Aug 8, 2014

"Back to School": When You’ve Been Out Of School (For Awhile)

Talking to an adult learner on the N train today, she told me she likes to see the young kids squirm in their seat when she gets to interpret Shakespearean sonnets. "I have a whole different outlook on love than them. It's not the same." My N train companion is not alone being older than her colleagues. One out of three students in this year’s Freshman class will most likely be over twenty-five years of age.
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1. Diving in 

More adult learners are going back to school. What’s the number one motivation? Desire to learn. As the baby boomers retire, more are fueled with renewed cognitive interest or are tired of doing the same thing time again. It's like Camus imagining Sisyphus pushing that damn rock: you got to think of something new for the descent. 

2. Fitting in

Part of going back to school is a brain thing. Older students report feeling out of place among younger students, and find it hard to adjust to new educational attitudes that may differ from what they remember from previous schools. It’ll be different for sure, but fitting in is part of the cognitive process of starting something new.


Video Courtesy: ZaTbone


There are challenges to returning to the classroom, but if Rodney Dangerfield could do it, so can you. 

3. Finding your way


Anyone can go to university if they have a passion. In fact, having a passion makes more sense for those who have already straddled careers and family, because they have had more time to think about what they want. One indicator of success is just that: focus and knowing what you want, having goals, joined with life experience

4. Revitalizing options


Who says you can have only one career? Billie Letts, of Where The Heart Is fame, wrote her first novel when she was in her 50s. Older and older, it doesn’t mean sapping innovation and creativity. Older people are seeking second, third, and even fourth career choices. It’s a glimpse into the future. It’s where we’re going, so don’t let ageism creep into the hallowed halls. The younger set now vie for the honor roll with a silver haired genius. 

5. Being an outlier


We’re living longer. The adult brain is still spry. Voices from across the age spectrum offer different takes on life. You might be older than your professor, and your age has made you an outlier. But outlier status means you give a fresh perspective in the classroom. You’re changing the bell curve. Like Shakespeare meditating on love (or the lady on the N train), learning something new at the apex of life is not letting got of that “ever-fixed mark” that "looks on tempests and is never shaken."

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