I remember my college experience as a traditional-aged student. I would go to class, head to an extracurricular activity, and go to a part-time job a few days a week. My days were long and tiring as I tried to manage a full class load, work, and clubs/organizations. However, my ability to mentally switch from one activity to another was impressive. I can especially remember watching television for a while, switching it off, and then cracking open a textbook to study. Within minutes, my brain would segue to academic mode and the textbook would make since to me. The second language of academia would become my first language and I would soon easily process the philosophies and theories in front of me.
Fast forward many years, a full-time job, and a child later and this picture looked very different. I went back to school to get a certificate and decided to take two classes. Simple right? Well, my plate was fuller than I ever imagined, I extended my family, and it had been years since I had been in school. Plus, I was older. The ability to navigate different worlds became harder, and throwing academic life into the mix surprised me in ways I just hadn’t imagined. It took me longer to process textbook information, philosophies, and theories. Also, if I was interrupted in the middle of finally understanding a chapter in an academic book, the night was OVER! I was trying to function the way I did when I was younger and it wasn’t working.
Most people will not tell you this, but I will – academia is simply another world. It has its’ own culture and language; therefore, one cannot just jump into that space and expect to “get it.” If it’s hard for high school graduates to acclimate to higher ed., then it won’t be any easier if you’ve been away from that world for years. So here are some things to know as you get back into the world of higher education:
Your Learning Style May Change
No one really talks about this, but the way you learned growing up can change over time. I was once an auditory learner and now I’m more of a visual learner. It’s absolutely possible to have been an auditory learner earlier in life, only to become a kinesthetic learner later. Don’t assume that the way you’ve been is the way you’ll continue to be. Learn whether or not you have a new learning style, and try out new strategies to make learning and processing easier. Visiting your campus Academic Support Service can greatly help with this.
Processing May be Slower, So Space out Your Reading
Academic writing and reading is not the same as every day writing and reading. Don’t believe me? Read a magazine and then crack open your religion textbook or a scholarly article. It doesn’t even compare. The sentences are longer, the words are more difficult, and processing it all is similar to learning a new language. Add a busy life and being new to it all, and I’d be worried if you were able to breeze through your readings and assignments in record time. One professor of mine said, “Read your book once to familiarize yourself to the words. Then, read it again to understand the message.” In other words, you’re not supposed to understand the material the first time around. So, space out your readings and assignments over the week(s). If you have class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then start reading on Friday and read a little every day up until your Tuesday class. This gives your brain time to process the information and your comprehension of the material will be a lot better.
It’s Okay to Attend School Part-time
I have repeatedly told people this: a non-traditional student with a full non-academic life who attends school part-time is equivalent to a traditional-aged, residential student going to school full-time. You will mentally hurt yourself if you try to take on a full course load (four to five classes), full-time work, and keep up your same activities. It’ll be even worse if you’re a caregiver of any kind (i.e. children, elderly parents, disabled spouse, etc.). However, some students want to get that degree over with so bad that they still try it. I’m not saying that it can’t be done successfully, I just haven’t seen it yet.
If it means that you are living a healthy life with less stress, then stick with it. The degree will come and there’s always summer school (and winter term at some colleges) to keep you on track to graduation.
Let going back to school be a journey, not a race. Take your time, take advantage of all of the resources offered (you’re paying for them anyway), and enjoy the learning process.
Keep moving forward!