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Generation Differences: Returning to School
Adults Returning to School
According to recent statistics adults are returning to college has increase over the last ten years. According to Ezinearticles.com, Student admissions over the age of 35 have climbed in numbers, especially in the last 10 years. Adults returning to college now make up almost 20% of enrollment these days, which is double what it used to be when they were the young 18-year-old demographic. These days two in every five college students are older than 25. More than 3/4 of universities/colleges offer online courses.
Recently I decided to return to school. I graduated from university about fifteen years and hoped that one day I would return to graduate school. Like many women my age, I was climbing my way up the professional ladder, while raising a family and making ends meet. Somewhere along that ladder, however, I realized that I was struggling. I felt that I was stuck on the same rung for the last five years. I started to stagnate. I could smell the stick and those who are closest to me could tell that it was beginning to negatively impact both my health and emotional well being. Something had to change. So what did I do? I voluntarily downsized work; choosing to work in a less demanding and stressful way. Working from home, I had the opportunity to read, meditate, exercise, smile, laugh and love again. Yes, I love myself again as well as my family, my friends and even my colleagues. I discovered that the cut in pay was worth my mental health. I was burnt out and I was operating on empty.
So after two years of slowing down, smelling the roses, counting my blessing as well as appreciating my loved ones and the world, I felt like it was time to get back on tack again. First, I must say, it took a lot of reading, praying, meditating, listening to many motivational audio books (Jack Canfield, Tony Robbins, Napolean Hill, Wayne Dwyer, Depak Chopra and many others) and even hiring a personal coach. I finally decided what path to take along the journey. I realized that what I was doing professionally was not making me happy anymore. I wanted to find something that I was passionate about; something that I can spend the next thirty years of my life doing and enjoying. Even though I've spent many hours thinking about the next move, I still have moments when I ask myself "What are you doing?" Is this the right step?
My sense of uncertainty about the future is a constant source of concern. For the most part I feel that I'm making the right choice, but every now and then a little fear creeps in and I wonder about the future. Today as I write this post, it has been three weeks since I returned to university and I feel that I am coping fairly well. How did I get to here?
Last winter I applied to graduate school to pursue a Masters degree in History. After having some difficulty contacting more than one of my past professors - (it had been fifteen years, so people move onto other things and places or some even retire), I decided to withdraw my application for grad school and instead take some undergrad courses. That way I can establish contact with several professors that I'd like to work with in graduate school and so the problem of obtaining references would be overcome. Also, I would use this year to transition for the more challenging work ahead. Needless to say universities today are different than they were fifteen years ago - technology has impacted the way one navigates through campus life.
September 14, 2010 at about 10:25am I walked in my first class. It was striking how young the students looked. A quick glance around the lecture hall revealed students who were my children's age. Most of them were clicking away on their laptops, a few had notebooks and pens. The professor was struggling with the audio-visual device; he was not making any progress. He spoke with someone on the phone at the entrance of the hall and within five minutes technical assistance had arrived. I said hello to the eighteen year old student to my right and introduced myself. She smiled wryly and I commented "Big class!" She agreed. "So are you a History major?" I asked seeking for something to say. She answered in the affirmative indicating that she might be doing a double major, but she wasn't sure just yet. She had a notebook and pen even though I could see that she had a laptop in her backpack that was on the ground in from of her chair.
"Welcome to History 1050.6," the professor was saying. He had finally got the audio-visual device to work and the outline was displayed on the screens at the front of the class. He was older than I was, I thought with a chuckle. He gave some instructions how to download a copy of the course outline and the required text for the course. He also instructed how to download additional readings and lecture summaries from a special data base. I couldn't help thinking that back in the days, some fifteen to twenty years ago, we would have received a hard copy of the outline and we'd purchase packages of photocopied readings to supplement the text books. Today, you can log into a data base and download required materials from the comfort of your home. You could even reserve materials from the library from home. Now that is progress.
After the first week, I realized that doing four courses, balancing work, family was going to be a challenge of magnificent proportion. So I dropped the first year history course because it had two lectures and a tutorial and would considerably increase the time spent on campus. I was down to doing three courses; a second year, a third year and fourth year. Only one had a tutorial. I now have more time to complete the readings required for these courses. Now my workload is manageable.
A friend asked why I didn't take online courses. I replied that I like the interactions with people face to face. I like going to the campus and there is something about being in a class rather than online in front of your computer screen. I may change my mind during winter, but for now I look forward going to school three days per week for two to three hours per day. I get home to pick up my son from school at 3pm, get dinner ready, take my son to his extra curricular activities and get a thirty minutes workout at the gym while he's at Karate. Fortunately, I can get my work done between some of these activities as I respond to clients and staff inquiries on the run or from my home office. Usually from 5pm onwards, I can dedicate time to focus on work; returning calls and arranging clients and staff schedules.
When do I find time to read and do assignments? I have started taking public transit to school rather than drive there. That way I get some of my reading done on the fifty minutes bus ride. I also do most of my reading in the early mornings before I get my son ready for school. Also I dedicate one day to doing all my readings for the week. That day I do not have school and I do not start working until 5pm, so I utilize the time to read. This seems to work OK.
So what is the purpose of sharing my experiences with back to school? It is to show that you don't have to stay stuck; you can make a change in your status quo. It does not have to be going back to school; it could be starting an exercise program or carving out time for yourself. Once you have a goal, then take baby steps to achieve it. So if you are starting an exercise program, schedule time during your week to do so and stick with the schedule. You may also want to start doing short workouts, like thirty minutes and aim to increase your workout by five minutes each week until you get to your desired duration. You may have to adapt you goals to adjust to unforeseen challenges, but persistent and determination will pay off, at least I hope that's true.