It's Never Too Late to Start or Return to College
By Alicia Rasley, Instructor and Guest Lecturer
I've been teaching English in college for two decades, and during that time I've had all sorts of students— very smart twin sisters who hadn't yet finished high school, a heavy-metal rock star, a paroled murderer, an Episcopalian priest, a non-native English speaker escaping from oppression, and hundreds of "returning students." And so now, when I hear over-50s lamenting that they never finished college, I always say, "It's not too late," and hand them an application to my university.
The Lingering Effects of Life
Then I started teaching at the community college, where many of the students were over 40. And what did they have to write about? Oh, "My Father's Last Words." And "What I Learned from Risking Love Again." And "Three Books That Guided Me to Joining the Peace Corps." And "Changing Jobs and Changing Lives." And "Community Theater: My Own Standing Ovation." And "How I Forgave My Daughter One More Time." And "The Pleasures and Perils of Raising Grandchildren." And… well, you get the idea. You HAVE the ideas. Returning students just need to learn to honor the wealth of their own experience. Your own kids might groan at your stories, but trust me, your professor will be so glad that you're writing about something real, something true, something interesting!
Youth is a lovely experience. But most young people have no experience. Returning students do. And no matter what the assignment, they draw on a lifetime's experience to add to or underscore the topic. One of the best papers I ever had came from a woman who, when tasked to write about "an object of importance," wrote about her husband's ugly old Lazyboy chair. He'd brought it to the marriage as his only piece of furniture. She'd always hated it, but she recounted how, early in the marriage, she and her husband used to cuddle in that chair as they watched TV. Later, one or the other would comfort babies in that chair. And then there was the time they grouped all the children in the chair and took a family photo. And… well, you get the idea. By the time she wrote about when they got successful and had money to redecorate and the interior decorator set the Lazyboy out with the trash, I was crying. And boy, was I happy when she admitted she and her husband had dragged the Lazyboy into the garage and hid it until the decorator had left.
|Alicia's backyard in the winter, complete with swans!|
Personal experience doesn't mean "it’s all about me." Returning students use their own experience as a jumping-off point for greater education, and sometimes they create new knowledge. For example, another student of mine (a native of Japan) responded to a prompt to write about words with a paper about onomatopoeia (words that sound like their meaning, like "screech") in Japanese, her mother tongue. She didn't just rest on her own knowledge of the language, of course. She did research on the origins of Japanese, the nature of onomatopoeia, and the psychological processes involved in word creation. Okay, she was, by far, the best student I ever had. This essay won just about every prize at our university, earning her enough money to pay her final year's tuition. How old was she? 50. She'd completed a career as a bank teller and raised three children before she decided to explore her interest in linguistics.
I just have to point out that returning student never wail, "I don't have anything to write about!"
It’s Never Too Late If You Start Soon
In fact, this is the best time ever to return to college. Most state universities and community colleges have advisors specially trained to help returning students determine their course requirements, even those students who have three years of courses over three decades and two continents. Most colleges now have some program that assesses college credit for work experience. And many colleges now offer online education to make college possible for people with jobs, families, and/or disabilities.
You've managed to create an impressive life without a college degree. You've raised a family, maybe, or you've surmounted serious obstacles, or you've worked your way up to a great career. You can do college. Trust me. You've got more than enough of the right stuff! And your professors will be grateful for your patience, your strength, your organization, your compassion with other students, and your excitement at the prospect of learning.
Alicia Rasley has taught thousands of students at an elite private college, two state universities, a graduate writing program, a community college, online, and in writing workshops around the US and Canada. She has also raised a family and crafted a writing career, writing novels that have won awards and spent time on the bestseller list.
Her articles on writing and the Regency period have been widely distributed, and many are collected on her website, www.rasley.com. She also blogs about writing and editing at www.edittorrent.blogspot.com. Check out the Amazon page for other Regencies by Rasley.
v Rakish heroes.
v Reckless heroines.
v Elegant stories.
She invites anyone interested in returning to college to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for counsel, college suggestions, and encouragement.
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