Being a non-traditional student is hard. There’s a lot of confusion, misinformation and negativity about going back to school or getting a 2nd degree.
I know because I am a non-traditional student.
I graduated from college with a degree in English & Creative Writing. It wasn’t until late in my college career that I realized I had a passion for medicine. By then it was too late to apply for medical school and still graduate on time. Instead of immediately going back to school, I spent the next several years working in healthcare. I got my EMT license and was trained as an Ophthalmic technician. After spending quite some time in deliberation, I made the decision to return to college to complete a post-baccalaureate program that would cover the requirements for medical school.
If you find yourself in a similar position, I want to help you follow your dream. My dream was medical school. Maybe yours is something different. But if you’re stuck in a dead-end job, or just unhappy with where you are in life, and you have a dream of doing something else, I want you to know that you have options.
Make no mistake, going back to school or getting a 2nd degree is a big decision. A life-changing decision. Before we go any further I want to help you make the right choice. Going to college is not right for everyone. Not everyone needs to spend the money and time getting a degree.
Read over Part One of my Back to School Series: The Right Reason to Go to College.
I also encourage you to check out Do Writers Need to go to School for Writing? to help you get an idea of alternative ways to pursue a passion.
Once you’ve done that, ask yourself two important questions:
1) Am I going to college to pursue my passion in life?
2) Does my passion necessitate going to college?
As I mentioned in the article, most of the careers we want to do in life have multiple avenues that give just as much fulfillment–some of which don’t require going to school.
If you can answer yes to both questions, then going back to school is a good decision for you. That’s assuming you’re willing to put in the work and effort to pursue your lifelong passion. But because you’re reading this website, I assume you’re the type of person that’s ready for a change. You’re the type of person that believes in them self, and believes that they could be doing more with their life.
If going back to school is right for you then commit fully to your decision.
As a nontraditional student, you will face a certain type of discrimination. There will be doubters. You will have friends and family who caution you on making a bad decision. You will have co-workers that tell you you’re making a mistake.
People are afraid of change.
If what you’re pursuing in life will bring you greater satisfaction than what you currently have, then by all means, make a change.
There are three powerful concepts I want you to know about being a non-traditional student:
1) You’re not alone.
2) You don’t have a disadvantage.
3) It’s never too late.
A quick Google search will give you hundreds of stories of people who have found success later in life. But let me highlight a few for you.
Charles Bukowski didn’t write his first novel until the age of 49. He’d spent his life slaving away at an office job. Within four weeks of quitting, he had already written his first novel.
Raymond Chandler wrote The Big Sleep at the age of 51. He had an unsuccessful career in journalism early in his life and spent the rest working as a bookeeper before writing his novel.
Writer and Orthopedic surgeon Michael J. Collins MD, one of my inspirations for going into medicine, got a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame and spent the next several years tearing up concrete, working in construction, and driving a cab. A chance remark by one of his co-workers led him to pursue his dream of medicine, go to Loyola University medical school, and do his surgical residency at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
If you have any doubt that you’re too old to go to school for medicine, I encourage you to follow Grace Cruz. She graduated medical school at the age of 47. In her own words
It’s never too late. I graduated high school with a 1.9 GPA. I was told I wasn’t “cut out” for high school and should “take the GED and get out.” I was not exactly the pillar of my community. I got married and had children very young. Because of them, I worked hard, got into project management, and by age 35 had a reasonably good job with decent income. Still, I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do — and that was to become a doctor.
So, at age 36, I went back to school. I got my BA, then an MS, and well, a week ago, I graduated medical school and I’m on my way to an anesthesiology residency at Mayo Clinic in Florida.
Don’t let ANYONE tell you that you “can’t” do something… make a difference… achieve your goals. If I’d listened, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It takes perseverance, but you CAN do it! Good luck!
It’s not too late. If you’re unhappy with your career or your life and you want to make change, start today. Start putting into motion the things you need to do to achieve your dream. The road may be a long one, but a year from now you’ll be glad you made that first step. Four years from now you will have a degree, or you’ll just be doing what you’ve always done. The time will pass either way. It’s your choice.
I’ll leave off with this short tale.
A man in his late thirties was out to lunch with an old friend of his. He had just finished telling the friend about his lifelong dream to become a doctor, when he paused and said, “But of course I can’t go to medical school. I’ll be over forty before I even graduate.”
To which his companion responded, “Yes. And how old will you be if you don’t go?”