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Dare to Be Different

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The other day I was browsing Amazon for some new books and I came across “Fitting In Is Overrated: The Survival Guide for Anyone Who Has Ever Felt Like an Outsider.” This book by Leonard Felder, Ph.D. is a guidebook offering stories and tips to help people who are different blend in with the masses. I also ran across “What You Think of Me is None of My Business” by T. Cole-Whittaker in the same category.

We’re all unique in one way or another, but some people would like to remain anonymous or go unnoticed. Otherwise there probably wouldn’t be the demand for so many self-help books based on the topic. Going unnoticed is probably the preference of many non-traditional students returning to college – they want to go to class without being thought of as “the old lady” or “that old guy.”

There’s no need to attempt to hide your age – it’s just about impossible to do anyway – because these days it really is acceptable to be different. Besides, it’s fair to say that in most situations nontraditional students have different interests and needs than their younger counterparts.

The old stereotype remains that young college students are mainly concerned with sorority and fraternity life, dating, and partying— and this can be an accurate description in some cases. Simply put, the majority of non-traditional college students most likely have different desires and expectations of what they want to get out of their college experience. It’s unlikely that a forty-something student with a family is going to pledge a sorority or attend frat parties.

According to an October 2007 report by the American Council on Education, “Older adults are often interested in starting a new career, and therefore many want a prior learning assessment, accelerated programs, improved career counseling and job placement.” But while many older adults may see higher education as a way to “reinvent” themselves, they also cite the strong desire for a sense of community, the report also found.

The American Council on Education (ACE) is the only higher education organization that represents presidents and chancellors of all types of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions: community colleges and four-year institutions, private and public universities, and nonprofit and for-profit colleges. This cross-sector membership enables ACE to serve as higher education’s unifying voice.

I certainly had different priorities when I was a student in my late teens and early twenties than I did when I returned to college later in life. I initially wanted to make a lot of friends, study as little as possible and still succeed in my classes, and have a lot of free time on my hands.

The education section of America.gov states that that the concerns of other students often “seem very trivial at times” to non-traditional students. I’d have to agree with this.

When I returned to school as an older adult, things had changed. I was no longer a student for the simple reason that I had just finished high school and my parents expected to continue on with school, as is the case with many young people. In my late twenties, I was more concerned with what I actually learned than with what grades I received. I wanted to gain knowledge to help me move ahead in my career, which is in a different field than my degree. I wasn’t expecting to meet lifelong friends at school (and so far, I haven’t) but I didn’t want to stand out from the crowd, either.

The site also claims that students over age 55 usually cite the “joy of learning” as their primary reason for seeking higher education. I don’t see anything wrong with that! In fact, it would be a great theory for all students to adopt.

For more information: America.gov

The American Council on Education


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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