As year two of graduate school will be starting next week, I've been reflecting over the past twelve months. I know when I first decided to return to college, I knew I wasn't going to be just an adult student - I was going to be an older adult student. It was a huge, scary decision to make. I had lots of questions and I googled everything I could think of hoping to learn something from the experiences of others. This is a long post, but I'm hoping to give back by sharing with the internet some of those questions and the answers I've learned through personal experience.
Will I be the oldest student in the class? Will I be older than the teachers?
Depends on how old you are. The average graduate student is 33 years old according to data from 2000. Many of the students in my classes are in their mid to late twenties. Even though this does make me one of the oldest students, I have not encountered any issues with age. I have had teachers who are younger than me and teachers who were older.
One of the interesting things about age diversity in a classroom setting is the mixture of viewpoints from different generations during class discussions. I try to avoid using phrases like ‘back in my day’ or ‘when I went to college the first time’, but I do share my life experience in class discussions. And I am getting a unique opportunity to hear thoughts and ideas from today’s twenty-somethings.
Should I do online or on campus classes?
First make certain that whatever graduate program you are considering is properly accredited. Otherwise, online or on-campus is a personal decision. There are unique benefits to each.
Although I’m attending an on-campus program, I seriously considered an online program. Online classes are flexible and you are not tied to a rigid schedule of lectures times. You can watch the lectures whenever and wherever you want, as long as there is a good internet connection. And you are able to replay the lectures if you want. If you are working and raising a family, this is a huge benefit.
I decided to enroll in a traditional on-campus program for the people connection. For me, this has turned into a really good decision. I enjoy getting to know my professors face-to-face. In a live classroom, the professor is able to be tailor lectures to the questions and discussions that come up during class. Class time sometimes tends to go in unexpected directions. Online pre-recorded lectures don’t have this level of flexibility.
One benefit that I didn’t foresee is that, for a limited time, I’m getting to be somewhat of a peer with the younger generation – those young men and women who will become future leaders in our field. I listen to them talk about their passions and their hopes for their future careers. There is a lot of negativity out there regarding Millennials but I have been so impressed with the students I’ve meet so far. On-campus classes are giving me a unique glimpse into their lives.
Will I be able to do the work?
Yes, you will, but it takes effort. And time. It will take lots of time. Graduate school means a ton of reading, a good bit of research, and papers to write for every class. I don’t read as fast as I use to so the reading part has been a challenge. I make an effort to stay ahead but the end of the semester always seems to catch me a little behind in the reading. I enjoy writing but have had to learn to not be quite so personal in the assigned papers. Some classes require a paper every week while others assign one long paper to be turned in near the end of the term. But I won’t lie – graduate school requires a commitment of time to get the work done well.
Will I be able to balance everything?
In my opinion, you will not be able to balance everything perfectly. When I made the decision to go back to school, I made a list of everything I was doing and then decided what the top three priorities would be during the grad school experience. It has gone well – I work a full-time job, I do school, and I serve at church. There are some things which I’ve had to temporarily put on a back-burner to be picked up later. Graduate school is, after all, a short-term experience.
Will my family and friends support my decision?
You will certainly need the support of family and friends I can not stress enough the importance of having people in your life who agree with and support your decision to return to school. I could not do this without the encouragement of many different people in my life, some of whom I don’t get to see as often as I wish because I’m focusing on school.
Becoming an older adult graduate student is not the right decision for everyone. There is a lot to think about and the choice should be a well-considered one. But, for me, it has been the right choice and I’m looking forward to continuing my studies. If you are considering grad school, I hope this post has been helpful.