Going to college at any age can be an adventure filled with excitement and fear of the unknown. If you’re a senior who has decided to take classes, the feelings you feel are not that different from the ordinary entering freshman. But, as a professor of psychology for seventeen years at a community college, I can tell you that you will be very welcome within the halls of whatever college you choose to attend. Older students bring a depth of knowledge into a classroom that high school graduates haven’t had time to accumulate!
Don’t downplay your assets as you consider going to college. You have many advantages over that fresh-out-of-high-school eighteen year old. While he may be unsure of why he’s going to college and what he wants to study, you know what you want to gain from the experience. And you have a lifetime of skills behind you, organizing your time and sequencing work into segments, multi-tasking, and coping with the ups and downs that come with any new undertaking. Because you know what you want, you can approach college with more enthusiasm and motivation than that wet-behind-the-ears youngster may have.
The Preparation Stage
But it will still be helpful to prepare for the courses ahead of you. Check with your state colleges to see which offer no- or low-cost tuition for senior citizens. Education can be a bargain at your age! You can also put your preparation time to good use if you brush up on your tech skills. Gone are the days when you had to sit in a library and hand copy notes from readings on hold. Learn to use copy machines, and definitely work on your computer skills if you feel weak in that area. Knowing how to research on line and word process your assignments will cut your study time greatly. Oftentimes your public library will have computers for you to hone your skills on if you don’t own a computer. Local adult education classes and self teaching manuals will help you gain all the skills you’ll need in your new endeavors.
Begin with a class that you feel will be somewhat easy for you. Maybe you’ve read extensively on the subject, or have learned a lot about it through your work experiences. Later, you may want to enroll in a specific program of study and meet with an advisor to map out your coursework; but first, get your foot in the door as easily as possible. Later you may want to choose courses with field trips or lab work to expand your experiences. The confidence from your first class will propel you further down your road of studies.
Getting Ready for Class
Before your set foot in the classroom you can do many things to prepare yourself. Go to the college website and begin learning to do computer research as you find class schedules, maps of the campus, and grading systems and options (such as auditing the course or choosing pass/fail grading) that are offered. If your do decide to audit, remember that you may not have to do as much work, but you may not get as much out of the course as you could. From the college website you may also be able to find out information about your professor as well as see his syllabus and begin to understand the structure of the course. The required textbook may also be listed and you could purchase it early and less expensively using an internet bookstore. Skimming your text or even beginning to read it will increase your feelings of familiarity with your new course.
It may be a good time to learn a few relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and meditation to help calm your fears as you face that first step into the classroom and the subsequent tests and papers required of you. Then take your fist few steps around the campus to familiarize yourself with the location of your building and classroom, as well as the library, learning center, and cafeterias.
And Now, The First Class!
Take a few of those deep relaxing breaths and enter the classroom. Find a desk in your preferred classroom position, front, middle, or back, and smile at those around you. They may look different from you in many ways, including strange (to you – clothes and hairstyles), but you are now fellow students. You’re all in this together and they undoubtedly cherish some of the same fears you’re holding close to your heart at the moment. You may find that all your old classroom habits will come back quickly once the professor enters the room. If you’ve always been an alert, responsive student, all the better. If not, try to change your habits and let the prof know you’re taking in their every word. Take notes as needed. If you’ve already studied the material, you’ll find you don’t have to take as many notes as much of the information is already known to you. That gives you more time to think along with the professor and link what you’re learning to what you already know.
Pre-reading will also give you the confidence to ask questions about areas you found unclear. Breaking your personal silence barrier early in the course is important to you, your professor, and the other students. While you shouldn’t have a comment on every issue, the real life examples you may add to a class discussion may very well stay in the memories of your fellow students and enrich their class experience. And, if the spirit so moves you, stop as you leave the class and express a few words of appreciation to the professor, who is, after all, a person who enjoys a good compliment as much as anyone else!
Now Comes the Work Part
You may find that studying now seems much less of a dreaded chore because you are attending school of your own free will with no pressuring parents trying in vain to motivate you. If you think about it, you probably also know your best channel for getting information into your memory. Some people are visual learners, and reading and looking at pictures and charts is all they need to absorb the material. Others learn better from hearing and may benefit from reading the text aloud to get it in auditorily. Others may learn best by physically doing things, even by rewriting notes from class. Even gesturing seems to play a role in getting information stored into memory, so gesticulate away as you learn. Use your learning strengths as you study, but consider using other sensory inputs to help reinforce your learning in addition to your major method.
One time-tested method of attacking each new chapter in your text seems to increase the absorption of information in the first reading. The educational researchers advise first surveying the chapter, skimming through it looking at major topic titles, photos and charts. This sets up notes card categories in your mind which you can fill once you’ve read the chapter. Next comes questioning your current stock of information on the subject and asking yourself questions about what you’d like to know on the subject. This gets your mind actively involved in the subject. Now you read, but in small ‘digestible’ amounts of information, maybe all the information between one topic title and the next. Once you’ve finished that segment, close the book on your finger and recite what you just learned. After you’ve completed your entire reading assignment in that manner, review what you learned using vocabulary word lists or questions at the end of the chapter to ‘firm up’ your learning. The process may take a little longer, but you’ll find you have retained most of the new information and won’t have to look back to find information you didn’t get the first time around.
Difficult things like lists or dates can be memorized by using mnemonic devices, such as making a sentence or word (nonsense or otherwise) with the first letter of each item in the list. You’ve probably done this before when you learned the lines and spaces on a musical staff- Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and F-A-C-E. Associating new information with things you already know helps store the information in your memory as well. Set aside your study time for a time when you feel fresh and relaxed and you’ll learn more easily. And after a day of taking in new ideas, rest assured that sleep time gives your brain a chance to sort through all that learning and store it in your memory more efficiently.
And For More Help and More Fun
Don’t forget that when you take a course, the entire facilities of the college may be open to you. If you need help with your studies, almost every college now has a learning center where employees are trained to help you with academic problems. You may also be entitled to use the counseling center for stress and family related problems that could interfere with your learning. The library is available for your research needs and a computer center can give you the resources and assistance you need to produce professional looking assignments. And when you’re ready to commit to a specific program of studies, academic advisors can help you schedule required courses in a preferred sequence for your success.
The college may also offer fun. The union building is there for you when you tire of studying. It offers food and often entertainment in the evenings. Take advantage of musical and theatrical productions on campus as well. Some colleges have lecture programs that bring famous writers, politicians, and researchers to campus to share their knowledge, and often students in departments are asked to make final presentations of their research projects. All these resources can add you the richness of your college experience!
So go back to college! You’ll be opening a door to a whole new world of knowledge and enjoyment!