Adult Education

Returning to College during Middle Age



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"Why are you going to school, Mom-Mom? Aren't you too old for school?" That question from a 9 year-old can catch you off-guard. At 9, she was the first one who'd had the nerve to ask her grandmother the question others wanted to ask, but didn't. Isn't it amazing how little kids just blurt out the questions nobody else dares? She didn't need all the reasons or answers; she was satisfied to know that older people still want to learn things.

There are many reasons middle-age people go back to school. For some people, returning to college when they're a bit older is therapeutic. One example of this reason is the case of Lisa. Lisa had two major surgeries close together, contracted a physical illness, and suffered an emotional crisis. Mentally, she was in a fog and couldn't seem to do the simplest things. She confided her fears that she was losing her mind. There was just so much negative going on in her life along with her physical condition that she was overwhelmed by all of it.

Between January and April of that year, her curious and searching mind had become a deep, dense sludge, and she felt helpless to understand what was happening. If this was middle age, she wanted none of it. Nothing she had been able to do just a year before, including her college studies, was possible now.

Lisa had been taking classes in psychology prior to the hospitalizations, and had been doing well. During her illness and depression, she put down her books and pens and decided that her formal education was over. She lost interest in school and felt it was no longer necessary to learn anything. After all, she was probably dying and wouldn't need the education. When friends and family became aware of the situation, they started coming by to check on her daily, bringing food she couldn't eat, and flowers that failed to cheer her. Life became a daily ordeal.

For some reason she didn't understand, Lisa was lucid enough to think about her stalled education from time to time; still, she felt completely unable to resume. Some days it saddened her even more, and other days, she didn't even seem aware.

After talking with doctors and dismissing their advice to see a mental health professional, she finally accepted the fact that she needed help. She found a clinical psychologist who got her turned around within a couple of months of beginning therapy. One of the first things she did was go back to her study of psychology with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm. Her therapist's example had shown her just how important this kind of work was and inspired her to continue to learn.

The reasons to resume her education were simple - to learn more about herself and try to discover what had happened to her mind. She wanted to eventually help others. From then on, her education was her priority. Lisa graduated with her first degree, a 4.0 GPA, a lot of insight into mental illness, and higher self-esteem.

During that time, Lisa realized how much she loved studying and learning. Her mind became clear and focused, and her 50th birthday was a happy occasion instead of the dreaded one she had earlier anticipated. She also recognized the great gift she had been given - the chance to get her advanced education decades after graduating from high school. She could now concentrate, and she could appreciate each class and each new nugget of knowledge. After she graduated from college, Lisa knew that she wanted to continue to learn. She found a university that would accept all of her credits and enrolled there to move forward with her studies.

Lisa is a great example of the benefits of returning to college after years of being away from a formal learning situation. She had always regretted not going to college after high school, but the later-in-life approach seemed to work better for her. She believes it worked to her advantage to go to school as an older student. Lisa's drive and determination to succeed was at an all-time high for her. She continued to achieve in her studies, eventually earning advanced degrees in her field.

Online education is very popular among older students, but the traditional campus education is also an option for those who would like a classroom setting. As Baby-boomers are living longer lives, opportunities for the future are becoming more numerous. Some professions will always need workers, and those workers will always need sufficient training. If you want to get the education you didn't get earlier in life, if you want to start on a new career path, or if you simply want to keep your brain functioning in a healthy way, do something challenging - go to college! It's never too late to challenge yourself and advance your education.

More about this author: Dr. G. A. Anderson

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