Nine Essential Tips for Non-Traditional Students (for National Non-Traditional Student Week!)
There are as many iterations of a non-traditional student as there are students themselves. Even ‘normal’ students these days have jobs and commitments that make their schedules far removed from idyllic full-time-student status in every sense of the word.
I know this for a fact because my own “non-trad post-grad” college career has lasted almost as long as it has taken two of my children to earn their bachelor’s degrees. Having listened to their kvetching during that time made me see that trads and non-trads endure many of the same burdens: quirky professors, toppling stacks of copies, bedspreads stained with the blooms of highlighters with lost lids and classmates at shared tables eating offensive foods (e.g.: gruesome-looking green smoothies, Chipotle burrito bowls, bologna eaten methodically slice by slice, without the bread.)
So we deserve Non Traditional Student Week, a national celebration held each year by ANTSHE, the Association of Nontraditional Students in Higher Education, and held this year from November 2-8. It is promoted locally on our campus by Villanova University’s College of Professional Studies, including the Offices of both Part-Time and Continuing Studies, who will be awarding one outstanding non-traditional student leader. For it to come to my personal attention now is rather coincidental. I am coming to the end of my own non-traditional student journey next Saturday, as I’ll be sitting for the comprehensive exams in graduate communication studies.
How to best prepare best for a 5-hour behemoth exam while balancing a full time job, training a puppy, planning a Thanksgiving feast for 30 and keeping up with the new season of Top Chef? Well, I think a lot of the same strategies I’ll be implementing for the next two weeks are the same ones that have gotten me through the last [too embarrassed to admit] years! I’ll share some of my favorites below. Please add your own to our comments section!
NON-TRADITIONAL STUDENT TOOLKIT:
First of all, don’t get a puppy. Not now. Even if he’s a gift and the cutest thing you’ve ever laid eyes on. I’m speaking from experience. Save it for your graduation gift.
Get a crockpot instead. Liquid + Onions + Meat = go.
Save your vacation time. I know it’s completely a depressing thought to use precious time away from the office on your couch with your nose buried in a George Herbert Mead treatise, but it is better than the stress you’ll feel if you don’t take the time you need to study. Stress makes you ugly, turns you into a potty mouth behind the wheel, and makes you lower your standards when it comes to choosing candy! How else can I explain the Wonka Everlasting Gobstoppers I’ve put on Amazon auto-delivery?
Become best friends with a subject librarian and/or a “good places to start” librarian. First of all, it’s easy to become friends with our librarians because they are all totes adorbs. But, we realize it’s difficult for non-trads to visit the Library during the day. Fortunately, the Library has set up a myriad of ways to consult with our librarians whether you’re on the road, at your desk, or even still in your pajamas. You’ll still get the same great service – and I can’t stress enough to get acquainted with your subject librarian and Falvey’s “great places to start” librarian, Sue Ottignon. They luuuurve to dig and are most likely already familiar with the project or information that your professor is asking for. Hardly anyone ever leaves a consult without kicking themselves for not having done it sooner. That’s a fact – folks are always kicking themselves around here! It’s like Cirque du Soliel!
Become best friends with the folks in Access Services. Another brilliant crowd – and the one that holds the keys to ACCESS, get it? Access? The verb and noun, actually, that means to get? Not only can they help you retrieve the zillion or so items that Falvey holds, they will help you get the other zillion or two you’re bound to want as well from libraries around the world with our amazing ILL and E-Z Borrow services. And somehow, they always manage to do it with a smile fully intact. Don’t know how they do it.
Hide from your family. Who knew your old Hide ‘n Seek gaming skills would come in handy during college? They do. Learn how to hide. Put up a CLOSED sign. No cooking, no cleaning, no putting out the darn dog. When it’s time to study, study. Let the family know to not bother you. Set time limits. Go to Trader Joe’s, load the freezer with Orange Chicken and Mac ‘N Cheese, point them to the microwave and close the den door. Better yet, come to the Library where they can’t find you. We have great 24/7 spaces, including a spectacular Reading Room in Falvey Hall that shares quiet study with a fascinating public conservation of a massive Baroque masterpiece.
Decide how you’re going to address your professors – then own it. You may find yourself being the same age as, or even older than your professor on occasion. This will be awkward. They may make it easy on you and say, “Hey, call me Bob!” If not, use the same strategy I used for my in-laws: catch their eye and talk to them once they’re looking at you. You may have to drop your notebook or wave your arms wildly first, but then you’ll be over that awkward patch. Always, always, always address them via their appropriate title (Dr./Prof.) in emails, though.
Consider an independent study. Some majors offer opportunities for you to spend a class or two in an independent study. Not only a perfect way to save on gas or commuting time, it’s a great way to tailor your studies to combine getting credits with a work project that you have always wanted to do or with a skill that you’ve wanted to devote more time to learning. I was able to combine visual culture theory, my interest in art and learning Bootstrap into a class I and my professor customized. Looking for ways to kill two or even three birds with one stone is a great strategy to not only save time, but to create amazing opportunities for yourself with mentorship you can’t always get in real life.
You are a ‘Cat! You may keep non-traditional hours, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all the traditional fun of being a student at Villanova University! Go to sporting events, trash talk to St. Joe’s folks, get a beer at Kelly’s or Flip’s, hit the clearance rack at the bookstore for bargains on Nova hoodies and most of all, bleed blue with the rest of us! It’s your week, Non-traditional student! Congrats and have fun!
Joanne Quinn is the team leader for Communication and Service Promotion
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And always, always allow extra time to meet deadlines. Or the computer will crash, the printer will run out of ink, the kids will need trips to the family doctor (if you are lucky) or the local emergency room. Been there, done that.