Untraditional Or Nontraditional Student - Attending College With Your Children's Peers
by Linda Pogue
Due to the economic downturn, many adults are returning to, or attending for the first time, college campuses to earn new credentials. For many untraditional or nontraditional students, going to college with traditional students can be overwhelming, or even down right embarrassing. After all, they are your childrens peers, and we are at a time in our lives when we think we should be long beyond college classes. For some, the idea of attending as a first time college student is frightening, for others it is the answer to a lifelong dream.
Older adult learners attending college share some of the same misgivings and fears. What if I can't learn the material fast enough? What if I feel out of place? What if I get lost on campus? These are just some of the fears normal to older students. If we are honest, most of us, as older adults, will admit that we don't learn as quickly or as easily as we once did. The good news is that we can learn it, and once we do, we have the experience to use what we learn. Too often younger students easily learn material but do not have the life experience to see how that learning can be applied to their lives and livelihoods.
There are some specific strategies that will help you learn. First, find out what kind of learner you are. Are you a visual learner, auditory learner, kinesthetic learner, or a combination of all three? A quick search online for 'free learning style exam' will help you find a test that will give you the answers. Once you know what kind of learner you are, you will be able to focus your learning to your particular learning style, making it much easier to learn the material.
One instructor stated that learning is nothing more than 'repetition, repetition, repetition!' If all else fails, read the material over and over or read it aloud into a recorder and play it back while you are driving, washing dishes, or going to sleep. If you are a visual learner, building a chart or graph will help you visualize the material at test time. Whatever your learning style, knowing it will save you hours of grief when trying to learn class material.
Feeling out of place or fearing getting lost on campus does not only affect older learners. In any new environment, people are uncomfortable until they learn their way around. A day or two before class begins, go to campus, and visit the student services office. Ask if someone can show you around. If not, ask if they have a campus map and can show you where on the map your classes are located. Then walk the campus until you are comfortable that you can locate your classes.
Many instructors find that having older students in the classroom is helpful. It provides a real world context that is otherwise difficult to present to the class as a whole. As long as you are respectful and let the instructor know that you understand he or she is in charge, your views and comments will be welcome. It can even be fun to attend classes with younger students--even with your own children, if they can stand the embarrassment! Some of the best parent-child bonding can be accomplished by learning together.
Some simple steps to help you through your first semester are:
- Take your time and learn your way around the campus.
- Purchase your textbooks early or buy them online for more savings--the bookstores sometimes run out!
- Introduce yourself to your instructors. Most instructors enjoy talking with their students.
- Make a list of all your classes, their locations, and their times and dates. Keep it where you can easily refer to it.
- Make a chart of all your assignments and due dates for each class so that you don't get lost or confused about when to do which assignment.
- If you don't understand an assignment, try to meet with the instructor or professor as soon as class is over for clarification. If he or she cannot meet with you then, ask for an appointment at a time convenient to you both, but before the assignment is due.
- If the instructor talks too fast, ask if you can have a copy of the class lecture notes. If the answer is no, ask another student to take notes for you, or purchase and use a small cassette recorder to capture lectures. Student Services can help you if you have hearing issues or other health issues that impact your learning, but you have to contact them and ask--it isn't automatically offered.
- If life happens, contact your instructor immediately. Some instructors are extremely strict about due dates, but most are understanding and will work with you if they understand that you have a real emergency.
- Enjoy yourself! Learning can and should be fun!