How It All Ends

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

One of the great things about having been in both the student’s chair and facing the students’ chairs as a professor is that you know the process of higher education … and you know “how it ends.”

Students who enroll into college fresh out of high school see their education as just a continuance, but with fewer authority figures.  They know, like with high school, they will enroll in courses according to their major, and at the end of four years, they will graduate with another diploma.

However, for Non-Traditional Students (NTS), there is a time gap between the commencement ceremony of high school and the beginning of their college career.  During that time gap, the future NTS has time to think about all of the possible consequences of enrollment, including the effect on her/his family life, possible career changes that might result and the overall commitment that will be required.  Sometimes, thinking of all of those possible outcomes can cause the future NTS to delay enrolling.  The uncertainty of “the ending” can be very scary.  But, my experience in the classroom has given me (as well as other NTS and professors) a crystal ball.  We know how it ends.

One of the delights of continuing your education as an NTS is that you have an intellectual connection to the course material and your academic career.  Often, you have chosen your courses and major based upon your life experience.  Therefore, there is a logical basis for your selections.  Or, you see the sands slipping through the hourglass and you have decided that now is the time to pursue your dream job – something that you cannot believe someone would pay you to do because you would be having so much fun.  Both of these scenarios are not within the experience of the recent high school graduate.  They do not have the same intellectual touchstones as the NTS.

It is because of this connection, that the ending, although uncertain to you, is clear to the former NTS, professors and often those in the admissions office.  You do not realize at the time, but you will experience a sense of growth that was not a consideration in your speculations about possible outcomes.  That growth, that broadening of understanding, will now create options for you that you had never envisioned.  In addition, there is both a sense of finality when your program is completed, and an awareness of a new beginning.  That awareness is they key to your future and is not something you can incorporate into your personal predictions.  Let’s face it, you can’t know what you don’t know.

So, let those of us who have sat in the student’s chair for many years and face the students’ chairs everyday, assuage your fears of the unknown.  It IS a happy ending.  You will become more than you ever thought you could be.  And, one day, somewhere down the road, you will encounter a potential NTS who is nervous about the uncertainties of going back to school, and you will smile.  Because you know how it ends.

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