Ever since I did Annelise’s back to school post I’ve wanted to post a little bit about what its like to go back to school. Now that I’m almost through with my second semester I guess it’s time to share my insights.
To catch you up on what I’m doing… I’m working toward a Nursing degree. I did a lot of contemplating about whether to go straight for a BSN through a second degree program or going to a community college and become an RN, start working and then work on my BSN. I decided to go the route of BSN because if I get into the program I’ll be done sooner than if I did the community college RN route. The biggest draw back to that is that the program is competitive and I may not get in and if I do I’ll need to go full time for a little over a year, which will be more difficult and also more expensive (GVSU vs Community College).
I was initially leaning toward the longer, less expensive approach of community college. But last summer after I got back from Floyd Fest I decided the best thing for me to do was get done as fast as I could and get back to Virginia. That is our long term plan; as soon as I graduate to move back to Roanoke. The fastest route to making that happen is the GVSU BSN program. So that’s what I’m doing.
In order to apply to the GVSU program I need to complete six classes, one of which has a prerequisite. So that’s seven classes. They take applications every January, the program starts in May and runs for 15 months. I wasn’t going to make it in time to apply this past January, but if I do two classes each semester and one in the summer (and pass them all) I’ll be able to apply next January.
They only admit 40 people and about 90 apply, so I realize there is a good chance I need a plan B. I’m working through that. My options are to wait a year maybe retake a class for a higher grade, continue at the community college and go the long route, or find another second degree program (Jefferson College has one and would be a good option if I could afford it, I’m actually planning on applying there in case GVSU falls through and somehow I can come up with the money to move back to VA and study there).
But we are thinking positive thoughts and proceeding as if I’m going to get in.
I was very anxious and slightly overwhelmed about starting classes last fall. I’ve had two previous experiences with college. The first was the tradition right out of high school go off to college, never mind that I had no idea what I was going to do with my life or what direction I needed to go in. I had a lot of fun getting the college experience but I dropped out after three years. A decade later I went back and did a degree completion program, graduating in 2003. I did much better the second time around.
This time I didn’t know what to expect. I was attending a community college. When I did the degree completion program it was tailored to working adults. Now I was sitting in class with kids that had just graduated from high school or who were in some cases still in high school (seriously, one of my A&P lab partners is a 17 year old high school student).
I worried a lot about my age. Was I too old to do this? Would I even be able to learn anything? What if this old dog can’t learn new tricks? Was I making a fool of myself? Would the professors take me serious? Would I fit in with the other students? There have been a few awkward moments, like realizing that I may have gone to high school with some of my classmate’s parents. But overall my age has not been as much of an issue for anyone other than myself.
Technology has changed a lot since my previous college experiences. I love telling my current classmates that during my first college experience the internet wasn’t even around. It wasn’t until my Junior year that we had the capability to send an email between colleges. Now so much is done online. You are ruled by this thing called “Blackboard.” In the beginning I was extremely anxious. I thought I would never be able to keep up and that the technology alone would overwhelm me. I also experienced sticker shock when buying supplies. I had figured the cost of classes into my budget and had figured a couple of hundred of dollars for books. The books for my Anatomy and Physiology class alone cost about $700. And you can’t buy used because you need a code to access online material. That was almost enough for me to say, “Nope, can’t afford this.”
I’ve found the biggest difference in school then versus now is me and my approach to it. Had I taken school this seriously the first time around, it might have been my only time around. I don’t remember working this hard before, and I guess my grades show that. I was a C (sometimes a B) student back then. Last semester I got an A and an A- and I currently have As in the classes I’m taking this semester. I wasn’t even aware I was capable of getting As until I got an A- on my first test and then an A on the second. And I guess that set the standard for me because now when I get a B I’m disappointed.
I think taking it serious is an advantage to being a “non-traditional” student. I’m not here for the experience. It’s all about the education. Some of the other advantages to being an older students is that staying home and studying on a Friday or Saturday night is no big deal. I don’t have a social life and I really don’t care. But there are some drawbacks to being an older student; the main one being that while I don’t have a social life I have a regular one with a job and kid and adult type of responsibilities. When a big test is coming up I just can’t shut out everything else to focus on it. I still need to go to work and I still need to take care of my daughter. The upside to that is I’m better prepared. I know I can’t pull an all night before an exam like I could when I was 20, so I plan to study in small chunks in the days and weeks leading up to a big test. Another downside I’ve discovered is that I don’t have a network of other students to study with and get information from. Last semester I overheard a couple of students doing a postmortem on an exam and one of the students said, “Oh I aced that part, my roommate took the exam on Monday so I knew what it covered.” I also don’t know other students that have previously taken that class. A lot of notes and assignments have been passed around, but I don’t have that network.
As an older student. I learn differently. Brain development peaks at 25 and then starts to decline at 30. So I guess technically I have less to work with than I did the first time around. I’m a little slower to catch on to things and often have to go over something several times before it starts to make sense. Thankfully most of my classes have had an online version so I have access to all the lectures. I listen to each lecture at least three times. I’ve had the biggest problem with labs. They’re typically faster paced, the teacher will go over what we need to do and then we do it. I don’t have the time to sit with it, review it and make sure I understand what I’m doing. Most days I feel extremely overwhelmed. And I’m always the last student to finish and leave the lab. Thankfully I’ve been fortunate enough to have very patient and understanding lab partners.
For the most part I’ve enjoyed being back in school. I like having something to work toward and I enjoy learning new things. The hardest part has been trying to balance parenting, school and work. Sometimes I feel like school is getting more than its fair share. And its hard because right now I don’t feel like I can settle for doing less. I don’t know what I’m going to be up against when I apply to the BSN program. I’d hate to miss it because my grades were just slightly lower than another students. I need them to be as high as possible, and that requires a lot of study time. For the first time in her life I feel like what’s best for Annelise is not driving my decisions.
Of course she’s still the most important thing and ultimately my going back to school is what is best for both of us but I feel like I’m making compromises I wouldn’t have made before. It would be better for her if I were home more and if while I was home I was more present. It would also probably be better for her if I was more involved in her school, but I put in the bare minimum effort and really hope her school is teaching her what she needs to know for Kindergarten. She’s been allowed to watch way more TV than she ever has before. Most weekends I need to put in several hours of studying, so she sits in my room watching Netflix while I study. I hate that we’re not out doing some of the thing we use to do. I try to tell myself this is just temporary, but I’m afraid I’m starting a habit that will be hard to break later.
This past week she was sick. She woke up from her nap one day with a fever, and I was suppose to be leaving her with a sitter to go take a test. In the past I would have done whatever I needed to do to take care of her. But instead of doing what was best for her, that is staying home, having her rest and providing liquids, I gave her some drugs and left her with her cousin. She did fine, but I keep wondering how sick would she have had to been in order for me to skip my test and stay with her. And the fact that I’m not sure where that line is makes me feel horrible.
Balancing work and school has also been difficult. I don’t have a typical college student job where the boss is somewhat understanding and expecting to have to work around class schedules and exams. I have a real job. And is not just a job it was a career up until about a year ago. People go to college to get my job. During my first college experience I worked at the school in the library. There was a certain level of understanding that school work was suppose to come first. Not so much now. Thankfully I do have very understanding managers that are willing to work with me on scheduling around my classes. But I’m sure in their minds my job still needs to come first, this going to school thing is just something on the side. I’ve been late for work more times than I care to count because of class. I eventually just started ducking out early. One day I had an exam that got started about 15 minutes late. The professor was nice enough to give us a full hour and a half (what should have been the length of the class) to finish but unfortunately for me I had to go to work. I couldn’t stay that extra 15 minutes. I ended up not being able to complete everything on it. I still got a decent grade but it was very frustrating to know I could have done better if I hadn’t had to rush off to work. I’ve also cut back on work hours at times when I need to focus on classes (one of the perks to being per Diem). It’s wonderful that I could do that, but then I have to figure out how I’m going to pay the bills.
And as far as “Me time,” and taking care of myself, that simply doesn’t happen anymore. While I tell myself that it’s important to eat right, get enough sleep and get an adequate amount of exercise. It doesn’t happen. I’ve consumed too much fast food running between work and school, stayed up way too late studying, and haven’t been on my bike since mid February. The things that use to ground me and keep me focused, cycling and yoga, have gotten lost along the way. Right now I would say there is no balance to my life.
This past semester was very difficult. I knew going in it would be rough. I had 12 contact hours, six of lecture and six of lab. When I added up the number of hours I spent in class and lab, the number of hours I study (using the 3 hours out for every one in rule), my work hours, and my commuting hours I had less than 35 hours a week to do “life,” you know eat, sleep, spend time with my child. Thankfully I could get a little overlap with studying and work, but overall there was very little free time this semester. I am seriously behind on all my Netflix and Hulu shows. It has been very hard on Annelise, too. I feel like I’ve been gone more than usual and when I am here I’m studying and she’s curled up in the chair watching Netflix.
One night last week while she was sick she woke up screaming, “I want my Mom” “Where’s my Mom” “What is she doing?” It broke my heart that she wasn’t expecting me to be there. And then a few nights later while at work I got a call from my parents at 2 am because she was up crying due to an earache. I could hear her sobbing and I tried to talk to her on the phone, but it killed me to be so far away. I tried to remind myself that that was the reason I was back in school, so that I could eventually get off nights and be there when she needs me. But at the moment I wanted to scratch the entire plan and go back to the way it was before. At least when we had been in Roanoke I was only 5 minutes away. I could take a break run home, comfort her, give her some medicine, and tuck her back in before heading back to work. Here I was over an hour away and all I could do was have my parents give her some Tylenol and call me back if it got worse.
I’ve only got two weeks left before my “hell semester” is done. The next three semesters should be much easier, or at least less time consuming. After that I’ll be in the Nursing program (if I get in) and the plan will be to cut my work hours and rely a little on student loans. So hopefully this last semester was the worst of it.