Published on 2013/01/22

The Struggles and Rewards of Being a Non-Traditional Student

The Struggles and Rewards of Being a Non-Traditional Student
With all of the restrictions on a non-traditional student’s time, class availability and scheduling can become a major hassle.

The challenges of being a non-traditional student are sometimes overwhelming. I am a Political Science major at Eastern Illinois University (EIU). I have three children: Austin (13), Karleigh (10) and Noah (8). I am involved in a number of community associations, I volunteer and I work in the Bachelors of General Studies (BGS) department and the student government at EIU. Even with all that’s going on in my life, my focus lies on caring for my children and earning my degree. However, key to keeping all the balls in the air is an aptitude for time management.

Being a parent is a full-time job. The day begins at 5 a.m. and bedtime is around midnight — on a good night. On a good day, I may be in the car for a total of three hours. Wednesday is the exception, where I am in the car for four hours at least, as I have a special needs daughter who has at least one doctor’s appointment a week. My car trips include Scouts for all of the kids, dance classes for my daughter, school parties and award ceremonies. Both of my sons play football and one plays basketball. I am also the room parent for my daughter’s fourth grade class, which means I’m responsible for arranging all of their holiday parties. I am also a member of the Lions Club and attend their functions and meetings. I also have five dogs at home, one of whom is a foster from Rescue Me Clifford. My family works with disadvantaged animals to help them find permanent homes. I work on campus two days a week in the BGS office. I am also involved in Eastern’s Student Government. I hold a seat on the Student Supreme Court. We not only hear cases, but we’re also the election committee for the other branches of Student Government. This, of course, requires meetings in addition to school and home life, not to mention an extra 45-minute one-way commute. With all of this going on, I still find time in my too-short day to go to school and work.

I drop the kids off at school and start my own commute to school. I take classes on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays and also have one online class. I can only take classes that run between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.. This tends to be my biggest struggle with school. It isn’t easy to get the classes I need for my specific major within this time range. Luckily, online classes are an option that helps to reduce this burden. However, with a specific major and a limited number of electives, there are only so many courses I can take online. I’m currently taking the last one that is offered, so far, this semester. On top of everything else, there is studying. I take my books and notes everywhere to study. I may only have a few minutes at a time, but I get it done.

Time management and planning are what allow me to accomplish these tasks. A non-traditional student must be focused and responsible. There are many days when I want to throw my hands up in the air and give up on the degree. However, I keep pushing ahead and the rewards keep showing. I manage the rigorous schedule of being a full-time mom and a full-time student, and it’s paying off. All of the stress, hard work and sleepless nights are well worth the accomplishments I’ve achieved.

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Readers Comments

Xavier Fleming 2013/01/22 at 6:43 pm

Wow, Ms. Trotter, I’m impressed by your ability to manage all of that!

I was also interested to read about your involvement with the student government. I think a lot of the time, when we talk about adult learners, we assume that they wouldn’t be interested in being actively engaged with on-campus activities, but you show that the interest is there. Perhaps schools need to start thinking more about how to engage and involve adult students in what’s happening on campus.

Yvonne Laperriere 2013/01/23 at 8:43 am

This article demonstrates the need for more flexible degree programs. By flexible, I mean that, at a minimum, courses should be offered in different formats and multiple time slots. Going beyond that, we need to consider re-working degree requirements. For example, can she take fewer/more electives? Can she take a course in another department or at another institution (if the timing works better) that would count as an equivalent/transfer credit for her degree program? Being flexible in degree design can make a big difference for people like Crystal.

I wish you great success, Crystal!

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