In 2011, approximately 42% of all college students in the U.S. were 25 years old or older. Students in this age range are considered to be nontraditional college students. I obtained my master’s degree while I was in my 40s and will obtain my doctorate degree while in my 40s.
While I was hesitant to return to school in my 40s, since I knew many of my classmates would be younger than I was, returning to school later in life ended up working to my advantage. The benefits of being a nontraditional student were so great, that I graduated with my master’s degree with a 4.0 cumulative GPA and I’m on my way to repeating that accomplishment with my doctoral degree.
There are 3 main reasons that school was easier for me as a nontraditional student. While life experience, and having helpful resources, helped me finish school with flying colors the unexpected benefit of building a larger network is what has really paid off for me.
Life Experience Makes School Easier
I returned to school for my master’s degree after a hiatus of more than 15 years. As I looked at my mostly younger classmates on my first day back in school, I questioned whether or not I had made the right decision. But as my teacher reviewed her syllabus I was able to start to formulate topics, in my head, to address the assignments.
As weeks went by I realized that the richer discussions in class came from the nurses who had more than five years of nursing experience. It was easier for us, in general, to discuss just about anything because we had extensive work backgrounds that allowed us to use real-life examples during discussions.
You Have More Resources
While many of my classmates longed for the days prior to school when they had more time to go out with their friends, I was still able to make time to see my friends. Because I didn’t have to spend too much time searching for appropriate topics for projects, I was able to continue to do things outside of school as I progressed through my program.
The same was true for many of my long-term nursing classmates. If there was a topic we weren’t familiar with, we were able to contact people we had known for years for feedback or input on an idea we had for a project. Having a pre-built network of friends saved a lot of time and we were usually able to quickly locate great reference material.
You Build Wider Networks
I started working part-time at the age of 15, and have consistently held down a job (sometimes jobs) since then. The nice thing about having a lot of job experience, from a variety of different careers settings, is that I have been able to build up a large network of friends who work in a vast array of career fields.
Having a great network proved to be helpful for me and for my classmates. When classmates wanted to do a project, but didn’t have any contacts in the area they wanted to study, I was often able to put them in touch with someone who could help them. The side benefit turned out to be that relationships I built with some of my classmates have led to unexpected job opportunities.
Returning to school after a long hiatus is scary and it can be nerve-wracking, since you don’t know what to expect. But as someone who has taken the leap to return to school twice, trust me. Take a chance and go back to school, the benefits far outweigh the risks.
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