After profiling non-traditional students for an academic year, we have learned a few things and experienced a few surprises. For example, the differences between traditional and non-traditional students are few. However, the way we approach the differences is fascinating.
As non-traditional students, we often wonder what life would have been like if we would have completed our education right out of high school. So we usually ask “If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self?”
UW-Whitewater’s own nontraditional student Thomas Staskal said, “I would say, you will do better than you think – so relax more and watch your blood pressure.”
Self-imposed academic stress is a serious concern for non-traditional students. Our stressors come from combining school with our additional responsibilities of caring for family and working part-time or full-time jobs, plus trying to make time for ourselves.
Our attempts to transition from post-school life back into academics might be too difficult for some students. The shifting in roles can contribute to a higher dropout rate than traditional students during the first three weeks of school.
Lynn Smith, the UW-Whitewater non-traditional student services coordinator, works very hard to set up safety nets during the first critical weeks of each semester, looking for students who are experiencing trouble making the adjustment.
Another issue the students face is feeling isolated. Even though non-traditional students often have much more resilience, we experience low self-esteem and anxiety when faced with obstacles.
UW-Whitewater has many resources available to help us, from teaching us good study habits, to brushing up on our math skills.
The “Non-Trad Pad,” located in University Center room 133, was created specifically to help non-traditional students network. Every Wednesday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. you’ll find a dozen or so non-traditional students talking, studying and exchanging ideas.
As non-traditional students, we need to consider new ideas to realize it’s okay to ask for help and to give ourselves permission to gracefully accept a “C” as “good enough.”
Doing well on our assignments and focusing on GPA are all well and good, but let’s not forget to strike up a casual conversation with our younger classmates too. Ask them what issues they currently face and listen to their personal stories. You might learn something.
The fear we face is universal, we have been given a second chance, and we’re afraid we’re going to blow it.
If we don’t succeed now, it may be too late for another opportunity. Traditional students have their entire life ahead of them, but for some non-traditional students, this will be their one and only chance to obtain an education. This fear can be paralyzing.
So, consider doing an undergraduate research project, especially in an area you know absolutely nothing about. Ask a professor to guide you through the process. Purposefully stretch yourself in new ways. Attempt something completely different, just to see what the experience is like.
Get to know your professors and ask to do an independent study with them. Not only will you learn, but you’ll find out they are just as eager to learn from your experiences as well.
Expand your knowledge, update your skills, and put yourself “out there” in ways you never considered. By far the best part of my education has been all the things I’ve learned as an ancillary benefit from my education.
These additional benefits have transformed me in ways I never could have expected. Without risking failure, admitting that I need help, and letting go of my perfectionist ideals, I never would have received the great rewards from what turned out to be insignificant risks.
This is your time, your experience.You’ll get out of it exactly what you put into it.