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Back to College at 47???
Who Was I Kidding?
I'm 47 and returning to college for my second bachelor's degree. Where in the world did this idea come from? Let's just call it a mid-life crisis (I worked at a high-stress job for the last 10 years), but the idea actually hit me when I was writing the article: Live on a Dime Rather than a Dollar.
Overcoming Non-Traditional Student Fears
So, as circumstance would have it, I earned my first degree in Technical Writing at age 37, so I was familiar with being labeled a "non-traditional student" and had gone and overcome all the fears that title included: Will kids make fun of me? etc. (Answer there is no - I was not alone. In fact, I think I was treated quite respectfully, maybe they thought I was a professor!)
Having put myself through college, and now having my daughter in college, I am quite familiar with the many, many hoops a prospective student must jump through (or, through which a student must jump). Also, I got this crazy idea late in the year (July) with classes starting in August. I knew, from experience, that my FAFSA report was due to the government by January (6 months ago). I knew my college application was due by February (5 months ago), and I hadn't even gotten started figuring out what all I had to do to obtain a second degree or how much it would cost or where to get the money, or if the idea was at all possible at this point. So the list began:
- Which college?
- What degrees do they offer?
- What degree do I want to pursue?
- How many credits do I want to take per semester?
- What are the requirements to pursue this degree?
- How much will this cost? Can I afford it?
- Is it too late to get financial aid?
- What kind of financial aid is available to me?
- How do I apply for financial aid?
- How do I apply to the college?
- How do I apply to the specific program?
- What are all the different deadlines?
- When do classes start?
- Are there any classes left open for enrollment?
- What classes do I have to take?
- How do I find an advisor?
- Do I even qualify?
- What will my friends, relatives, and daughter think?
- Am I becoming senile?
If you haven't been to college yet, you might not even know what all to ask, but now you do, so use this as a checklist, and get cracking with the questions. I would start with your chosen college's Admissions Department and FAFSA.gov; that way you will know if you can even get in and if you can receive any financial aid. Then, go from there.
The University Website and the FAFSA Website
For me, the college website was my first and best source of information. Ignore the pictures of 18-21-year-olds in school colors cheering at a football game. Your goals may not include athletics, but who am I to assume that? Maybe you'll become the school mascot. (Go Broncos!)
I started by looking up the degrees the school offered and decided on one (check!). I read standards for admission (thankfully, I met those: check!), I found a great tutorial on how to start the process, I applied for admission online (check!), and I found a calendar of deadlines (check!). I also found phone numbers to Admissions, the Registrar's Office, Financial Aid, and the Department Head (for my chosen program).
Next, just because I've been through this before, and it was a deciding factor for me in whether or not to pursue this degree, I went to FAFSA.gov. I was currently unemployed, so funding was a definite factor. I knew I was way behind schedule, so I completed the application online right away. I must say, they've greatly improved the ease and clarity of this online process, and I was given an instant estimate of the amount of financial aid and type I qualified for (check!). FAFSA (a government program) automatically forwards the information to my chosen university's Financial Aid Department. Smooth!
Okay, this was turning out to be easier than I thought, but let's see if that continues - remember, I've been through these multiple hoops before.
Just remember, this school wants your money - they want you to attend, so you really have the power.
Contact Your Department Head
In my case, I intended to pursue a second degree in Psychology. On the website, I learned that I needed to contact the Psych Dept Head and find out exactly which courses I needed to take. (But are they available? That later.) I found the college website index and scrolled down to Psychology. I read their info and e-mailed the contact, explaining my situation. That person forwarded my request to the department head, who promptly responded with a form to fill out and her exact requirements, even though she was technically on vacation - very nice and unexpected. All I had to do was print out and fill out the form, print off an online copy of my unofficial transcript, and deliver to her aid. She would then get back to me with exact courses to take (check!), scheduling, and goals. Perfect!
So You're In! Choosing Classes
Since you've met the requirements, been admitted, and figured out how to pay for this education (one way or the other), now you get to choose your courses. In almost every case (I found this out by the online tutorial mentioned above), you will have a personal online account that tells you most everything you need to know about your current status: monies due, deadlines, holds, class schedule, current grades, messages from professors, etc.
From this site, normally, you select your courses. If you are on time (unlike me), the chances of getting into your chosen classes are good; although, keep in mind that current students get to register for classes first, then you, then late-comers like me.
But, if your class is displayed as full, here's some insight:
Show up for the first class anyway. There are ALWAYS students that drop after looking at the syllabus or having second thoughts (you remember being 18, right?) or they just don't show up and you can take their spot. If the professor doesn't take some kind of roll (unheard of by me), just approach them after class and they will tell you what your chances are and what to do. I've found that it becomes habit for many students to register for more classes than they know they will take, so that they can 'shop' the first class, then drop the ones that don't seem like an easy A.
Amazon's a Great Source for Buying or Renting Textbooks
Books, Books, Books
Books can be a huge expense (expect to pay $100 for a book or more, depending on your major), but in my case, that is figured into the amount of Financial Aid, so I have money for that. However, I've found that you don't always need to buy all the books, or sometimes any of the books, for certain classes. Note that some books are REQUIRED, and some are RECOMMENDED. So, what I usually did was to buy the books ahead of time (to make sure they were available), check the accepted return date (should be shortly after classes start), then go to the first class. A lot of times, you'll find that the course is based purely on lecture or individual research and the book is just a back-up. This is very common. If you're not sure, ask the prof at the first class: How much of the tests will be based on book content only - not covered in lecture? Then, you might want to do some returning.
Also, know that your campus bookstore is not your only resource. Amazon.com is a great place to find new and used textbooks for a lot less. And, by used, usually it's light usage, but if at the bookstore, you can look through it to see, and if online, read the description of how used it is. Then, you too, have the option to sell your used book back to the bookstore or online for future students (but usually at a measly fraction of what you paid.)
You're Not 18
So, don't try to act or dress or talk like you are - I'm told by my 20-yr-old daughter, that is very uncool.
Just be yourself, and soak it in. And, you have a definite advantage: you WANT to be there, unlike some students, so you'll get a lot more out of it. Enjoy!