Almost thirty, heading to college for the first time. Help!
August 1, 2009 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be a 30 year-old college freshman at a community college. I'm 12 years out of high school and have no previous college experience. So... what should I need to know?

During the economic downtown we're going through I figure now would be the time to finally get a degree. I applied to Tarrant Count Community District college (southern campus), though it hasn't been disbursed yet, I qualified for a full Pell grant.

I plan on going for an AAS, and using two years at this community college to get my core curriculum requirements and a few credits towards my major (leaning towards Graphic Arts) and tranfessring to a university as a Junior.

I have my first semester classes registered (13 hours total. Speech, english comp 1, my required beginner algebra, a P.E. equivalent, and art history), and I'm waiting for my grant disbursment to get required textbooks, school supplies and a netbook. I'm still waiting to hear back on my Stafford loans, but I applied for the full amount allowed to help cover living expenses for the year.

I'm excited and terrified. I'll be an incoming frosh to a community college where I'll be older than a majority of the incoming freshman and during the full time school thing, what do I need to know? What sort of advice or perspective can the Hive Mind give me?
posted by ShawnStruck to Education (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You probably won't be the only geezer in your classes. A lot of people start school later, or go back later after years off. I flunked out of college five years after high school, poured concrete for a couple years, then went back to finish. It took me six years to finally finish a B.A., going to school part time and working full-time. I was 32 when I finally graduated. And I wasn't the only older student at the community college where I started back. Granted, I was taking mostly evening courses which skew toward non-traditional students.

I imagine you'll do just fine. You've likely got a depth of experience that your younger classmates won't, and that will serve you well. Just go to class, do your work, and don't be afraid to ask questions.
posted by Shohn at 1:30 PM on August 1, 2009

Well for starters, you may find that the student body is a little older than you think. Take a look at their stats, and you'll see that the average age of freshmen at the Tarrant County is almost 26. So yeah, you'll be older than a lot of your peers, but there will be tons of people within a handful of years of yourself. They don't say what the median age is, but I'd bet it's closer to 22-23, meaning there are going to be people there who are a decade older than you are.

In other words, age wise, you shouldn't have any problem fitting right in, unlike this person.

Second, community colleges are almost exclusively commuter schools, and TC appears to be no exception. A huge part of what constitutes "college" for most people comes from residence life, particularly on the weekends, and that just isn't going to be on the radar for you most of the time. You can call that a good thing or bad thing as you see fit, but that does seem to be the way things are. This means that the student body is a lot less cohesive and organized than would be the case at a traditional, residential campus. You'll possibly get to know the people you have classes with, but other than student organizations and the occasional lunch meetup, you may well not wind up spending a lot of time with your fellow students. Many community college students have lives and jobs apart from school, even the ones that attend full time. Many are married and/or have kids. So I'd be surprised if for you, school didn't feel a lot like a rather unusual job: you show up in the morning, do your thing for 7-10 hours, and go home.

Those are the two things that I can think of off the top of my head. But congrats on your decision to go ahead with this. My only other piece of advice is to do something useful. Something with a job at the end of it. Don't just follow your dreams and go broke; you can't afford it, especially as you're doing this on borrowed dollars. Unless you find some way of making this pay for you, you're going to wind up worse off than you were when you started.
posted by valkyryn at 1:35 PM on August 1, 2009

A few things you need to know about transfer credit: depending on the major, you might not cut any years off your degree. It depends on the degree program, and the credits that transfer. Degree programs have varying length prerequisite chains; but generally arts & sciences are broader. If you have a specific college you wish to transfer to, ask both colleges whether the credits will transfer.

Secondly, you'd be surprised what the demographics look like. At the college I work at, you'd only be older than average by a few years. Many colleges and universities have resources for"non-traditional" students to answer questions and accommodate. We have a childcare center, for example. You may find it hard to connect with recent high school grads, who often live at home with their parents, and aren't even allowed to drink, but you'll have more common ground with students in classes towards your major.

Coursework wise, be prepared to spend substantial time outside of class on homework and studying. Community colleges tend to be a "commuter campus", but I highly suggest you make acquaintances in your classes and ask if anyone's organizing a study group.

One extra suggestion; take as much math as you can now. Community colleges have far better resources for math education than selective universities, which can rely on their testing scores to some degree. The more math you know, the wider your opportunities are. Calculus may sound intimidating, but really, it's quite simple. Taking the derivative of an equation in Calc I is almost like rewriting a sentence in Pig Latin, in terms of the process: you move some bits from the end around to the front, and so on.
posted by pwnguin at 1:43 PM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

When you're 30 you think you're an old fart but from us old 40-something's perspectives you're still a whippersnapper.

I was taking some community college classes last year (after a 20 year break) and it was something of a time-trip but I settled in after a few weeks.

Like youth, college is wasted on the young. One thing that occurred to be in the second go-around is that one of the main benefits of college is having people correct your homework assignments; in these days of the internet it's possible to do a lot of self-study, but actually getting feedback is impossible.

So advice: complete each homework assignment religiously.

Enjoy! CC is a great way to transition into the daily grind of college.
posted by @troy at 1:43 PM on August 1, 2009

Seconding valkyryn, basically. I have a few friends from high school (I'm 19 and from the DFW area) who went to Quad C (aka "Collin College") after high school. From what they've said, there's not a lot of traditional college cohesiveness around, even for students who are typical college age. People pretty much go to class and outside of that, do their own thing as valkyryn said above. People might know each other because they went to the same high school, but community college doesn't focus on students getting to know each other like a residential college does. I'd imagine Tarrant County is not that different.

Don't worry about it too much! You're older, probably more focused, and probably have your life more together than the typical 18 year old community college freshman. And as said above, you're highly unlikely to be alone as an older student. Be friendly, relax, and enjoy it.
posted by MadamM at 1:54 PM on August 1, 2009

Oh, and if you're doing graphics arts, get a 13" Macbook Pro not a crappy netbook. Office is $50 for students and I think you can get an Adobe CS 4 Web Premium license for $250.
posted by @troy at 2:02 PM on August 1, 2009

See if your college career center can help with internships/volunteer orgs/jobs in your area that are related to your major. Build up a portfolio if you want to go into the arts. Basically things that a freshman should be doing, no matter your age.
posted by shinyshiny at 2:05 PM on August 1, 2009

My advice to anybody starting college would be the following three items. First, organization is worth a bunch of IQ points. Get a day planner of some kind and use it religiously. Write down everything with an associated date: Assignment due dates, test dates, tuition due dates, meetings, and everything else. Keep a different binder for every class with tabs for notes, homework, tests, and so on. Second, treat it like a job. It's no good goofing off all day and trying to be productive from 10pm - 2am or something... unless those are your optimal hours. Get up at a regular time, work hard consistently through the day with some breaks, and close up shop early enough to relax for a bit with some television or whatever before bed. Finally, it's all about not quitting. People who do well in college, except for a few freaks of nature, adopt and live by the attitude of "Whatever it takes." If you're like me there will be times when you're working so hard that you've got virtually no time for anything else. You may feel like you're clawing your way forward but as long as you don't give up you'll make progress and, eventually, they'll have to give you a degree.

Good luck... seriously.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:12 PM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

tip from an old college teacher: we liked older students. They knew a lot more through experience and liked and wanted to learn. Easier to relate to them.
posted by Postroad at 2:15 PM on August 1, 2009

Believe me, there are lots of adult learners going to community college especially in this economy as more and more people are looking to change careers or learn new skills. I went back after a very long break at the age of 34 and never felt uncomfortable or out of place. In the core classes, there will tend to be younger students, but usually (at least where I go) there's a good mix.

What I found in going back is that the "youngsters" can be annoying and you'll start saying things like "kids these days...". It seems that adults who go back typically know exactly why they're there and are far more focused than the younger students who are still figuring things out. Yes, I know these are broad generalizations, but this is what I've seen over several years of going part-time...I mean, I had NO idea what I wanted to do coming out of high school! Find some people your age and maybe get a study group going to get to know people.

And someone else had mentioned this, but most professors really respect the fact that you're there and enjoy having adult learners in class. Just relax and enjoy it!
posted by fresh-rn at 2:33 PM on August 1, 2009

I'll second fresh-rn--at least from my experience at a community college--prepare to be annoyed by the kids in your classes. Which is to say prepare to just ignore them and focus on getting your work done, as others have said above. Getting through school is a grind and nothing else, especially if you are planning to excel academically.
posted by flavor at 2:52 PM on August 1, 2009

You should call the financial aid office to make sure that money for textbooks is available before classes start. I've heard that bigwords is the place to buy textbooks, and Newegg has good prices on netbooks and other technology.

If you aren't employed elsewhere, find a federal work study job because it is exempt from FICA taxes.

You will learn the most if you always show up to class, participate, do your reading, and take advantage of the resources (tutoring, study skills classes, and the writing center) available to you. If your instructors know your name and know that you are trying, you will generally find that they will work with you when "something comes up."
posted by oceano at 2:58 PM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice above. Use the library as much as possible, it's a great place to study and librarians can be very helpful with all kinds of things, not just helping you find info. And if they can't help you they'll send you to someone who can.
posted by mareli at 3:14 PM on August 1, 2009

It's a community college. Classes will be easy, and half the students will be your age (or older). Don't sweat it.
posted by orthogonality at 3:24 PM on August 1, 2009

I don't want to be negative, but is it a good community college? I just had a student intern work in my lab, and he was a nice, hard-working guy, but he had no idea what a rotten education he was getting at his college. His goal was to teach, but his advisor hadn't told him the first thing about acchieving that goal, and he had almost *no* chance of getting a teaching job. The best advice I could give him was to get an advisor who cared about him, and that's the advice I'll give you. Make sure your teachers know you, and ask their advice, and make sure they're paying attention when they give it to you.
posted by acrasis at 4:00 PM on August 1, 2009

My guy is going to community college for graphic design. For the first semester he did his work on campus in computer labs or at home on his aging iMac. As soon as he got his tax return he got a MacBook (just the white one, not the Pro). It really is making his life significantly easier to not try to keep up with thumb drives or online file storage of all of his homework, but just do his classwork, on-campus homework, and at-home homework all on the same machine.

As someone said previously, don't waste your money on a netbook--most graphic design programs still use Macs.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:04 PM on August 1, 2009

I am an academic advisor at a university. You are going to be just fine :) Lots of people are choosing to return to school right now for reasons such as being laid off, unemployment, "always wanting to get a degree", etc . . .

Depending on your skill level/comfort with mathematics, that may be a challenge you will face . . . if its been since high school since you have done math, just start from wherever the placement test puts you and DO NOT STOP until you have met whatever the math requirements are for your program. Seriously, the biggest concern my students always have is fear of math . . . just get it done.

And I would agree that our professors love the older students who are there because they really want to be there. Also, as mentioned above, don't be afraid to use the library. Librarians absolutely live for being able to help you find resources that you need - they are extremely helpful.

Congratulations on your decision. You will never regret the work you put into furthering your education!
posted by ainsley at 4:18 PM on August 1, 2009

If you apply the same work ethic you have at a job to school, you will be miles ahead of most students. Make it 8 hours a day of class, studying, building a portfolio. Work hard, be friendly, and stay focused, and you'll get the top grades.

If you get discouraged, remember that this is going to really change your life for the better.
posted by Houstonian at 4:58 PM on August 1, 2009

Seek out whoever does academic advising and go talk to them. Tell them you're planning on tranferring in two years, what schools are on your tranfer-to list, and ask about transferable credits. You don't want to be caught in the midst of the transfer process realizing that more classes than you thought won't count towards your time at the 4-year place. Your tuition pays for advising, so take advantage of it!
posted by rtha at 5:00 PM on August 1, 2009

I have to disagree a bit with orthogonality....just because it's a community college doesn't mean the classes will be easy. If you're going to a "good" community college and you get professors who are worth anything, you will be challenged. It's like any other college, you'll get the so-called "easy" professors and you'll get professors who challenge their students.

As far as books, find out from your professors if you can use older editions...if they're good with this, you can save tons on EBay. I just purchased 7 used nursing texts for $67.00, which included the shipping!
posted by fresh-rn at 5:20 PM on August 1, 2009

Congrats and good luck.

My advice is that it is never too early to get into good habits about doing the required work and studying. Be religious about putting in the time during the school year and you will have to cram less at the end.

Secondly, don't be afraid to get to know your professors and take advantage of office hours if you can. Building rapport with your teachers early can really help when you have problems later.
posted by mmascolino at 8:21 PM on August 1, 2009

Engage your instructors, especially the ones in your field of study. I'm a graphic designer, and while I didn't get my degree (work and life happened and I stumbled onto a job in the field) I did take a bunch of classes at the local community college. (I'll finish my degree if I can find a way to work classes around my work schedule!) Your typical graphic arts instructor will have a lot of experience in the field. While in many cases this will be very dated, what they can teach you is still extremely valuable. They often know what local places to work can be like, and they can give you real world examples of how life is in the field and actual applications of what you're learning.

If you find networking opportunities at school, don't pass them up. You'll probably make friends while there, whether fellow students or faculty. You never know who is connected to who, and this can end up being a huge help. In some cases, a networking connection you made years ago could land you a job. So don't hide out in your own shell - be friendly and engaging. Since you're going to be around working adults, this can be a fertile ground for information and opportunities.
posted by azpenguin at 8:24 PM on August 1, 2009

older students...knew a lot more through experience and liked and wanted to learn.

That's true, but it did remind me of a cliche that you may want to avoid: the mature student whose class participation frequently involves digressions about the knowledge one has acquired through experience. This can make younger students roll their eyes, although lord knows they have their equivalent cliches (i.e. digressions about the, um, knowledge they've acquired through movies). You're probably too young for this affliction anyway (my students who have instantiated the cliche, sometimes painfully, have tended to be in their 40s), but it was the first thing that came to mind.
posted by Beardman at 8:33 PM on August 1, 2009

you can get a netbook and if you are slightly computer savvy, you can make it into a Mac laptop...saving a lot of money in the process. Also, likely you will get better build quality and less headaches than with Apple laptop hardware (you can see I am not very impressed, and have plenty of reasons for this)

Follow this guide to pick the right netbook for the magical mystical process of "hackintoshing":

gizmodo guide
posted by spacefire at 9:39 PM on August 1, 2009

saving a lot of money in the process.

Part of the attraction of Macs are that they just work. Right now I'm typing this with my MBP running clamshell closed connected to an external monitor, which for me is a must-have with laptops.

Netbooks are the opposite of future-proof, they're future-resistant. I use a computer up to 20 hours a day, paying $500 extra over its life for extra features and less hassle is well, well worth it to me.
posted by @troy at 12:32 AM on August 2, 2009

you will get better build quality and less headaches than with Apple laptop hardware

FFS. I've dropped my MBP *three different times* from my bed (don't ask) onto a hard surface. Still running fine, other than a small dent in the LCD frame where the metal part of the lampstand impacted.

Now, if you want to talk optical drives, then maybe we can talk about substandard parts. Other than that, the unibody MBP is a %#*$ monster that I would gladly take into battle with.
posted by @troy at 12:35 AM on August 2, 2009

Personally, I'm not sure what the purpose of a netbook for school is. You really won't be able to work it as a graphic design tool since the screens are cheap, tiny and low resolution. In the classroom, it's going to mostly serve as a distraction. I'd recommend some simple paper notebooks and pencils (some claim pens are better since you aren't tempted to waste time).

And if you want to make your Graphic Design friends jealous, drop the cash on the smallest Toshiba TabletPC you can find. Laptop and wacom in one! But financially, it might be a wise idea to look at open labs rather than carry around a laptop. They're usually equipped with specific programs instructors want.
posted by pwnguin at 1:02 AM on August 2, 2009

Well, unfortunately, I down have a laptop and the 300 or so is all I can spare for a portable computer, so until next year, it's going to have to be a netbook.

all of the other advice and reassurance and insight is very useful, especially directing me to make sure to get to know the faculty.
posted by ShawnStruck at 1:03 AM on August 2, 2009

chyeah, no need to go broke to get a Mac out of the gate. Getting a netbook is more than good enough to get you through the first year or two, and no doubt Adobe CS5 will be even better than CS4. Wouldn't hurt to start saving $$$ for a Mac to buy in 2011 perhaps :)

I went through the first 4 years of my undergrad (don't ask) with no computer at all, and using a real computer (a Mac SE) cost $5/hr or somesuch. When the Mac II was announced in 1987 I spent the next 2 years saving money and got a IIcx in 1989. Best money I ever spent for all the work I was able to do, from 1990 through 1995, on it.
posted by @troy at 1:58 AM on August 2, 2009

As a freshman who did this to an older student (retired dancer), I should warn you that the young 'uns might expect more of you. I remember knowing that this student was a history major and still being surprised to hear that she was taking the easy route out of her science requirements. My reasoning at the time was, well, I was taking chemistry and biology for majors and this woman had had a job and everything, so... She just explained that it just didn't fit with her background or her goals, we parted ways at the corner, and I felt quite silly afterward.
posted by d. z. wang at 2:49 AM on August 2, 2009

Secondly, don't be afraid to get to know your professors and take advantage of office hours if you can. Building rapport with your teachers early can really help when you have problems later.

THIS!!! I teach at a C.C. From time to time (at least once a semester), an internship or other extracurricular opportunity comes to my attention. I am always going to recommend a student I KNOW over someone I may have spoken two words to in class, if both their abilities are equal. Teachers aren't robots, we like to make chit-chat sometimes, and we especially like to learn about our students. If I know you have certain career or academic goals, I may be able to help you. If I know you might have child care issues/shift work issues/family issues, whatever, I may be able help.

Also, I shouldn't tell you this in public, because it's really a pain in the ass sometimes, but almost any bureaucratic-type rule can be overridden by the chairman of the department. (Think prerequisites, especially.) And if a class you need isn't being offered, and you HAVE to take it in a certain semester to stay on track, ask about taking it as an online course, or taking it on your own, with supervision from a faculty member. And who would be most amenable to this? Why, that faculty person you got to know, who thinks you are a good student who could use a break.

Good luck!!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:30 AM on August 2, 2009

Congratulations! I started out at community college, and eventually ended up with a Master's degree. You don't need to buy a new computer--your community college should have a computing lab at which to work.

If you already have an idea about which school you'll be transferring to if you opt to get a bachelor's degree, look into their transferable credits policy right off the bat. I had no problem transferring my credits to a state school.

One thing I wish that I had done more was to take advantage of the school library--you can most likely get materials shipped to you from other libraries. Databases are great resources for scholarly articles. If you have any questions, a librarian will be happy to help.

Have fun! I found community college students to be more mature and posses a stronger work ethic than those at my state school.
posted by elder18 at 12:55 PM on August 2, 2009

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