’m lucky in that there are only about 40 people in my major, as compared to the 30k undergrads in total. I still can’t help but feel a little out of tune with campus life. All day yesterday all I could think was “Geez, I’m old. When did I get old?” I’m 25 FFS!

So, Non-traditional Dopers, what are your thoughts or experiences? Any advice or anecdotes to share? Your contributions are appreciated.

I took a whole bunch of time off between BA and MEd, and then went back for more graduate coursework 3 years later.

My first Masters degree was earned in a non-traditional program, so adult learning was the norm, and classes were held in the evenings because most students worked full time.

The second time around, I was 33 years old and in classes with people who were getting their first Masters, many of them right out of college. I was a dinosaur in some respects —like the time my Lifespan Development professor asked if anyone was approaching 30. There were blank looks all around until I said, “For God’s sake, I’m 33!” Heads whipped around as students craned their necks to gawk at me, marvelling that I could get around without a cane. In other respects, though, I felt that I had a leg up. This was a psychology program, and I already had several years of work in the field under my belt. I had actually done the things we talked about in class. I had seen the clients who were described in the textbooks that other students weren’t really sure existed. More importantly, I had done the life/school/work balance thing, and that experience was invaluable. I had classmates bitching because they had to see 6 clients in one day at their internships, and I knew that this was nothing compared to the caseload many new clinicians are expected to carry. I had done it, and was still doing it, and could speak to that.

You’ll be respected for your experiences if you present them in a respectful was as well. I think other students who perhaps have had less responsibility to shoulder thus far, will appreciate what you have to offer. School for me is 25% learning from the professors and 75% learning from my peers anyhow.

Good luck, young lady!

[QUOTE=So, Non-traditional Dopers, what are your thoughts or experiences? Any advice or anecdotes to share? Your contributions are appreciated.[/QUOTE]

I went back to school at age 28 (community college in California), transferred to UCSD, completed my B.A. and headed to graduate school at age 32. I received my Ph.D. at age 37 and am now a professor.

You might be reassured to know that more than 40% of students can be sorted under the “non-traditional” label due to age, socio-economics, ethnicity, etc. In other words, “non-trad” is quickly becoming traditional.

Going back to school was the VERY BEST thing I have ever done. I bounced from dismal job to dismal job from age 16 to 28 and prior to going to college despaired of ever having the intellectual life I yearned for. It has been terribly expensive and I have a massive amount of student loans, but there was no other way for me to achieve a higher education. (Especially trying to achieve a UC education in SoCal. As I’m sure you know, it’s a tad bit expensive to live there)

Congrats! Go buy a book backpack, pencil box, and brand-new notebooks.

I think I was about 24 when I went back - I had quit before getting my bachelor’s degree. I found it much easier to pursue my studies with the added maturity. One funny part about it was when I had my children: I knew where every bathroom on campus was, when I was pregnant. You should have seen the coeds shrink back to the walls when I encountered them in the bathroom. Like it was catching or something. Heh.

Anyway, I got my bachelors at age 27 then a master’s at age 29. It literally kept me out of poverty after my husband and I divorced. I’ll second what Jennshark says about the intellectual bit. It helped me harness my thoughts and turn them into productivity.

My mom went back and got a master’s degree when she was fifty something. It’s kind of a given in our family that if you get burned out of one career, go back to school and learn something else.

I have a sister who just graduated from NYU law school and is presently studying for the bar exam. She will turn 50 at the end of this month. :cool:

Just a couple of thoughts from a green young prof: You are very well prepared for college and you will do well and you have the discipline that many of your peers will lack. I have a lot of non-trad students and most of them get along very well and get along with the younger students just fine, but once in a while there’s an older student who grates people slightly for various reasons. You will be one of the people in the classroom with the most experience in the world and you will know quite a bit more just by having been around the block. Feel free to share, but not exceedingly frequently. The younger students don’t have the same self-assuredness and tend to hide and not want to speak up anyway, so be careful about accidentally monopolizing the discourse. Also, TAs, especially, may be afraid of you if you’re older than them (your age makes them feel insecure about their own tenuous position of power-- some of them might only be 22 or 23) so make sure they know that you understand the relationship.
Also, I have one student in a small seminar that when we discuss things in class brings her college-aged kids up constantly, or talks about bringing them up, basically constantly comparing every other student in the class to the children she’s raised–making it clear that the other students are comparable to her kids, rather than herself as a fellow student. Student A: “I’ve been working with the internet doing this thing. . .” Student B: “Yeah, when my son was still it he house he used to do that, too.” This freaks the younger students out or just irks them. You’re only 25, though, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Too bad you’re not single: You could totally get some play by working that.

My only regret is not being as focused the first time I went. I could of saved so much money and headache if I was more mature.

This sounds like my experience.

I went to Notre Dame for a semester, hate hate hated it, dropped out, got a job for a couple of years, then went back to ND.

So, I wasn’t old, but I lived off-campus at a school where virtually no one lives off-campus. I dropped out of a school where virtually no one drops out. I was “non-traditional” at a school where virtually no one is non-traditional. It was jarring.

At a more sophisticated school, I wouldn’t have been so odd.

But after I went back? It was a cakewalk. It was so easy. I treated it like a job. I went to class no matter what. I felt isolated, but I excelled.

If I had it to do over, I would have gone to a different school and had a different major (I did a double in English and History, which is useless).

I’m about to start an exclusively online master’s program at Cal State Fullerton. I’m grateful for the convenience of going online, but I’m a little worried that that very feature might make it hard to stay focused.

And I’m 48. So I think I win the non-traditional student race, hands down.

Sorry I have no advice for the OP, but I’ll check back in six months.

I’m starting law school in 3 weeks. I’m 31. So, I lose to Spectre in the old-as-mold department, but nevertheless I’m fairly non-traditional.

I went to a very academically intense high school and university. Continuing with my education directly after that was simply not an option due to extreme burnout. But now, I’m actually really excited to go back to school. I bought new pens and everything. :slight_smile:

Got my masters a couple of years back. I was in my early 30’s.

There was no gap between me and the other students that I noticed, but then again, I’m twice lucky. I went to school at night and on weekends, where you’ll find quite a few non-traditional students, and I’m in Boston, which has a huge number of colleges and non-traditional students, and every professor I had knew how to deal with them very well.

So my experience was pretty good.

Well, you’d win the Online Division, but I think I’d win the In-Class Division. I was 45 when I started law school. Not only was I attending classes, but I was also living on campus.

And it was nice to find that as far as my classmates were concerned, I was just another one of them. I wasn’t left out of any study groups or activities–nobody minded being paired with me for group projects. Nor was I left out of any social activities, although I really wish the jukebox at the local student pub had a little less rap and hip-hop and a little more classic rock.

Of course, being older in law school did have its advantages. I had the benefit of remembering certain big court cases and constitutional events that had taken place during my lifetime, but did not take place during my classmates’ lifetimes. So I was a little ahead that way.

So while my age may make me a non-traditional student, my recent experience of school is that I’m having a pretty traditional time. Really, it would seem to me that your experience is what you make of it.

Wow, thanks everyone for your replies :slight_smile: My husband is 34 and in his second year of law school, so it’s not as if I don’t have anyone to go to, but extra perspective is nice. He tends to be all business and didn’t interact much with his peers when he was undergrad. That changed quite a bit at LS, though!

capybara especial thanks for your perspective from the other side of the lecture hall. I appreciate it greatly!

Hey Spectre and spoons I guess y’all missed this:


I went back to university in my 30s, and am now a 36 year old senior.

I was a middle B/C student when I first went, and was more concerned with being social, instead of studies.

I’ve been getting straight A’s as the “old man” in class, it’s fun showing the younguns that the old folks still have brain cells that are good for something :slight_smile:

I really think that the only way that people will be able to tell you apart from your classmates is by your behavior. You’re only 25!

But here is the behavior that you will display (I’m sure you know it already):
[ul]get your reading done before the class in which it which it will be discussed[/ul]
[ul]write a draft of the paper and then edit it it before you turn it in[/ul]
[ul]actually go to office hours of the TA/Professor and ask questions as the semester goes along (this alone will make you a favorite)[/ul]
[ul]make sure you understand the material as you go along, not just the night before the test

In other words, act like you want to be therre, and be responsible about it. You will shine like a star!

I went back to school when I was 25. I had already had some classes and I graduated when I was 28.

It was somewhat jarring when I was first called “sir” by a student. I wasn’t *that *old.

I got mostly good grades, but concentrated more on the learning than on the grades.

Good luck!

I’ve never pursued something like a degree online, but I am doing a course for a career switch since February and it would be very easy to turn into a giant slacker. My course moves at my own pace, but I’m assuming yours will be more schedule-driven.

After becoming a lawyer and practicing for a few years, I decided I need a Ph.D. in psychology to do the career I really want. So I went back last year to take a semester of undergraduate psych classes before applying for doctoral programs.

The big benefit of having already had a “real job” was that school seemed incredibly easy by comparison. I often was given only a few hours to write a 5-10 page legal memoranda, so being given a few weeks to write a 5-10 page research paper was laughable to me. I was able to spend very little effort on the four classes I took, and I got the top grades in all of them. My professors also generally liked me very much, because my “minimal effort” usually placed me amongst the more ambitious students in the class. I felt like I had things to contribute to class discussion because of my real-world experiences.

However, the downside of this was that I was relatively lonely during my time back in school. I had absolutely nothing in common with the undergraduates (between age 20-22) in my classes.

This is not to slam the undergraduates. I was just like them when I was an undergrad myself. I thought carrying 15-18 hours was a lot harder then, and I did not participate in class discussion much. But, there is a lot of learning that happens in the five years after a person graduates from college. If you want to make friends, bite back the comments you will be tempted to make when you hear your classmates complaining about how hard they have it.

Also, when I was an undergraduate, we made jokes about non-traditional students. My friends and I hated how they tended to “monopolize” the class discussion to “talk about themselves.” When I caught myself speaking of my real-world experience in classes upon my return, it was all I could do not to laugh. I was sure that I probably sounded self-centered and boring to a majority of the students. So I tried to make sure that when I did speak, it seemed very relevant, and that it was a point no one else had made. I do think this is a point to watch yourself on, particularly if you want to fit in with classmates.

I went to a large state university with ~20k undergrads (University of Iowa), so my experience is roughly analogous. Best of luck!

I’ll second (or third) what a pleasure older students are in the college classroom! They help move the conversation, they are prepared, tend to be generous in aiding younger students who are struggling, and they often don’t have the same sense of misguided entitlement as those 4.50 GPA students fresh out of high school have. I’m always delighted when I walk into my classroom the first day and see a varied population. I also wanted to add that I have undergrad students who started school this year who are 55+.

I’m an older (42) student in my junior year. I get good grades because I study my ass off, not because I’m terribly smart. It’s hard balancing classes and life sometimes, and I will admit there are times I question it all (especially now, as I am in the middle of a 5 credit chemistry course, which is a subject I struggle with. Way to ruin my summer). But I have always wanted to get a degree, so I keep at it.

I echo about what others have said about fitting in. I never feel like I’m different because I’m old enough to be my classmates’ mother. I study and do group work with the young uns all the time.

My original goal was to get my batchelor’s degree and be done with it, however I am enjoying school so much I am almost sure I’m going to aim for a master’s.

So that’s my story. At 25 you’ll blend in just fine.