I Prefer ‘Mature Student,’ not ‘The Old Guy’: My Return to University
If you had a chance to catch the musical Avenue Q, you will remember a number in which characters lament how hard life is now, compared to their memories of post-secondary education. Ahh, to return to the hallowed halls of learning, and leave behind the workaday world in favour of opening the mind once again.
But, unfortunately, returning to college now would label them a “loser,” because they would be, by far, the oldest people on campus. Not including the professors, of course.
As a mature student returning to academia after a stint in the real world, these words really strike home with me. How will the kids in my first few classes – mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty – look upon the guy who is at least ten years their senior? Will I be viewed as a loser? Or just another student?
I’ve wandered around the campus a few times, and observed the other students. I think I’ve come up with a game plan that will allow me to return to their midst, without being “that old guy.”
First off, I have to remember that fitting in with my classmates, to a degree, is going to be an important part of the learning process. Sure, I could choose to ignore it, sit at the front of every class, and ignore the social side of school. But I would be missing out. My success has to come both scholastically and socially. Whether it’s as simple as loneliness, or as complex as being one of the leftovers when choosing study group partners.
The trick is going to be blending in. If I show up wearing the business suit that encased me for the last five years, I’m going to stand out like a sore thumb, and make myself a target for ridicule. As a mature student, I will have to be more observant, and make an effort to be perceived as just another one of the students.
That being said, I can’t show up for class in Ed Hardy shirts and skinny jeans, pretending to be eighteen again. These kids will know a phony when they see one, and I’ll be shunned. So, I’ll keep it casual, without trying too hard.
But it’s not all bad news for senior students; we do have some things going for us. For one, our professors are going to love us. Faced with wave upon wave of fresh-faced youngsters who will spend equal amounts of time studying and drinking, professors see us as the students with experience. We’re the ones who show up, ask questions, and take advantage of open office times. Which is good, because chatting up your profs can help your young classmates see you as someone they need in their study group.
Establishing yourself as someone smart and helpful can help younger students see you as an asset, instead of an outcast. During my first foray into college, I saw the slightly older guys in the class as hard workers who knew what they were doing. That’s the image I’d like to portray now.
Your maturity and knowledge doesn’t have to be what separates you from classmates, it can be what connects you.
Reach out and make an effort, and you’ll get a lot more out of your class time.
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