Returning to School as a Non-Traditional Student
September 12, 2018
Maybe you’re returning to school after taking some time off to start and raise a family. Maybe you’re changing careers. Maybe you’re going back for an advanced degree in your area after working in the field for decades. Maybe you’re simply going back because the time is finally right. There are many, many reasons people go back to school as a “non-traditional” student. While every school has their own definition of a non-traditional student, the term generally refers to a student around or over the age of 30.
There’s no doubt about it: returning to school after you’ve been out for a bit, whether it’s two years or two decades, can be challenging. Expectations and guidelines have changed, and now you’re coming back to student life with other obligations you’re juggling – family, work, personal things. We know it can be overwhelming, and Dissertation Editor can help, whether it’s with coaching, research assistance, editing, formatting, or data analysis.
Here are some other things to think about if you’re heading back to the classroom as a non-traditional student:
- Watch your budget. In addition to tuition and fees, many non-traditional students find themselves also paying for childcare, commuting, and so forth. Tutoring might be necessary for some people if they need extra assistance, and lost income from time taken away from work is also a factor. Working with a financial aid officer can help you decide how many classes you can afford to take at a time, as well as whether taking out a loan might be an option.
- Use all available support services. Many times, there are academic support services, tutoring and writing centers, peer support groups, and counselors. It might be worth checking with the student services center to see if there are support groups for non-traditional students – if there’s not, why not start your own? Starting your education after being out of the classroom can be stressful, and it’s always a good thing to have all available supports ready if you need them.
- Don’t shut yourself off from your cohort. It might be tempting to focus on how different you are from the younger students, and of course you might feel a lot different from them at times – but you’re all there for the same reason. You don’t need to be best friends with them, but being friendly and even developing some friendships will be helpful. You’re at different stages in your lives, but you can learn from each other.
- Get (and stay) organized. Being organized is important for any student, but especially so for non-traditional students, who are likely also managing schedules of children, a spouse, work obligations, family obligations, and may be caring for elderly parents as well. Having a system, whether it’s a digital calendar or paper planner, and figuring out an organizational plan that works for you, will help with time management, project planning, and juggling handfuls of obligations, errands, and assignments.
- Consider online programs. There are downsides to in-person programs, but there are also considerable downsides to online-only programs, as well – namely, there aren’t as many support systems for students, and they might be seen differently than traditional in-person programs. For many people who are working full-time and/or have a family, they’re a lifesaver and a much easier path to their goals. Do your research on programs in your field of study, and talk with students and potential employers about their experiences, how the programs are viewed, and what each one has to offer you. You might also consider doing all of your basic pre-requisites online, and then transferring to an in-person program of your choice (this can also save you money). In the end, it’s what you do with it that counts.
- Don’t neglect self-care. Especially for non-traditional students, self-care is important. It’s not selfish to make sure your needs are met, that your stress is well-managed or controlled, or that you’re taking time for yourself. If you’re looking for some tips or ideas for self-care, check out this post and this post.
- Talk with your workplace about scheduling and expectations. If you’re also working full-time (or even part-time) while going to school, that can get stressful pretty quickly, especially if expectations are unclear. Before classes start, it’s a good idea to go over your class schedule with your supervisor, talk about work and productivity expectations, and whether there are any scheduling conflicts at all. Keeping lines of communication open throughout the school year can help if there’s a problem, or if you’re having difficulty juggling any deadlines. You might find you need to cut back one or the other at times, but if you open communication early, that will help.
- Let your family know about your schedule. This might sound obvious, but it’s true. Let your partner and children know that there are certain times of the day/evening when you will be either working from home or doing schoolwork, and they need to respect your time. It’s easy to fall into the trap of setting time aside to do homework or reading, and then when someone needs something, to help them out “since you’re home anyway,” and so forth – and by the time you realize it, your dedicated study or work time is gone. Your schooling needs to be treated like the job it is, and having the support from family will be important to your success.
Here at Dissertation Editor, we know how courageous it is to return to school as a non-traditional student. We’ve worked with hundreds of non-traditional students and we know how busy you are. It can be an adjustment, returning to the classroom, but we can help. Contact us today to learn about our services and how we can be of assistance.