I’ve just come back to college after decades. Things have changed so much from when I went to school, and I think I’ve bit off more than I can chew. I don’t know if I can do this or not. Do you have any advice?
First off, let me begin by saying, “Congratulations!” Coming back to school after decades means there is a goal you have in mind, and now you’re taking steps to achieve it. That’s no small thing, especially as we get older. Too many of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s have the tendency to turn “I aspire to” into “I wish I had, but that time is past.” So, the first thing I want you to do is give yourself permission to struggle a little and to sometimes maybe even stumble or fall. Even at our age, learning new things means that sometimes we’ll get it, and sometimes it just takes a little longer to truly understand. It’s OK.
I completely understand your fears. I dropped out of college in 1995 and didn’t return until 2017. So much had changed since I was in school. I had no idea how to do classes online, and everything about signing up for classes was different. Back then, we would flip through catalogs and write our choices on carbon copy forms. Most of us didn’t find out whether we got all the classes we wanted until a couple of days after registering for them. Back then, you couldn’t rent textbooks, and e-textbooks weren’t even invented. Essays were written and turned in on notebook paper, though, never from a spiral notebook — I did that once and got points deducted. Tests were handed out in class and generally contained so many pages that you wondered how many trees had to die for you to show you grasped the material.
Things were a lot different, and any time we begin things that are unfamiliar, there is a certain amount of apprehension or anxiety that tags along. What I want you to ponder for a moment is how many times in your life have you tried new experiences? Think back, way back. Remember at one point, you were a 5-year-old beginning kindergarten for the first time. You were able to do that, despite the fact that everything you were experiencing was brand new. How about the first time you drove a vehicle? My dad took me to a cemetery to try driving for the first time because he said if I hit someone, they were already deceased! Remember how much anxiety followed when you got behind the wheel of your parent’s car and drove it onto the road with other moving vehicles, but you did it. Throughout your life there have been many new experiences, and in the beginning, you might have wondered if you bit off more than you could chew, but you stuck with it. Before long, you mastered it.
You will master this, too. Sure, things are different, but you wouldn’t have signed up for classes if something in your soul didn’t tell you that you were capable of succeeding. We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves, especially when we’re taking these leaps of faith while those around us say things like, “Wow, I can’t believe you’re doing that at your age,” or “I’ve always wanted to do that, but I’m too old.”
The truth of the matter is, yes, you will have a learning curve. There will be times that you knock it out of the park, and others where you feel like you completely dropped the ball. But throughout this adventure, there is one thing I want you to remember: you are not alone. You have support. Your academic adviser is always ready to hear your concerns and help guide you through this journey. Your professors want to see you succeed and are willing and ready to meet you outside of class to answer your questions. Mercer University has the Academic Resource Center, which offers tutoring, along with math, science and writing labs, both in person and online. Each campus also has coordinators and student ambassadors who are there to listen to your concerns, offer advice, help you learn how to find information through MyMercer and show you how to navigate Canvas.
You have support; just don’t be too nervous or worried to ask for it. Remember, Mercer’s mission is, “To teach, to learn, to create, to discover, to inspire, to empower and to serve.” If there’s one thing I have learned since becoming a Mercer Bear, it’s that the University truly cares about its students and wants to see them succeed. You are not just another warm body in a seat; you are a future success story. You are a future Mercer graduate who will one day inspire others to step outside their comfort zones and go after the goals they’ve always wanted to attain, regardless of their age or circumstances. You can do this!
And because I completely understand how you feel, after all, I’m a student at 48 years of age, please always know that you’ve got someone who is there to listen. I’m just an email away.
Good luck to you, and I truly wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey!
Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.