The first day of school is always nerve-wracking. Waking up, making sure you don’t forget to pack your bag, hoping that you’ll be on time, and wondering if you’ll have classes with your friends. Everyone has first-day jitters, but what about when you’re going back to school after taking 5 years off? 10 years? 20 years? You may feel lost and unsure when to jump back in. You might also feel that taking an extended period of time away from school may be holding you back from re-enrolling.
However, self-assurance, or a lack thereof, that holds you back, take this into consideration: you, as an older student, have an abundance of advantages over other, younger students for many reasons.
1. You may be concerned about the fast pace of school, and competitiveness with the younger students, but remember that they are often on their own, and away from parental guidance, for the first time in their lives. Freedom is a heady and distracting experience, but you went through all that years ago. Now, your ability to concentrate is stronger than ever, as well as your determination.
2. You have a head start. Many younger students have never even left the comforts of their hometown, let alone traveled and had experiences outside of high school for the past 15 years. You’ve got a 5, 10, or even 20-year running start on general, cultural knowledge, and a sense of perspective that they will not achieve until they’re your age.
3. A college education can facilitate a second, more fulfilling career. A new career is as promising to you, if not more, than a younger candidate. Maybe you want to go back to school for your dream job. Do it! With longer life expectancies, there are more years in our lives to be filled with the experiences we want to have and the things we want to do. The extra years will be more fun for you because your education will pay off, financially and spiritually.
4. You’ve had years to experience all the highs, lows, and realities of the world. You’ve had different occupations, paid different bills. You know what opportunities are out there, and at what cost it takes to be successful. You know more than any 18-year-old could about the advantages of an education, and you can put that knowledge to work for you. Your decisions will be more informed, and your work more streamlined and direct.
5. Your negative life experiences can work in your favor. Older students often know what it means to make less than they’re worth. Being laid off, or passed over for promotion, can be the driving factor that gives you an extra push in life. Sacrificing your needs for children or parents can also clarify your own goals. When you are finally able to go after your own desires, you may find that all those experiences have built up reserves of strength and determination you never knew you had.
6. You know what you want. You don’t have to live up to anyone else’s expectations anymore. You can pick the career and future that you want. If parents decide higher education is important, their children probably will too. As we grow older, our parents’ feelings influence us less and less as we become our own people. If you’re considering college now, it’s because you are interested. Younger students typically look for direction from others, you are more used to solving your own problems, and this can be an asset.
7. Money has not been mentioned yet, but it’s important; in fact, it’s often the first reason given when non-traditional students are asked why they want to go back to school. Money is not the only reason to return to school, but it helps to know that when you are finished with school, you will almost certainly be worth more to employers.
The most important thing about going back to school as an older student is what you’ll be worth to yourself. Once you actually go back to school, your self-esteem, which may seem so small and frail on that first day, will skyrocket. Your own children, your friends, your co-workers, and your classmates, will be blown away with admiration in light of your drive and determination. Do it because of the people who said you can’t. Do it because of the people who said you shouldn’t. Do it for your family and loved ones. Most importantly, do it for yourself.