Tales From the Classroom

ClassroomExperiences (1)Classroom Experiences

It can be really intimidating going into a classroom full of traditional students if you are a nontraditional. I talked about the need to network and be open to traditional students you come in contact with in a previous post. Overall, my experiences as a 30-something have been positive. Most traditional students have been very respectful and even helpful.

I do know that there is a stereotype traditionals have about nontraditionals. The biggest stereotype is that we tend to be know-it-alls in class. While I personally tend to be on the quiet side, this is actually something I have witnessed in a couple of my classes. My marketing class had well over a hundred students in it. There were two nontraditional guys who sat in the front and had an answer for everything and a story to go along with it as well. Even I had to roll my eyes at them a few times. I do think that probably helped them though so I am not criticizing them. It’s only when a nontraditional becomes condescending or disrupts the instructor that I take issue with it. As nontraditionals, we do have a lot to offer in class. Just be mindful how this may come across.

I also had a smaller public speaking class where I did experience an…interesting interaction with traditionals. For our final, we had a group project. I was paired up with two frat guys. I knew they were frat guys because…well they talked about it lot. We were supposed to begin working on the project the week of Thanksgiving but our instructor decided to cancel class since so many people had expressed that they were going out of town (our class met on Wednesday night).

It’s hard coordinating schedules on the best of days, but it is especially hard for a nontraditional who works a regular 9-5 to coordinate a schedule with traditionals who spend days in class and work part time or have other activities in the evenings. So we only met the one time before the presentation. On the day of presentation, they wanted to meet in the library but I told them I wouldn’t be able to. They decided to go without me and finish up the Powerpoint and we would meet in class. They arrived to class late. Presentations were just about to begin and we had only a couple of minutes to talk.

It wasn’t until we started our presentation that I realized something was off. One of them was super quiet during the presentation, while the other was super talkative. He was so talkative that he would actually repeat everything I said. When the time keeper raised her hand to signal we needed to start wrapping it up, he apparently thought she was asking a question and told her to hold on a minute and continued speaking. The time keeper finally had to say, “Thank you” to signal that we were over our time limit. It was then I realized that they were both drunk! Apparently, while working together in the library, they were taking shots. Honestly, I was more amused by the whole thing than anything else. It was a reminder to me that college is a different experience to them than it is to me. That having fun is as much a part of their experience as papers.

It also taught me that in the future, I will be pulling rank when it comes to group projects because that project was the difference between an A and the B! Yes, we got an 84 on the project and my final grade wound up being 89.2! I am more upset with my instructor than with the guys though. She really couldn’t bump that up by .3?!?

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7 Websites for Nontraditional Students

ON POINTTechnically, anyone can use these sites. They are not specific to nontraditional students. If you are just starting school and need some extra help with transitioning to student status, here’s a list of seven of my favorite websites that might help.

Chegg.com

Chegg is a website where you can buy or rent text books. I have found this site to be cheaper then renting books through my school. In addition to text books, they also have tutoring services. I used the tutoring while taking calculus and I found it to be really helpful. There is also a monthly subscription where you can get help with homework questions, which I also used while taking Biology.

Ratemyprofessor.com

If you attend college, this site is a lifesaver. Students from your school can go in and rate the instructors which helped me greatly with picking classes. The first time I used this site I was trying to gauge how hard an American history class would be if I took it online. Reading through comments for the class I discovered a lot of people who said this instructor was the easiest A they had ever earned. They were right! I took his class for sections 1 and 2 and got 105 in each class with only about 10% effort! I know that sounds bad, but it’s not like American history is my major. Anyway, I would caution to be careful not to take every individual post as the gospel truth because you never know who’s just a disgruntled student, but I would advise looking for patterns and trends in the comments.

Lynda.com

If you are not up on the latest versions of MS Office, or if you must take a computer course then Lynda is a great resource. Lynda teaches everything from MS Word for beginners to Photoshop for graphic designers. It’s a great way to learn or improve your computer skills. FYI, this is a paid site but many colleges provide this service to students.

KhanAcademy.com

I used this site while taking calculus (I needed a lot of help in calculus y’all). They have free videos for several subjects. Great resource for learning hard concepts like calculus.

Youtube.com

If you only use yt for makeup videos you are missing out! I have watched debates, learned calculus concepts (again), study skills, and organizing through yt. It took me years to realize that test taking and studying were actually skills. I unfortunately learned this half way through last semester and yt helped me develop those skills. Unless you are blessed with a photographic memory, you are going to need to develop this skill set.

Quizlet.com

Quizlet is basically a place where you can find or create your own digital flash cards. I have never created my own flash cards there but I have come across other people’s flash cards while looking for an answer to a homework problem.

easybib.com

At some point you are going to have to write a research paper and you will be expected to credit your sources. This site generates the citation once you put in the information. This was a time saver when I was taking English, and literature.

So, there you have it. My favorite 5 links/websites that have helped me. Do you have any sites that helped you in school? Leave them in the comments!

Starting School

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Back To School

So you picked a program, picked your school, and have gotten financing? Congratulations you are well on your way to achieving your goals. I am tempted to say the hard part is done, but that wouldn’t exactly be accurate. You still have classes, advisers, traditional students, kids, family, bosses, friends, significant others, dogs, cats, and god only knows what else left to contend with! So let’s talk about ways to make your life run a little smoother while in school

First things first, school has to become a priority. I am not saying it has to be your only priority, but it needs to be on your top 5 list. People generally protect and guard the things that are a priority to them. You don’t blow off your child’s graduation to go play golf with your friends because your child is your priority, right? Well, you don’t blow off school work to go play golf with your friends either. It has to be a priority.

Establish a relationship with your adviser. Plan to meet with them at least twice each semester. The first meeting of the semester should be to discuss any issues you may be having and to find resources that are available to you.  Have them draw up a time line for the classes you have to take and check in with them at the end of the semester to ensure you are on schedule.

Parents

I don’t have children, but I find so many nontraditional students who have children struggle with returning to school the most. This is especially true if you have small children. Most important for parents is to have a support system in place who will help pick up the slack. From the beginning, you should let people in your life know what you are trying to accomplish and ask them to help. Arranging child care is going to be important. If finding child care is an issue, you might need to seek out schools that have online classes.

Organization

I began getting organized late in the game. I realized I was getting overwhelmed and began looking for ways to manage my schedule. I have a master planner that lays out my daily schedule but I also keep deadlines, test dates, and school activities in it.

I also set out to organize my study habits. I actually decided to look on youtube and found a lot of great info there. Most of the advice was from traditional students but I still was able to use some of it. One of my favorite youtubers is Gabby Aikawa. She has great videos on everything from creating study guides, to planner organization. She also has a video showing her grades so I knew I was following the advice of someone who was truly an A student. Thomas Frank from College Info Geek is also another great youtuber who makes great videos. Another is Mariana .

I would also advise having a specific study area. That area should be organized, comfortable, well lit, and most importantly, free from distractions. Here a couple more video on study strategies that should help.

Connections

If you wind up at a traditional college/university you might feel out of place. Traditional college students are young and generally don’t have the same responsibilities. You may be tempted to keep to yourself and not deal with them but that would be a mistake. I am not saying go partying with them, but it is possible to connect with them on a level that is beneficial to you. Also, these people are going to be going into the same industry so there is an opportunity to network for jobs in the future.

Introduce yourself to your instructor. Do this in the beginning. Let them know you are a nontraditional student and ask what you need to do to get the grade you want in this class. I am not saying be a teacher’s pet, but introducing yourself can help you stand out and shows your instructor that you are serious about their class.

Good Luck!

 

Paying for School

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Higher education is not cheap by any means and finding ways to offset the cost could make or break your school plans. The first thing you need to do is apply for financial aid. In order to do this, you will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. You should probably complete this now as many schools have deadlines for FAFSA applications.

Are you unemployed?

If you are unemployed, the first place to look for funding would be through your state employment commission. There are some programs run through the state and federal government that help provide training for the unemployed. Usually, the programs they fund are trades, but there are some opportunities for community colleges as well. Generally, you have to prove that your chosen career field is competitive. For this reason, getting funded for a degree in Art is probably not going to happen. I will say that because these are government programs, the funding may not always be there. Still, your state employment commission might be able to direct you to local funding sources. The department of labor and social services (if you receive certain benefits) may also provide information on returning to school.

Are you employed?

There are some companies that offer tuition reimbursement as part of their benefits package so your HR department is the first place you should go. Some employers may offer the tuition assistance up front which would mean submitting paperwork to them and they would pay your tuition before school starts. Others, you may have to pay for your classes up front and they would reimburse you after you had finished the class. There may be some restriction but overall, this is a great benefit and one that I myself am able to take advantage of.

Just remember that if you do go this route, there may be some stipulations tied to it. Usually, there is a grade requirement for the class so if you were to get a D or an F, your employer would not pay for the class. Also, some companies have stipulations about your length of service if they pay for school. Some may require that you work for the company at least 1-2 years after you have completed a course.

Even if your company does not have a formal reimbursement program, still talk to your supervisor about getting education to move up within the company. A friend of my mother’s worked as a nursing assistant at a nursing home. She expressed to her employer a desire to become a Registered Nurse and they gave her funding on the condition that once she became an RN, she would work for the facility for two years.

Grants

Grants are probably the ideal source of funding. They are based on the needs of the individual and don’t have to be paid back. They are available for going to traditional colleges or trade/career schools as well. There are state and federal grants that you may be eligible for. Your school should be able to provide information on state grants and how to qualify for them. The Pell grant is a federal grant program that is probably the most well-known. In addition there is the FSEOG. You can read more about federal grants here. Eligibility for these grant are determined through your FAFSA.

Scholarships

Scholarships are also free and don’t need to be paid back but the process for attaining one can be complicated. Because these are not government funds, there are thousands of scholarships with a multitude of criteria for eligibility. Scholarships can be merit based or need based. There are some that will pick a random winner, and some are based on a membership in a specific group, i.e. ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. There may be added steps to attaining a scholarship like writing an essay or completing an application. Just know that the bigger the amount, the more competition there will be for it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply but there are smaller scholarship that are probably offered in your local area that will have less competition. A $500-$1000 scholarship from your local women’s league may not be as appealing as a $10K national scholarship but every little bit helps!

Research your local area organizations first. Women’s clubs, volunteer organizations, even your employer. There are several web sites available as well. Scholarships.com is one that I have heard good things about. Check here for additional details.  You should reach out to your school’s financial aid office as well. Many schools have scholarship programs geared specifically towards their own students.

Self-Pay

If you cannot find any of the above sources for funding, you may have to pay out of pocket for classes. Many schools do have payment plan options available so ask your school before registering for class.

Student Loans

If money keeps you from going back to school, I think a student loan should be your last resort. There are private loans that you can take out, and there are federal loans. Make sure to do your research to determine what will work for you. Here you can find out about federal student loans. Student loan debt is like no other debt. It doesn’t get forgiven or discharged so be careful here. You will have this debt until you pay it off or you die. If you go this route, take only what you need for school. There may be an opportunity to get more than what you need, but since loans have to be repaid, it isn’t a good idea to take it. Talk to your school about getting a loan.

 

Picking a School

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The next step in this process is to figure out what school you need to attend. This can be a daunting task but research is your best friend. Also, don’t let a school talk you into enrolling in a program. Before you walk through the door, you need to be armed with the facts. First and foremost, you need to choose a school that has the proper accreditation. Years ago I met a women at my community college who was pursuing a nursing degree. One day she mentioned to me that she had originally started attending a different school for nursing. She had started without doing research and she later found out that while her school was accredited, the nursing program was not. She had only attended 1 semester but once she began talking to other nurses/healthcare professionals, she realized that a degree from that school would only hinder her career.

What school should I attend?

This is dependent on what you want to do. Remember last week when I asked if you needed skills or a degree? Well if you just need skills, you should speak to your HR or supervisor about what those are, and where they can be obtained. Computer skills are easy to develop with so many online options out there (some even free!) you can gain these skills quite easily.

Trade/Career Schools

Some occupations require trade licenses and school, i.e HVAC techs or mechanics. If this is your career path, find out if your local school district has an adult vocational school. In my area, the city offers classes in everything from cosmetology to medical assistant. Their classes tend to be cheaper than career schools. There are sometimes extra steps involved in going this route though. For instance, cosmetology school usually have their own salon where real clients pay reduced rates for services. This provides students with hands on training that is required to sit for the state exam. This is not the case with the vo-tech here and many cosmetology students have to get an apprenticeship in order to get the hours required to take the exam. This apprenticeship they actually have to find on their own. Still, it is about 10K cheaper to go the vo-tech route.

There are career schools that specialize in a certain vocation. These schools can be pretty pricey but if that is the only option available, you need to be very careful about the school you choose. It goes back to accreditation. If they are not accredited, don’t waste your time! Also, ask them if they provide any sort of job placement. Find reviews online or try reaching out to people in that field for guidance.

Community College

Most community colleges have a combination of trade programs and academic programs. You will get an associate’s degree or career certificate here. Accreditation still needs to be verified – both the school and the program/major. Community college is also a good option if you have plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s is basically the equivalent of your freshman and sophomore year at a traditional four year college/university. You cam save a lot of money going this route. A 3 credit English class at my community college was about $400. A three credit class at my University is about $1400. Huge difference! Most community colleges also have guaranteed transfer programs with four year schools. I didn’t bother to apply to multiple universities when I graduated from community college because my school has a guaranteed admissions program with my university. I knew I was automatically accepted to my university’s business school based on the fact that I had completed my associates with a certain GPA.

College/University

If a bachelor’s degree or higher is needed, this is the route you will have to go. Colleges and Universities are probably the most expensive route. We can break this category down to for profit schools vs non-profit schools. I talked about the dangers of for profit schools here.  so I won’t got into that. I will say, not all for profit schools are created equal so do your research! Whichever college you choose, it should be accredited. Read more about accreditation here.  The big accreditation for colleges and universities is regional accreditation, but as mentioned above, some programs may still need to have additional based on industry standards. Again, research is your friend!

Next Week: Paying for school

What is your goal?

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With the emphasis that is placed on higher education these days, it makes sense that people would want to go back to school. However, going back to school is a sacrifice of your time, energy, creativity, and money. Before jumping in you need to make sure it is right for you. That starts with asking yourself what you hope to get out of it. Do you want to change careers? Make more money? Move up within your current industry/company? Is a degree a lifetime goal? Before you begin shopping for schools, these questions need to be answered or you may find yourself in a program that won’t help you achieve your goals.

For The Money or Career Change

Statistically, college graduates make more than high school graduates, but if you have dreams of making it into the 1% you might want to avoid certain Art degrees. According to Forbes list of the 10 worst majors, some art majors have a starting salaries of 30K. You really have to ask yourself how much money do you want to make, and if the degree you are seeking will provide it. The ultimate goal would be that your passion can provide the lifestyle you imagine but what if it doesn’t? Are you more interested in pursuing your passion or a hefty paycheck? Before committing to any program or school, you need to make sure you answer this question.

I would also point out that there are some careers that don’t even require bachelor degrees.  If pursuing a four year degree is just not feasible, take a look at this list of jobs that may not require a college degree.

The promotion

You are in your dream industry or company and there is a position or title that you want to achieve but something is holding you back from that position. Is a degree required or are there certain skills that you lack? Some skills can be attained without a degree so it is important to find this out. If you lack skills, find out what those skills are and how they can be obtained. Do you lack computer skills? Can you shadow someone in that position? You already have a foot in the door so start by talking to your supervisor, HR, or someone who already holds that position. If a degree is still needed, talk to HR about any sort of tuition reimbursement that might be available to you. As always, consider the debt that you may incur as a result of attaining that degree.

It’s a lifelong dream

For some people it’s not just about money or position. They value education and have always wanted to achieve a degree. There’s nothing wrong with that but you still need to consider what you will get out of the degree.

Why am I stressing examining your reasons for going back to school? Well the fact is that examining your reasons will help you focus on choosing the best school or major. It might even help with finding financial assistance. I have had several pitfall along the way and most of them stem from not having a plan of action.  Figure out what you want and follow that up with research!

Next step: Which school do I choose?

 

Semester end and the future of this blog

stocksnap_ewt7k0dqlnWell it’s January and I have one semester down at Uni. The fall semester was hectic for me and I wound up having to put a lot of things on the back burner for school. By the time classes ended I was so burnt out I just crashed the last two weeks of December. Just to give you a wrap up of how my semester went, it was a mixed bag. My grades were…ok for the most part. Out of my four classes I wound up with two B’s a C, and I did not pass one class. I am embarrassed to say, I failed Excel! Of all things! It was a one credit pass/fail course and there was only one test for it. The test timed out before I could finish it and I wound up not finishing about 8 problems.

Unfortunately, I am not taking classes for the spring but will start again in the summer. My employer pays for my school, but I have come to the conclusion that I either need to work part time this semester or find a new position because my job does not pay well at all. Not to mention, my job only pays for 18 credits a fiscal year and I have 8 credits left. I might as well take those over the summer.

I have been thinking about what I want to do with this blog and have come to the conclusion that I want to keep blogging but be more consistent in posting. I may not get a lot of traffic on the blog right now, but I am still very interested in connecting with nontraditional students and creating a space online for us to come together and share. To that end I am going to be posting weekly. I will share resources that I think may be beneficial to others.

Thinking about going back to school? Next week I will start posting on what you need to do next to get the ball rolling.

 

For Profit

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I recently did a presentation for my public speaking class and thought the information might be helpful to people who read this blog. The presentation was about for profit schools. I actually took a couple of classes at a for profit school a couple of years ago and began to wonder if they were worth the cost as I was attending. I certainly don’t want to tell people what schools they should or should not attend, but I am going to share some of the information I came across while researching this project.

In American society today, we are taught that in order to be successful, we need to have an education. The more education you have, the more money you make, the more upwardly mobile you become. Because of this constant emphasis on education, people are looking for ways to return to school and pursue their goals. This need has fueled the rise in for profit education but are they worth it?

For profits schools are businesses that make money for its shareholders by offering a service. Non-profits are learning environments designed to serve student interests, helping them finish their college degrees and achieve career success. For profits appeal to non-traditional students because they offer night and online classes. Their offices are open during times that are generally more convenient for people who work full time jobs. They also offer accelerated degrees and promise to use your work experience as part of your degree.

The Cost

On average, for profits schools tend to charge as much as tradition colleges and universities and tend to be more than community colleges.  Where I live, students who are interested in getting an Associates in Business Administration have the option of going to Strayer University or going to a local community college, but Strayer is double the price of the community college. A four credit course at strayer is $1420 while four credits at the local community college is $620.

Reputation

30% of for profit graduates say their education was not worth it.  Why such a high rate of dissatisfaction? First, they think that by having an education, their salaries will rise. This is not always the case. According to U.S News, average salaries of graduates of for profit schools are about the same as people who have never attended college.

Graduates of for profit schools also have a harder time of it when they are applying for positions as well. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia sent out 9,000 fictitious resumes of recent graduates. The resumes that listed for profit degrees were about 22% less likely to receive a callback from a prospective employer than applicants with similar degrees from nonselective non-profit schools.

Student Loans

Most troubling about for profit schools is the student loan default rate. Student loan default rates from for profit schools account for almost half of all defaulted student loans. As a matter of fact, the rise in the student default rate over the past 10 years is linked to the growth in for profit education that has been going on.

Now I will say that all for profits are not created equal. In my research there were definitely some schools that had a decent reputation. If you are really interested in attending a for profit school, be sure to research the school thoroughly. You don’t want to waste your time, and money if you are not going to receive any benefit from it.

Check In

So, been a while since I updated this blog. Sorry about that but every time I sat down to write a post, I didn’t know what to write about. I mean there is a lot I can say, I just wasn’t sure if it was worth saying. Anyway, it has been almost two months since school started and I am pretty much doing ok, but I know I need to do better. Most of my classes I have a high C low B average right now, but I know that is because I have not given school the effort I need to give it. I need to get my grade up because I would really like to get a scholarship next year. My job currently pays for school but I would like to take a leave from my job to finish my degree and I can’t afford to pay for school to do that. So a scholarship would go a long way.

I am taking two on campus classes right now. One is a huge class and I have not made an effort to meet my instructor one on one. This is especially important because she teaches the introductory class to the program I plan on going into. The second class is basically a public speaking class that the school of business put together as part of its major. I am pretty sure both of my instructors are younger than me so that’s interesting. I don’t have a lot interaction with the other students one class because of the size of the class, but I have had some interaction with students in my public speaking class. Surprisingly, they all tend to be traditional students. With it being a night class I thought for sure there would be non-traditional students in it. There are quite a few foreign exchange students in my class who don’t speak English well. For some reason when our teacher tells us to pair up with someone knew, they tend to come to me. Maybe the 30 something lady in the back of the class is less intimidating than the students who are actually their age. I don’t know. The class is small and it is actually run by the theater department so we do a lot of warm ups like actors and this creates a more intimate setting and allows more interaction and I am enjoying that.

I keep saying I am going to look into learning some coding but I haven’t even started that. I did join some meetup groups but have not yet been able to join in an actual meetup. That is the next step for me. I am also currently looking for a new job, so there’s another time consuming task that I need to take care of.

Right now I am thinking about doing a series of posts aimed at people who are considering going back to school. Just to give advice on the process and what to expect and find resources for making the decision. I will probably start the series the last week of October so if you are someone still exploring the option of going back to school, keep an eye for that in the next few weeks.

Associates down and a Bachelors to go…

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So Monday was my official last day at my community college. This summer has been really hard due to taking a writing intensive English course and calculus. The calculus gave me the most problems and I have pretty much spent the whole summer concentrating on that. Between having class two nights per week and going to tutoring two nights per week while working full time, I am truly burnt out! Taking calculus during the summer was a bad idea.

So with the end of my calculus and literature course, I officially hold an Associate’s degree in Business Administration! It feels really good to type that. I feel like I have had so many false starts when it comes to my education that I am just ecstatic to actually finish this leg of my journey. It hit me yesterday when I checked my final grades online. You actually do have a degree!

I also had my orientation at my university a few weeks back. While I tried to wiggle my way out of attending, it was mandatory. Still, I was excited to attend. Going to community college, it is not unusual to see nontraditional students, especially in the evening classes. Not so much at the university though. It was a daytime orientation and the bulk of the students were traditional students there with their parents. Because parents were there I didn’t stand out too much. At least not until they asked the parents to go into another room and 95% of the people left were probably under 25. I did manage to meet another nontraditional student.  She was a stay at home wife and mother who was also coming from the same community college as me. We talked a bit and hopefully I will see her again.

Classes start up in exactly 19 days, and there are a few things I want to do. My school has a subscription to Lynda.com and I am very interested in taking some of the courses on there. Not just for school but for this blog and because I am interested in learning about googles adwords. School supply shopping, renting textbooks, visiting the school career services office as well as the advising office is also something I need to do.

Until next time…