I’m what they call a “non-traditional” college student. I’m 25 years old and technically in my junior year at Western Oregon University. Although I couldn’t be happier or more sure of myself now, for many years I was very unsure if I even wanted a college degree. Today, there are more and more “non-traditional” students in college. Most are working, some are parents, and every one has their story. I’m hoping that sharing my story might help someone who may be in the same doubtful shoes I once found myself standing in.
So what’s taking me so long? I still ask myself that question sometimes, but I’ve come to realize my journey has been so much more meaningful than just the diploma. The answer is that life doesn’t happen according to a perfect plan. In my case, a health issue came up, and I needed a major surgery. So after finishing my first year at a large university in 2007 I decided to take some time off. I didn’t return to school right away like I had originally planned because I honestly had no idea what I even wanted to do in the future. I felt a little lost and without purpose. I ended up getting a job and moving out on my own. I learned an incredible amount between the ages of 20 and 25 about the working industry, being an adult, the wide world around us, and most importantly about myself. I took some classes here and there, but finally returned as a full time student last term in 2013.
Over the years, I learned a few pivotal lessons first hand. These ideas will be different for each person, as is everything in life, but what you should remember is that even making mistakes will make you a better person in the end.
5 life lessons I learned between 20 and 25:
1. A college degree is the “new” high-school degree. Almost every real paying job expects you to have one. Don’t give up! Get it done. And it’s never too late to go back to school if you did take a break (or drop out).
2. Build up your resume while in college. Minimal-pay jobs that relate to your field are more valuable in the long-run than that “cute boutique” job. Finishing college with some experience under your belt will give you a huge advantage over other graduates. I know so many kids that graduated high school at the same time as me who have graduated college and are only now starting with the $8/hr job at Starbucks because they didn’t work while in college.
3. Restaurant or a service-industry job is a great position to have while in college. It gives you the best training in customer service- which is necessary for any career. A flexible schedule and good tips are obvious perks. THE DOWN SIDE: It can be a trap. If you’re making so much money, why quit? Next thing you know, you’re serving tables for 8 years.
4. It’s perfectly normal if you still don’t know what want your career to be! Get your degree anyway. I’ve met a LOT of successful adults who eventually started their career in a field not even related to their major.
5. Ok, I know this one sounds cliche…but HAVE FUN! You will forever look back at these years as some of the best of your life. So live it up! And I DON’T mean go out to bars and get wasted…because that gets old so fast. Seriously. Have fun in the ways you can’t when you’re 40 and not in school, like: sit by that super hot girl/guy in class and become friends, join a club, throw a slumber party in your room, learn to rock climb, or lie in the grass with your friends and watch the clouds.
So there it is. Maybe you’ll take some of my advice, maybe you’ll figure it out on your own. Either way, you are writing your own history. Imagine that your life is a book and every day is a page to be written. What will you write today?
By Tia Jay