Back in school at 30? Don’t just get your degree. Build a life!
Education expert Brenda Major discusses her top 10 things to consider before and during the college experience.
As told to Andrea D. Johnson
Not everyone goes to college directly after high school. Of those who do, some don't graduate or take advantage of the vast resources available. For some, life happens and we're swept off our feet with sudden responsiblity. We get married, we have kids, relatives need taking care of. And of course there are those who hate heir jobs. No matter the situation, something (or someone) is always nudging... "Go get your degree.” Bachelor Degree or Masters-in any case, all of us have been advised that that piece of paper will solve all of our problems. Here's the reality check: College is more than receiving a piece of paper at the end of two or four years. It’s a paradigm shift, it’s an attitude adjustment, it’s a time to reposition yourself, and as Admissions Director at Eastern Illinois University, Brenda Major says, “It’s a time to build a life! And it’s not just about making A’s.What you do while you’re getting that degree is what really matters. A degree doesn’t guarantee you a job.” In an exclusive interview, Major outlines important ideas continuing students should consider.
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to go to school?” College is not the answer to everything. All students should really consider what they want their degree for. Some think it will instantly give them a better job. But what’s the real purpose for getting it? People are told that they should "go get their degree" but they need to check out a career service and ask what’s available in the market. There are so many careers that people just haven’t thought about. Just an example; people are living longer now, so there will be a need for people in the geriatric field. A career counselor will help you consider those jobs which don’t readily come to mind.
Do a self assessment. Ask “Do I know how to study? What hours of the day am I most alert?” Be the best judge of yourself. I know adults who seek out high school teachers to help with study tips. Maybe you have to go back to grade school and ask that person to mentor you. You need to be around positive people. You should be around people willing to take you from where you are, to where you need to be.
Scholarships are not just for YOUNG people! You can get a scholarship too. Look for the money! “A lot of times adults feel that scholarships are not for them, but financial aid is out there. Google “financial aid for adult students.” Several websites including FAFSA have scholarship information. It takes some research but if you really want it, it’s out there.”
Generally, people become scared from simply hearing the words “private” and “out-of-state.” This shouldn't mean that they can’t become an option. Many experts support the idea that college is an investment and cost shouldn’t be a reason not to go to college. Major agrees and she doesn’t believe loans are the only answer. “Most private schools will discount their tuition charges for students with a demonstrated financial need. At state schools like Eastern Illinois University, there is a growing population of adult learners, and many receive aid.
Cost is never the reason to attend a particular college. Create a budget so you'll know the exact cost of your education each year.“In addition to scholarships, you should create an exact budget-- to the penny. What do you absolutely have to have? Be realistic, college is a sacrifice. Create a budget so that you are able to take advantage of the really great things that are bound to come your way. Things like traveling abroad, internships, or fellowships. Learn to budget once so that later cutting things out become easy. Besides some things that you sacrifice, you’ll realize you don't need. We have to remember colleges are selling a product-a product somebody has to pay for. Financial aid is designed to help, not give education away so there is no such thing as a full ride. You can't go to anybody’s college for free. It’s their job to help, not pay for you to learn.”
Search for colleges with programs to assist you to complete your degree in four years. “GET IN, GET OUT. Look for incentive programs that help you to graduate in four years. Focus on this idea: You don't want just a job, you want to build a life. Therefore, you have to do more than make good grades. Internships, volunteer opportunities, studying overseas…a resume that makes you look fascinating will attract employers. Spend some time volunteering at a company you would like to be employed by, or similar to your desired company. You are building a life! If you are willing to give of your time in exchange for experience, not money, and you do a superior job, someone will notice your strong work ethic. In turn, they may write recommendation letters, know of scholarships, and may even pay you to go to school so you can come back and work for them.”
Ask for an application fee waiver if you think you may qualify. Even if you doubt the school waives the application fee, ask. If they say no, some community educational service agencies can assist and will submit a waiver request for you.”
Expect to stretch beyond your comfort zone academically and personally. Major says that people wanting to return to school are usually determined and goal oriented, but even those people may underestimate what they may have to sacrifice. Really consider your goals and what may conflict with your plans.
Get the full experience by approaching school with a positive mindset. It’s not just going to class, you’re building a life! With traditional college students, it makes sense to conduct a college search that spans the country. But older students with full-time jobs, maybe kids or a relative to care for don’t have that option. This can sometimes be a downside. But according to our expert the “full experience” doesn’t have to mean having roommates and barely enough room to turnover at night. Major says, “Even if you are landlocked, you can’t treat college like you treat work. Then you definitely won’t get the most out of your experience. After working all day you should look forward to school, look forward to being with people who think big! It’s a chance to advance your mind. Join organizations. We want older students to run student government. They have common sense! They can motivate other students by their presence, and can advise some of the younger students. If you don’t network while you’re getting the degree, your life doesn’t change after you get the degree. Allow college to advance your thinking. Even if you have to uproot the family and head for New York just to have a better opportunity in life, the full experience can help you. Then what an incredible role model you've become for your children, your family, even your parents. Then you are teaching by example.”
Form a support group. “Hang with other people who are raising a family, holding down a full time job, or taking care of parents--that’s what more unique to adult learners, they have a group mentality. You don’t need to feel alone. Develop a network of adult students, with similar goals and even similar ages. It can make a difference!”
Currently the Director of Admissions at Eastern Illinois University, Brenda Major has been working in college admissions over 20 years. She has assisted nearly 5,000 students from high school to college graduation and beyond.