Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Untraditional Students: Beyond the Comfort Zone

Every five weeks, I see a new group of students beginning their college careers. Some of these students are traditional students, but most fit into the nontraditional or even untraditional categories. Nontraditional students are usually defined as anyone who has been out of high school for more than six months, or has a family. Untraditional students are usually older adults (meaning out of high school for five or more years), and can be adults returning for second career training.

Some untraditional students may have had college courses before, may even have completed college degrees before, but have been out of college for many years. Even with previous degrees behind them, untraditional students often feel out of place and concerned over their ability to complete the course work. Untraditional students may be in college due to loss of a job and inability to locate comparable work, death of a spouse who supplied the family income, divorce, another life changing event, or may have just decided that it was their turn to get an education. Whatever the reason, untraditional students seem to have strong emotions such as fear of the unknown. They are out of their comfort zone, so to speak, and don't know what to do, how to do it, or even if they can do it.

As an untraditional student who started classes in January 1998 and just never quit going to college, I can relate. One thing to keep in mind when starting something new, however, is something Lou Tice of The Pacific Institute tells his students, "It is OK to be afraid. It is not OK to stay afraid." New experiences can be frightening, but with determination, study, and perseverance, we can make it through the education process to walk across the stage and receive a diploma well earned.

One way Lou Tice recommends to help you do this is to create affirmations. Affirmations are single sentence goals that are always positive and always present tense. "I have accomplished my goal of earning my degree," is a sample affirmation. Make up several affirmations and say them out loud several times every day and you will find that they come true, just because you unconsciously start looking for ways to make them come true. Learning requires students to go beyond their comfort zone. Take a deep breath, settle your nerves, and get started. Come on in--the water is fine.

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