Old school

Four tough-love tips from one more mature matriculant to another

Does college get better with age?

Does college get better with age?

So you’re old and dumb. OK, maybe not exactly. But you never finished college. Your license hasn’t had that “age 21 in” red stripe in eons. For 18-year-old frat boys who see things in dog years, you’re old. And dumb.

You’re headed back to school to get your learn on and bring home the baccalaureate. And you’ve got at least one up on the kiddies: You’re there because you actually want to be. You’re well beyond the days of keg stands, the freshman 15 and Sigma Gamma Whatever. The ability to focus on your studies will come much easier without the constant falling of Jäger bombs.

Plus, you’re not alone. Between 2000 and 2009, colleges nationwide saw a 43 percent increase in enrollment for students over the age of 25, as compared to only a 27 percent increase for students 24 and under during the same timeframe, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And while projected enrollment is down overall in the next 10 years, the number of seniles turned seniors still dominates: 23 percent over the age of 25 matched with 9 percent of the young’uns.

Yes, more and more of us geezers are hitting the books, trying to find our way in today’s increasingly competitive job market. Including your humble narrator. I took community-college classes at a glacial pace until 2007, followed by some cliché time off to “find myself.” Four years later, I’ve found myself cresting the hill at the ripe old age of 30 without a bachelor’s degree. So I’m brushing the cobwebs off the Jansport and heading back to school.

If, however, you’re still feeling a little out of sorts, here’s a handful of pointers from a fellow fogy:

Act your age

This might be obvious, but try not to embarrass yourself. When you take a tour at orientation, don’t ask for directions to the wine bar on campus—there isn’t one. (No matter what you may have heard, I totally did not do exactly that this past July.) And you’re probably gonna want to leave the young person’s vernacular to the young persons. Half the time they sound like dum-dums dropping it themselves. Even that ostensibly ironic, straight-laced-white-guy fashion is played out. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Strive to be an oldie but a goodie. Don’t behave as though school is frivolous or somehow beneath you because you’ve been part of the “real world” for the last decade. Descartes’ writings might not be applicable to your last cubical job, but after all, isn’t that the point? You’re there to learn, so open your mind to the possibility that you don’t know it all.

Don’t expect special treatment, either—some kind of simpatico edge with your professors because you’ve got more years under your belt. Think of Teach like a honey badger. They don’t give a shit. You’ve got kids, a nagging husband, yadda yadda. Part of putting on your grown-up pants is taking responsibility for yourself, right? So don’t expect to be babied because of your babies.

Ain’t too proud to beg

College ain’t cheap, folks. But you already know that. It’s likely one of the reasons that kept you from going in the first place. It’s more expensive now, too. Both the UC and CSU systems saw big-time increases—a 17.6 and 22 percent rise respectively in tuition costs for the 2011-2012 school year alone, and a cumulative increase of more than 200 percent in the last decade. Sadly, there’s likely no place to go but up.

Fortunately, financial aid doesn’t discriminate against your wrinkly ass. In fact, some scholarships are geared specifically toward our kind. Case in point: The Osher Re-entry Scholarship awards $2,500 to returning students who dropped out of college five or more years back.

So ditch your pride and commence with the begging. Fill out the FAFSA; apply for any grants or scholarships that fit your circumstances. Seek help from your college’s financial aid office. Don’t let taking the kids to soccer get in your way—this is important stuff. Degrees don’t guarantee the dollars they used to, and every penny is precious.

While we’re at it, do you really need that Netflix subscription? Spotify is great, but you’ll have to learn to hang with the Michelle Branch commercials in the free version. Take inventory and figure out where you can cut costs. You’ve probably gotten accustomed to some luxuries in your old age, but it’s time to go back to starving-student standards. It’s a bit of a pain, yes, but it’s to avoid the big hurt come six months after graduation day when it’s time to pay the piper.

If it’s not totally unreasonable, maybe a move back home is something to—I know, I know—but just think about it?

Get with the program

Remember blowing on Nintendo cartridges to avoid the blue screen? Yeah, me too. I had a freakin’ pager in high school, and the Internet was nothing but chat rooms and porn (pretty much the same now, sans chat rooms). It’s a different time. Things come easier to this generation of students. The only way these kids are going uphill in the snow anywhere is on a lift with a Burton board in tow. They might be spoiled in that fashion, but they are savvy as hell with the tech stuff. You don’t get wedgies for nerding out anymore—you get paid. At the very least, you get ease of access to information, a smoother trip to the library and less time wasted kicking the copy machine.

Learn the technology. Spend some time acclimating yourself to the fundamentals you don’t know—basic HTML, Photoshop, how to search the Web more efficiently, etc. Annoy your daughter by friending her on Facebook. (Personally, I have to let go of my Twitter embargo.)

Get familiar with the campus-specific geek gadgets, too. Figure out how to get on Wi-Fi, how to navigate any Web stuff your professors utilize, how to set up your laptop for printing at school. Learn it now, before the day your first big paper is due. Plus, there’s a bonus to being old-school in this instance, too. The ability to perform the miracle at the microfiche machines will leave the kiddies in awe with respect for how it used to be done.

Nothing to fear but everything

Last but not least, be afraid. It’s OK. It’s a scary thing, returning to school after a long hiatus, being a stranger in a strange, more high-tech land. If you aren’t a little bit freaked, something’s wrong with you. All things worth achieving are things you fear. So take those butterflies as a sign that you’re doing something right, and stay in school.