Confessions of a 30-Something College Student
Written by Heather Stewart
Age is just a number, right? You’re only as old as you feel. These expressions are cliched, but the truth is, I agree. Most of the time. Thirty is the new 20—that is, until I sit down in class.
As a college student at 35, sometimes that particular number feels pretty significant. Being a decade older than most of my classmates, it’s hard to relate to conversations lamenting strict parents or concerning spring break plans. I’m busy juggling babysitters and refinancing my house. In those moments, the age gap is the size of the Grand Canyon. I feel so … old.
My classmates have never made me feel judged, but it’s tough to be surrounded by 20-year-olds who seem so sure of what they want to do. I envy their focus and drive. Growing up, I had no clue what career interested me. I wasn’t even sure college was an option. I had goals for the future, but the future was so far away. I had plenty of time.
Or, so I thought.
In high school, I coasted. I did the bare minimum to pass my classes. Though both my parents are college graduates, we never discussed where—or even if—I would go. I didn’t take my SATs or ACTs, and while my peers were filling out college applications, I was busy working and hanging out with my friends. To me, graduation meant I could sleep in more often.
The realization that I wanted to go back to school came to me slowly. After years of working, I began to understand how important a degree could be. My real motivation came after I had children. I wanted nothing more than to provide them with the best, most stable life I could. To me, that meant pursuing higher education.
When I finally went to college, it surprised me how quickly I fell in love with learning. I found a passion for writing that I never knew I had, I felt pride in earning good grade and I had a desire to succeed that I’d never had in my younger years. For me, maturity and ambition amplified with my age.
But even with my newfound success, I would feel ashamed when people asked how old I was. I felt self-conscious having more in common with my professors than my classmates. There were plenty of students who were older, and I applauded them, but struggled to reconcile my own age. Making the President’s List, earning a 4.0 and being showered in praise from professors didn’t change my feelings. I still couldn’t shake the inadequacy I felt.
I finally figured out the issue: school came easily to me. The classes themselves weren’t easy, but the effort I put into them was. Why couldn’t I have been that way in high school? How much different would my life be? Would I have started my own company? Or be a CEO? I was mad at myself for being so lax when I was younger. I felt like I had wasted my time.
But not too long ago, it dawned on me that I hadn’t. In the years between high school and college, I found myself. I traveled, developed lasting relationships and became a mother. I had to have those years to grow. I had to figure out myself, my strengths and weaknesses. I needed to find that internal drive. I would never have been successful in college without the life experiences that shaped me.
I worked hard building a life around the people I loved. Those years taught me far more about responsibility and accountability than any college course ever could. I understood that I was capable and smart; I could devote myself to school because I had confidence in myself and my abilities. Finally, I wasn’t plagued with the self doubt of my younger years.
That’s not to say there aren’t still moments (or days, or weeks) I feel discouraged. But, there are far more reasons I’m thankful and proud of my journey. At 18, I couldn’t have planned for my future. As a high school student, I lacked work ethic and a sense of purpose. I didn’t have the courage to go after my goals or the mindset to be successful. My younger self would never have survived the stress of balancing college life.
I’ve learned to let go of my frustration about being older. I wish I could have been the student I am 10 years ago, but I can’t change the past. And, to be honest, I don’t think I would. For me, the journey to receiving my college degree has been a long one: full of starts and stops, missteps and self-discovery. But they have made me determined. The stress of writing term papers seems easy when compared to raising my family. Struggling to pay the bills on time makes studying for finals relatively simple. College problems paled in comparison with the complexities of adulthood.
I’ve taken my time crossing the finish line, but I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned. I may not have known at 22 what I wanted to be. Truthfully, I’m still discovering the answer to that at 35. I do, however, know that the wisdom and experience I’ve gained ensure I can accomplish anything I set my sights on.
Heather lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where she graduated with a degree in Converged Communication. She currently bartends to pay the bills, while looking for a new career in public relations. An avid sports fan, makeup hoarder, and mom of two, she survives on strong coffee and inappropriate humor. On days off you can find her dragging her kids on an adventure around town, checking out a new bar with friends, or simply wandering the aisles of Target.