Monday, May 21, 2012

A "Mature" Student

The other day a long time blog reader, Ally, posted the following on my facebook wall:

So i have a question-- and i don't intend to stir up any difficult emotions so let me apologise in advance should i do-- but i know that you're a couple years older than i am and you're back in school... does being several years older than the majority of students ever make you feel inadequate as a student, or even as yourself? It's a huge struggle for me, i've been in college for years and due to a variety of circumstances, i haven't been able to receive my degree-- even the AA with Taylor fell through at the last moment as i prepare to transfer out to finish my BA. Do you relate to this? Maybe you could write a blog post about it? 

I decided that writing a post to answer this question was exactly what I would do, and so, here goes...

I've thought a lot about being back in school at a much older age than you would normally find in an undergraduate program. (For those of you who are wondering just exactly how old I am, I'm 28, nearly 29.)  Graduating with a bachelor's degree on the opposite side of 30 was never on my list of life plans, but it's what's happened.

The short answer to Ally's question is no, I don't really struggle with feeling inadequate because of being older.  That said, there are reasons for that.  First, I graduated once - I know what it feels like.  Second, my current program is designed for students who already hold a degree, so while I'm older than a lot of them (I'd say the average age is 23-25), I'm by no means the oldest.  Third, it's only really in the last year that I've begun to feel really comfortable in my own skin, and I feel like I've carried that comfort level with me into this new stage of studying.

The longer answer is this - while I don't feel inadequate, I do feel very out of place sometimes.  I feel out of place when I listen to a 20 year old complain, and I wonder if I acted entitled.  I feel old when someone assures me that there is something in their life that they will never do (perhaps getting married, or having babies) and I remember being in my very early twenties and saying the same thing (and scoffing at the friends in their late twenties who assured me that that would change).  I feel old when I recognize that the classes are geared towards a generation a few years younger than me, who learned everything by doing, by group work, and very little through the sort of instruction I've been used to.  I feel odd when people talk about 30 like it's the worst possible age, and I realize that it doesn't feel old to me, and I'm actually looking forward to it!  I feel odd when I realize that in ways the other students haven't yet, I've learned some hard life lessons, and the cost of things.  I know the costs - personal, emotional, financial - of being an older student.  They're costs these younger friends of mine maybe won't know.

It's hard to be back in school sometimes.  There are days I wish I'd known my life direction when I was twenty, or eighteen, and I'd gone to nursing school right out of high school.  And there are days when I'm thankful for the decade of experience between my high school graduation and this return for a second go-round at university.  I have an empathy and a certainty of direction that I'm pretty sure is a rarity at twenty.  I have skills and commitment and the ability to make the hard decisions.  Oh, and quite frankly, I'm a far more dedicated student now.  The costs of this are real to me.  I've navigated the professional world, and finances, and I know what it costs for me to be doing this right now.  I pay my bills now.  I didn't do that the first time around (well, I paid my tuition then, too, but not food and rent).

All of that said, though, I'm thankful for the other students - the ones who are younger and the ones who aren't.  I'm thankful that the program I'm in is one where the majority of the student population holds a previous university degree.  I'm thankful for the perspective I have now - the perspective that lets me remember what it was like to be twenty, to be that young and keen student, and to appreciate that in my friends, while still holding solidly and comfortably to the person that I've become.

I hope that answers your question, Ally :)  If you have follow-ups (if any of you reading have follow-ups) leave them in the comments and I'll answer there when I have a minute or two, or expand them to a post if there's quite a few.