Taking the ‘Nontraditional’ Route

Taking the ‘Nontraditional’ Route

Nontraditional students often have a hard time managing and balancing school and work. College is different for every individual, and holds different struggles and successes. (Provided/ Pixabay.com).

When I imagined college as a teenager, I fantasized about wild parties, heated classroom discussions and meeting open-minded people unlike those in my hometown. After spending almost five years in school and transferring to four different campuses, however, I’ve learned that the typical college experience doesn’t apply to everyone.

People often look at unconventional approaches to getting an education with suspicion, but my alternative route has led me to places like downtown Chicago and the beaches of Miami. I’ve met many wonderful people, landed some great job opportunities and learned a lot along the way. It’s been a bumpy ride full of twists and turns, but I’m now in the final stretch of earning my undergraduate degree.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re a so-called “nontraditional” student. Whether it involves juggling multiple jobs or dropping the kids off at soccer practice, it’s not uncommon for students to have handfuls of obligations in addition to schoolwork. Sometimes it all can appear unmanageable, but keeping a few things in mind might help you push through difficult times.

Remember that everyone in college is at a unique stage in life. You might be a military veteran returning from service or a retiree who’s finally got time to get a degree. For some students, school spirit means rocking a Broncho t-shirt at a parent-teacher conference or flashing a class schedule to defer jury duty.

Whatever the situation is, know that other students might not recognize where you’re at in life or what circumstances surround your daily routine. This might make group projects tricky or prompt unnecessary stress. Some classmates, especially younger ones, won’t ever understand your struggles — but your educators do.

Professors exist to help you succeed. They want to hear your questions and give you the tools to develop solutions. School can be intimidating, so whether it’s extra tutoring, a deadline extension or a shoulder to cry on, don’t be afraid to ask your teachers for help.

It’s also important to respect your professors. In many cases, they’ve already done much of the work you someday hope to do — so pay attention and listen carefully. Be sure to make good impressions because your educators will often be the people helping you land future jobs. This includes showing up to class everyday and giving your professor a heads-up when you’ll be late or absent.

Embrace obstacles and sudden changes, even if it makes you uncomfortable. It’s good to surround yourself with support, but don’t be afraid to try new things and enter new social groups. Looking back, there are many instances when I didn’t heed an opportunity out of hesitation, embarrassment or fear — so challenge yourself every chance you get.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. It’s crucial to maintain your mental and emotional stability in order to be a successful student. It’s also much easier to learn when you’re in a better mood, so consider taking a walk around campus, going for a run at the UCO Wellness Center or scheduling a visit with the Center for Counseling and Well-Being if you feel stressed or overwhelmed. You know yourself better than anyone else; find a way to channel those anxieties about school into something productive.

Finally, always attempt to prioritize, plan and persevere. Don’t wait until the last minute to get things done or aim to simply pass the course and earn credit. Instead, create a schedule that works with your life and strive to do your best work. With countless resources around campus, seasoned professionals waiting to help and the drive to be better, there’s no reason nontraditional students can’t succeed.

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