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What It's Like Going Back to College in Your 20s

by Jamie Stokes 4 years ago in college
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Sure, it's not 'too late' for me yet, but it feels like it is.

Have you heard someone say, "it's too late for me to go back to college, I'm too old now?" I've heard this plenty of times, usually accompanied by, "which is why I want you to go back to school." Trust me, I get it. It's scary watching someone do something you did that you now regret and wish you could change, so naturally you want to help that person not make your same mistakes. But, here's the thing: we're not the same people. Who's to say that if I never set foot in another college I'd end up as a nobody at a dead-end job? Who's to say that if I never went back to college I wouldn't be able to run my own company and create something amazing? Who's to say that if I never went back to college I wouldn't have a good life?

I know that when people say this, they mean it from a good place. They're not trying to annoy me, or make me feel an inch tall, or make me feel like a total loser. It's easy to say, "Just go back to college! You'll regret it if you don't." But we never stop to think about that person who has to go back to school and what they'll go through. We think about them walking the stage with a degree in something and now their life is meaningful. We don't think about the struggles they'll face when they are back in school.

Going back to school in your 20s is hard. Going back to school in general is hard, but I'd argue that in your 20s, it's the hardest. When you're older and you're going back to school, it's for a better reason other than, "Everyone wanted me to, so here I am." You know why you're there and what you want to do, usually. But when you're going back to school in your 20s, you're young enough to not stand out too much, but still old enough to not fit in. You're old enough to realize that school totally sucks and that sitting in a room all day and having to ask someone to use the restroom again is like going backwards.

And then there are the social pressures! Oh, God. Don't even get me started on the social pressures! All of the people you went to high school with are graduated, or on their last year of school, so when you talk to them again and they ask what you're up to and you say you're still in your freshman year, there's a bit of an awkwardness there. And then your parents have to also be awkward and let the parents of the other ex-high-school peers know that you, their child, is just starting (or going back to) college and then that's an awkward (and sometimes judgmental) silence.

There's also the social group dynamics. You're not old enough to hang out with the late-20s and early 30s crowd, and you're too old to hang out with the fresh-out-of-high-school crowd. You also don't really know all of the current slang and pop-culture because it's easy to stay in your bubble, but you also know more than the older students. You also have been out of school for a few years where it's easier to get back in the swing of things, but you've also been gone for so long that it's ridiculous to go back now. You're stuck in a room with other people being talked down to by a community college professor that has a weird authority complex.

And then there are the multiple fears that come with going back to school. One of the biggest ones today is school shootings becoming more popular. So, then you always have that in the back of your mind. Is today the day that an angry student comes to school with a vengeance? And there's also the pressure to do nearly perfect in all of your classes because if you're going back now, you have to make the best of it—otherwise, what's the point?

Nevertheless, you go back and everyone in your family takes a sigh of relief because now they don't have to worry about you selling your body on the corner at 3 AM. And they're so excited, but I think they're so excited because they haven't been in school for years. But you're back, so you have to at the very least act like you're excited to be there.

The point I'm trying to make here is that if you're in your early-mid 20s and you're being pressured by your family to go back to school, do it because you want to. Because there comes the time in the first few weeks when you're thinking to yourself, why the fuck am I even here? And if you're there because you're tired of being interrogated by your family, it won't be a good enough reason to stick around.

And if you're the family member constantly questioning and pressuring someone to go back to school, stop it. They'll do it when/if they see fit. There's a lot of ways to be "successful" that don't involve going to college.

The moral here is just let people, even if they're your kids who you think don't know better, do what they want. They'll figure it out in the end. And it will be okay.


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Jamie Stokes

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