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For the "mature student"

If you are attending college or university after a lapse of several years, take heart! I did it, and I survived.

Being older than your fellow students can offer advantages, but also pose stresses and challenges You may call yourself a "mature" student, although most of the time you won't feel very mature.

The more neutral term is "non-traditional" or "returning" student. Whatever you call yourself (or let others call you), your moods will range from exhilarated to frustrated.

You may feel like running away and never coming back...to the planet. If you really believe you are taking a crucial step to career freedom, you'll be glad you did. Later. Much later.

(1) To get in the right spirit, check out a wonderful book, The Girls with the Grandmother Faces. The author entered a college program in her fifties after she was widowed and after she completed an alcohol rehab program. The best line: After her children warn her against over-involvement in extracurricular activities, she promises not to run for prom queen.

(2) Don't expect every professor to be an advisor or mentor. Your boss might have up to twenty direct reports but your professor might see two or three hundred students a term. Build relationships by doing the assigned work before you attempt more personal interaction.

(3) Need money? If you have a solid employment history, consider applying for a full-time job at the college. Often you receive tuition waivers and time to take class during the workday.

(4) Frustrated with life on campus? The best way to get revenge is to remind the powers-that-be that you will soon be an alum, and colleges like to ask alums for money. When they do, you can vent your feelings about parking, crowded classes, and inadequate housing.

(5) Being a student is not an idyllic interlude. If you're taking courses for credit, expect to be busy and pressured. Courses don't have sick days or parental leave. If you have a lot of personal and job responsibilities, cut back on your course load or take a distance education course.

(6) Need a deadline extension because of special circumstances? Your request may be perfectly reasonable but your professor has to think about what is fair to everyone -- and the appearance of fairness as well as the reality. She also hears a lot of hard luck stories.

(7) If you really want to alienate your professor, call her up and say, "I had to miss class yesterday. Did you do anything?" Make friends with other students in your classes. If you have to miss a class, call your friends to get notes. Form a study group for your most challenging classes.

(8) If your professor invites questions or comments, offer yours. When you ask for a recommendation or make a special request, you wont' be a stranger. But don't monopolize the floor. Forcing the professor to say, "Let's hear from someone in the back row," does not earn you points.

(9) Build your own support system. One student chose living space as support: "I may be a student but I have a grown-up apartment." Another kept in touch with friends from the "real world" who supported her. Sometimes you want to be with people who share your age and life experiences.

(10) While you're in a pressure cooker, your judgments may be biased. These days your professors will be affected by your course evaluations.

If someone touches your life while you are studying, don't send a card, letter or gift to the professor. Write glowing comments and circle high numbers on your course evaluations. Write a nice letter to the dean or even the president of the university. And if, after graduation, you realize that a course was more valuable than you anticipated, take a moment to thank the professor and the university. You'll make someone's day and inspire her for future teaching.

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast move to career freedom. Visit her site http://www.movinglady.com or call 505-534-4294.


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When school is part of your freedom plan