I wrote the following for my school newspaper and am happy to say that they published it (back in August):
Nontraditional students are individuals who have taken a break from school and returned. Many are commuters, married, parents or all of the above, as is my circumstance. According to the Federal Student Aid website, 40% of American college students are 25 years of age or older. Still for those of us in this category, it feels that the university system is tailor made for 18 to 21 year olds attending college for the experience. As if we don’t have enough cards stacked against us, it can be daunting to step onto any college campus where immaturity is inevitable. To those of you who do fall into the younger sect, spare me the defense of how you have experienced life as a world traveler/philanthropist/child of an addict/recovered addict yourself/wise beyond your years because the nontraditionals have been there, too…and still have a few years on you. Yes, we can be friends and learn from one another. The old adage goes “never judge a man until you’ve walked in his moccasins”, but let’s not deny that there is a gap between us.
To my fellow nontraditionals, take comfort in the numbers. Though we may be less intrusive, we’re here, too. We are painstakingly working on degrees we once thought eluded us. In my first semester back, I took full advantage of our free Counseling and Psychological Services here on campus (CAPS). This is a big transition and you’re aware that many of your same-aged peers did not choose the challenging path of going back to school, like you did. I also utilize the student health services when necessary for exams and prescriptions at a drastic discount. Both are located in Howard Hall. You possibly have a mortgage and kids, why not claim the freebies extended to you as a student?
After spending any amount of time in the working world, where responsibility, self control and professionalism were expected of you, you may be surprised by the sights, sounds and sometimes smells on campus. I have pet peeves I never expected to encounter and my best advice is to find the comedy in them. Some things to be prepared for are the rampant texting during class, as it is apparently less important to listen to what the live beings in front of you have to say than what the plastic device is communicating. Don’t be shocked when students come and go from classrooms mid lecture, as they don’t respect the massive amount of time and money the professors invested into their own educations to merely stand before the class. Get used to seeing workout clothes and beach attire. Prepare yourself for the gross overusage use of filler words such as like and the ever-present discussion of getting wasted. I personally was baffled by the smoking areas simply because there don’t seem to be stations for other vices. Several universities have bars on campus, whereas ours does not. I call for equality of all vices, but I digress. Obviously, all of the above are fine in moderation, but you’ll soon learn this is regular behavior, even in the upper level courses.
Other than my drive to finish what I have started, the one aspect of FGCU that keeps me coming back is the faculty. I have attended five different schools since graduating from high school nearly 10 years ago. Only here do I feel that the professors are interested in my success and are also well educated in their respective fields. I encourage you to meet with them outside of class with any uncertainties, to have them review your papers or to simply pick their brains. They will be your best advocate on this journey. Being a commuter student, I have yet to find one staff member on campus who was unwilling to have a meeting with me over the phone additionally.
On a final note, nontraditional students, stay focused and motivated, find like-minded students and professors to encourage you, and be optimistic. Reach out when you’re struggling. Know that the sacrifices will all be worth it and if you have children, you are setting an awesome example for them. Congratulations on your new venture! You may be in the minority, but you are not alone.