The “Non-Traditional” Student

By Sean Denison

Your average college student is anywhere from 18 to 24 years old, lives in a dorm on campus and goes to school full time. Some of these students have part-time jobs or participate in extracurricular activities, but rarely do they have responsibilities outside of schoolwork.

The “non-traditional” student in contrast is the complete opposite. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there isn’t an exact definition of a non-traditional student. However, the NCES does say  that “age acts as a surrogate variable that captures a large, heterogeneous population of adult students who often have family and work responsibilities as well as other life circumstances that can interfere with successful completion of educational objectives,” according to its website.

That definition describes me pretty well, and being this kind of student can make me feel awkward roaming the halls and sitting in classrooms where sometimes I’m around the same age as the professor.

Truthfully, in every aspect, I live up to the title of a “non-traditional” student. I’m older at 33 years old. I have a family, a wife and four-year-old daughter, and I live off-campus, commuting over 70 miles from Jacksonville to the University of Florida throughout the week.

Not everyone takes the traditional path in life, and I’m certainly one of those people. I didn’t start college until my late twenties. Before that, I was too busy dreaming of being a career musician. I was writing songs, playing in numerous bands and going on tour. But that dream soon died. And just like that, I found myself in the middle of a tough situation: working a dead-end job, living paycheck to paycheck, and with no future plans.

Sure, I’m happy I made the decision to go back to school, but sometimes I wish I didn’t. Often, whenever someone at UF finds out my situation, they proceed to look at me like some sort of mutant, a creature that doesn’t resemble a human being but rather an alien-like figure that haunts them in their dreams.

“You’re how old?” they ask, pondering why the hell someone would be in their 30s still working on their bachelors. Most of the time, people feel sorry for me. “You drive all the way from Jacksonville? That sucks!”

It’s not only students who look at me in pity, it’s the professors as well. Many adjunct professors at UF are around my age. Sometimes it’s depressing when I find out that they’re younger than me.

Just last year I wanted to give up on school, learn a trade that pays well and live my life like the “average Joe,” working nine to five, having a house in the suburbs and taking my daughter to soccer practice on the weekends. Actually, I’ve felt this way from the moment I stepped into my first classroom at a community college at 28 years old. What a loser, I thought to myself. But now, in the last semester at UF, I can admit that I’m glad I stuck with it.

I’ll be happy for this journey to end in December when I receive my degree. Sure, I’ll miss learning valuable information that I’ll be able to use in my career, but man, I certainly won’t miss all those weird looks I’ve gotten over the years.

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