I’ve talked about why I waited, how it was more difficult to find funding than I had anticipated, and my experiences at the three schools I’ve attended. For my final post in the series, I am going to list the pros and cons in my experience as a non-traditional student.
Let’s be optimistic and start with the pros:
- I am much more mature and am getting better grades than I would have. This isn’t necessarily relevant to everyone, but like I mentioned in Part I, I was really burnt out after high school and I know that I would have gotten really bad grades. I’ve managed to get mostly A’s so far because I’m really serious about school and I like being there.
- I’m over my party phase and able to focus on school. This goes along with the first one. I can’t imagine my heavy-drinking years overlapping with my college years. I know that’s how most people do it, but I’m really glad that I was just working crappy jobs with my hangovers, not taking tests with them.
- I know what I want to do, so I have a direction. Again, this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone because some people know what they want to do while they’re in high school, and others don’t mind figuring it out while getting their gen eds out of the way, but it took me a few years to settle on Spanish as a major. I know that if I hadn’t taken time off, I would not be heading in this direction because it was a friend in New York who sparked my interest in picking my high school Spanish back up. I’m so excited about studying Spanish and working towards a career in translation that I can’t imagine doing anything else.
- I made the choice to go and had to fight a bit for it, so I really appreciate the opportunity and try not to take it for granted. I really thought that as soon as I was ready to start school, I just could. I didn’t understand how financial aid worked, so when I realized that it wasn’t quite that easy, I was really crushed. Once I could finally start school, I was so unbelievably excited, and when I start to feel burnt out, I try to remember how much I wanted this!
- The time off from school was nice, and after working full time in retail/food service for 5 years, the break from that is nice. I’ve worked full time at a fabric store, a Ben & Jerry’s, two bookstores, and a coffee shop since graduating high school, and I must say that spending most of my time doing something mentally stimulating is much preferred. Right now I work part time at a bagel shop, and it is so boring. I’m very thankful that I don’t have to be there 40 hours a week.
Now let’s be realisitc and look at the cons:
- I missed the experience of moving into a dorm and making strong connections with friends (but I moved to NY and made strong connections with friends, so I’m not sure I really lost out on anything). I think one really big advantage to going to college and living away from home when you’re 18 is the independence away from your parents and away from the social roles you had been in since kindergarten. I actually had that because I moved my butt to New York, but it’s something to consider if you/your child are considering waiting to start school.
- It is hard to make friends if you don’t live on campus/already have a life going on outside school. I’ve never made any close friends in any of my classes. There are always people that I connect with in class and talk to there, but it’s never turned into a full-fledged friendship outside of school. When I lived in Saratoga, it was mostly because I already had a group of friends, so I didn’t feel the need to go out of my way to connect with people. At New Paltz, it’s mainly because I’m older than everyone (I’ll get to that later), but I’ve heard from other younger students who don’t live on campus that it’s hard to connect with people unless you live in a dorm.
- I have to worry about paying rent. I am extremely lucky that early in my education, Dan and I combined finances and he wanted to support me as much as possible while I go to school so I’ve only had to work part time for most of my school experience, but the responsibility of bills can be really stressful. When we first got to New Paltz, I couldn’t find a job and Dan wasn’t getting any sub jobs, so life was really stressful, and that made it hard to focus on school. Thankfully we’re both bringing in paychecks now so we’re not going to be homeless or starve to death. If I lived at home or in a dorm, I wouldn’t have to think about it, and any money I earned from a part time job would be for fun!
- I have a lower tolerance for bullshit busy work/professors on a power trip (slash I have a bad attitude?). I think that when you’ve been in school for most of your life, you are used to just doing what a teacher says. Now that I’m older, I expect that my professors are respectful and I really resent work that just seems like utter bullshit. This has been a problem for the past year because of all the general education classes I have to take that have absolutely nothing to do with my major, but just fill a slot on my progress report. Like last semester, History of Rock Music? Really? Plus I’ve had tension with professors when they aren’t respectful, including getting into a heated argument with one professor when he sent me an extremely rude email and then told me I was “overreacting” when I told him I thought it was inappropriate.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that sticking up for yourself is a negative thing. I just think it was easier in high school when I expected bullshit work and for teachers to be jerks. Now that I have higher expectations, it’s harder to just shut up and write a paper about something that is utterly useless.
- I’m the oldest in most of my classes. This is only true recently. At ESC and SUNY Adirondack, there were a variety of ages, so I always just blended into the crowd. This semester I am the oldest person in three of my four classes. It isn’t a huge deal because most of my classmates don’t realize I’m 26, but it makes it impossible for me to find friends in my classes. I am just not in the same place as an 18-22 year old.
- It puts me “behind schedule.” I’m not going to lie–sometimes I feel anxious about how much school I have left and how old I’ll be when I graduate. I think I’ll be 28 when I graduate, which isn’t really old at all, but I do think about how school and baby-making will coincide. Most likely at this point, it won’t matter because it will happen after I graduate (we’re waiting to be more financially stable, when one of us is settled into a full time job), but this bothered me more when I was just starting school and thought we might be having babies sooner than we’re going to.
I think that sums it up. I know I have one more con than pro, but overall I am really happy that I waited because that was right for me. I would suggest that if you have a high school aged child who is considering waiting, you don’t flip out and tell them that they will NEVER MAKE IT IN LIFE (or if you are a high school student who wants to wait, don’t listen to those jerks!), because that’s just silly and not true. You can be totally happy and successful even if you don’t follow the path that is expected of you in our society.