Nontraditional Student in a Traditional Setting

By:  Greter Barcelo

After graduating High School, going to College was expected.  So, of course, I started that path, and then life happened. I got pregnant during my 2nd semester of my Sophomore year.  Because of this, and other personal concerns, College started to be hard to continue, so I took a break.  I continued my family raising path, just like the Game of Life! Filling the car with children, and not education.

Now at the age of 42, I decided that I was ready to finish what I had started 20+ years ago. This meant going to College as a nontraditional student. At first I didn’t know what a nontraditional student was, but according to the National Center for Education Statistics, non-traditional students are usually 24 and older. As slightly older young adults, many students who attend college at this age have work experience or family situations that can sometimes make attending college full-time difficult.  I was well beyond 24 years old!

I didn’t realize how difficult going back to college would be… 

My first semester back I decided to enroll in 3 college courses, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself.  I didn’t receive a tour of the college, so I got a little lost. I was unsure where to park, as I haven’t received a pass just yet (it was still in process). I didn’t know where to get my College schedule, as I thought I would receive a paper copy, but I was wrong. I was unsure where to get any information for school, until I remembered my email from the Academic Success Center.

Since that day, the Academic Success Center has been my lifeline. Whenever I had questions about where my classes were, they helped me. When I needed help with advising, they helped me.  They would direct me to where I needed to go when there was a matter that I needed to address. I became so comfortable with the office, and the front secretary, that now I would just stop in the office just to say “Hi” between classes. Having a place like this helped me feel less alone in such a grand school where I didn’t know where to begin.

Now that I have a better understanding of where my classes are, and the tools I need for each class, my next concern is how to be a student. When I say that, I mean, what kind of student am I?  Since I’m older, and I have learned a lot from other sources, retraining what I learned was confusing and hard. Now, in order to have a better understanding, I have to ask questions. Which brings me to ask myself, how many questions are too much? What if I ask a stupid question? Will asking this question make me look stupid? Will asking this question irritate the professor or the other students? Convincing myself that it’s ok to ask questions was tough.

In one of my classes on Zoom, I am one of two students who leaves my camera on. I am also the one that talks first and shares first. I have tried to give my fellow classmates time to be the first to participate, but after waiting, I usually end up being first.  Then all my self consciousness comes to question about the type of student I am. I question myself if I’m a “know-it-all”, or a “teacher’s pet”, or annoying the other students. I try not to let it bother me, but the feeling still lurks. 

I also find it difficult on how to address the professors. Most of the professors are about my age, so, should I call them by their first names, or Professor, or Doctor? In K-12 we are trained to call them Mr. or Mrs. or Miss, but now that I am older, do I still address it that way? What I have learned is that it depends on the Professor. 

Every class requires me to complete numerous assignments and to study for exams. How can one juggle their own College work, with working a job (or two), take care of the house, care for their children, and help their children with their homework?  It takes a lot of dedication and time management.  Sometimes, just a small slip can start a spiral effect of being backed up and having to find the time to get back on track.

When I look around me: in class, in the hallway, in the Student Center, in the Library, and even in the Writing Center, I mostly see young traditional students. I’ve been a bit more comfortable as a student, but there are times I wonder…  Where can I find nontraditional students like me?  

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