Wait, you're not a student. Are you trying to crash here?
March 30, 2013 9:38 PM   Subscribe

I now live in an area populated by college students. Everything in this neighborhood revolves around the major university in question. Problem is, as much as I look like one, I'm not a college student. And when asked, I feel awkward saying no I don't go to school here. What should my appropriate response be?

So, I moved across the country almost six weeks ago and now this past week I just moved into my desired neighborhood. I work here as well.

At the heart of my area is a major college university. Surrounding the campus is tons of shops, restaurants, bars, etc. Anything you can imagine. Much of their business comes from the students and that's what this area thrives upon.

I'm 23. I do not go to this college, or college at all. However, I look my age. I can easily pass as a student.

In my building, you'd be hard pressed to find someone living there who does not attend this school. Actually, this whole side of the neighborhood that I live in is nothing but residences for the students. It is across the street from the campus.

I live with all college students. I'm going to be on campus quite a bit, as I have enrolled in their recreation facilities and other activities. I might even take some classes. And seeing as I live/work in this area, I go to the shops/restaurants here as it is all walkable. Places give student discounts. And the couple bars here get jammed with people attending the college.

Just on my first day here I was asked twice if I attend this unversity. Problem is, it feels really awkward and weird to say "No, I just live here."

What should I say? I'm not embarrassed, but it could come as quite a shock when I tell them no. And then the conversation or anything I had going with that person could end there. I don't want to come off as creepy or anything, either.

Keep in mind, I could be asked this in a variety of situations. At the school gym, at the local bar, in my building elevator (which I was), etc.

Again, I'm 23. I can totally pass for one, and I'm kind of living the life of one by default. I love this area, and I intend to be here indefinitely.

What can I say that would put myself and the other person at ease? I'm not too worried about it and am totally getting along fine in this area, I just see myself freezing up when asked.
posted by signondiego to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is totally in your head (respectfully). People are just betting on a likelihood, but they're not going to feel shocked or deceived when they're wrong. I think maybe your discomfort comes partly because just telling someone a straight-up "no" in a friendly situation can feel sort of like you're being rude or shutting them down? If that's the case, you could say something like "no, I moved here from Place, but sometimes I feel like the only person my age around here who didn't go to Institution, so it's a reasonable guess, haha".
posted by threeants at 9:43 PM on March 30, 2013 [13 favorites]

Just say "Oh, I'm not a student". Seems pretty cut and dried to me. There's nothing to really explain or justify. As long as you're not in a students-only area without permission (on campus),....what could anyone possibly say about it?
posted by chrisfromthelc at 9:43 PM on March 30, 2013

I don't understand why you think it would be so awkward to say "No, I just live here [insert reason you live there]". They're probably just trying to make small-talk and that's far and away the easiest conversation starter. It sounds like you're way overthinking this.

Maybe come up with some things to say immediately following this, so you feel less awkward. You can turn the question back on them and then ask about their studies/activities/whatever.
posted by krakenattack at 9:44 PM on March 30, 2013

So why do you live there? Say that.

Yeah, you're totally beanplating this thing that no one else cares about.
posted by Etrigan at 9:44 PM on March 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

If you are worried about sounding abrupt, say something like, "Not a student, but in the witness protection program. Can't say more than that."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:49 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm 31 and have been working on a university campus the past few months. I look much younger than my age, and this university has a lot of graduate students, so I get mistaken for a student ALL the time.

I just answer no, and, if I'm interested in continuing the conversation, ask them a question about themselves. It has never once been awkward, unless someone is asking me for directions. I am crap at giving directions.

People are just looking for a conversation opener. You can kick the ball back across to them or not, as you choose.
posted by mollymayhem at 9:58 PM on March 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I also do not understand what you’re saying. You don’t go to the school. I don’t think anyone thinks anything about it. You also don’t work at the coffee shop or the gym.
posted by bongo_x at 9:58 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seems you may have answered your own question.

"I'm not a student, but I may be taking some classes and am involved in some recreation on campus, and really like the area."

I too lived in a college area and my husband quit college while I still went there, so I understand people asking. Just say something and change the subject. Ask, "What are you in school for?" if they attend the U.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:00 PM on March 30, 2013

Best answer: I live near a big public university. I also work for it as a full-time employee and take occasional classes. At 28, I don't really pass for a traditional student anymore, but I definitely get where you're coming from. For many undergraduate students, the campus is the entirety of the known universe, and their entire lives rotate around college-related matters. So if you were a student, you would fit neatly into everyone's mental hierarchy, because you'd have a major, you'd have taken classes in common, you'd be able to talk trash about faculty, and so on, and so forth. But since you're not a student, you don't really come with an easy point of reference.

That's not to say that this is an unbridgeable gap. On one hand, yeah, even if you're always hanging out and being around undergrads, you can't really be the same as them anymore. But you can anticipate that potential social distance and think of conversation starters that make you look more social and approachable.

But ultimately, students whose entire personalities are built around the school they attend are often big old bores. There are lots of undergrads who have plenty of experience with the world outside their school, and they will be happy to overlook the insignificantly small gap in age and experience.
posted by Nomyte at 10:02 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Problem is, it feels really awkward and weird to say "No, I just live here."


Look, I'm 32, and I look way, way younger than that. I've spent most of my post-college life being asked if I'm a student anytime I'm within spitting distance of a college.

I just smile and say, "No, I've been out of school a long time now," or sometimes a jokey/casual variation like, "Nope, just workin' for a living," or "Nope, that's just my youthful good looks fooling you -- I've been out of school for almost 10 years!"
posted by Sara C. at 10:07 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could say, "nope, I graduated and am working now." (I'm assuming you once went to a school and graduated from there, no?) They may assume you graduated from the local place, but you could give more detail if they ask follow up questions. And if they are just asking "student? y/n," then "i graduated" is an easy shorthand for "i know i look student age, but no, i am not a student."
posted by salvia at 10:09 PM on March 30, 2013

I'm a student-aged person living in a college town too, and my response to "Are you a student?" is "Nope, I work around here". People seem to be fine with that answer; it's an ordinary and understandable reason to live in a place. This also allows the conversation to continue with the other person asking about your work.
posted by dreamyshade at 10:10 PM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Dress nicer/more professionally than your average student, if you're comfortable with that. They might still assume you're a grad student (depending on their frame of reference for a grad student), though.

I agree with others - the awkwardness of this is all in your head.

"You go to State U?"
"Nah, I work near here."

Then the conversation moves on. Talk about work. Ask if they go to State U. Talk about sports or the weather or the location. If they're "shocked," they're just kind of naive and living in the university bubble.
posted by asciident at 10:15 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The others are merely looking for a conversational gambit that's slightly more personal that "are you enjoying the weather/beer/pie?" There are all sorts of reasons for you to be there and not be a student. You could be dating one. You could be working near there (as you are) or on campus as an employee. Your parent(s) could teach there. You could be working for a vendor supplying the school with widgets. Worry ye not.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 10:23 PM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm also 23, not a student, and very frequently mistaken for one in student-type contexts, as I look even younger than my age. I've never had the "Are you a student?" question stop a conversation cold. When they ask that, people are looking to find common ground to talk about, not a shibboleth to keep you out! And some people, students or otherwise, may actually appreciate the opportunity to connect with people outside of the university bubble.

With that in mind, Crystalinne's suggestion is good, especially if you're talking to someone who's themselves a student (if you're asked by a non-student, no need to relate it to the university at all, necessarily; you can just say what you do do, as others have recommended). Depending on their response, you can then talk about what they're doing in school, your own work and involvement on campus, or what's going on in your shared community.

You have as much a right to be there as anyone, it truly won't be as awkward to them as it feels to you right now, and as Nomyte points out, anyone not interested in meeting non-students is probably not worth your getting to know in any case. Best of luck finding a home in your new community!
posted by beryllium at 10:30 PM on March 30, 2013

Response by poster: I see the confusion about my awkwardness. I think Nomyte put it in the words that I could not, I'm trying to make friends here and I want to eliminate any social opposition that there could be.

I guess some of it was in my head, but I feel better about it now. I just felt that a simple no would lead to some disconnect, so what I really needed was to just continue the conversation.
posted by signondiego at 10:33 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're totally right that a "No." would shut down the conversation. However, since the other person is trying to find something you have in common, give them something to work off of! "No, I actually work, but I do live in ___ building." or "No, I just moved here, but I use your gym!" Boom, no awkward conversation killing.
posted by estlin at 10:46 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have to tell people, "No, I'm not a student, I just work there" all the time, and it somehow hasn't stopped a conversation dead in its tracks yet. Yeah, people seem slightly weirded out that I'm not one, but they move on with their lives.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:47 PM on March 30, 2013

I used to say "Because some of us are adults and have to work in the goddamn morning!" whenever I was asked...

But to be fair, I was usually asked when I was banging on their door at 3am to get them to shut up.
posted by Katemonkey at 3:02 AM on March 31, 2013

I'd go with "no, but it's nice to be around people my age" or "no, but I love the area" or something. I still get asked if I'm in school (I'm closer to 30 than to 20), and I usually say "no, I'm finished with school. What about you?"
posted by windykites at 5:04 AM on March 31, 2013

Best answer: Nthing: "I work at X, which is nearby." If you are a college graduate, you could also add "No, I went to [school] and moved here because of [job].

I actually don't think you're ridiculously over thinking it. Your concern shows in the way you phrased the question. Between the ages of about 9 and 29, relatively young people in large groups tend to think of wherever they're congregating as their own playground, and tend to have to size up all strangers in terms of where they fit in that self-defined space. As a community musician who used to go to a local college for private lessons when I was near a traditional age (but married and working full time) I used to get that "explain why you're here" vibe a lot.

"Weird creeper who just kind of hangs around" is NOT the role you want to inhabit,and you're wise to rehearse a concise answer that establishes legitimacy, your right to be there, and perhaps serves to remind the students you meet at they are not in a dorm or otherwise in a plastic bubble.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:26 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's completely normal to work at a university or live in the area and not be a student.

Also dressing nicer than the undergrads(probably not difficult to do) would be a good way to separate yourself a bit while still being able to relate to them since you're close to their age.

Just to give you some perspective, last year a guy I went to high school with(28 y/o) was "outed" for pretending to be an undergrad and hanging out with a bunch of them on an elite college campus, in the dorms, etc. It is exactly as weird as it sounds, and the whole thing was written about in the college paper. Meanwhile there are probably millions of people like you who happen to be near university campuses just living their lives, nothing weird about it.
posted by fromageball at 9:33 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If they try to talk about classes, you could either redirect it to an equivalent class you have taken, if such a thing exists, or talk about your job. When I was a college student, I was always curious to hear how things worked at other universities and out in the Real World.

"Weird creeper who just kind of hangs around" is NOT the role you want to inhabit,and you're wise to rehearse a concise answer that establishes legitimacy, your right to be there, and perhaps serves to remind the students you meet at they are not in a dorm or otherwise in a plastic bubble. (randomkeystrike)

I would emphasize the legitimacy angle. If it's a shop or the gym, that's as simple as mentioning that you live nearby; if you're at a house party or a small bar, maybe say how you know the host or whom you came with.

Since you mention taking classes, one occasion where I probably behaved poorly was when I had a class with a "nontraditional student" who apparently danced ballet professionally, retired, and then came back for her degree. I expressed some surprise when she told me she was taking a course that was well known as the way to check off your science gen-ed requirement without working hard or learning much. I guess because age is so closely correlated to years of education up to undergrad, I had expected she would be taking all honors courses or something. So you may want to be prepared for that reaction as well. I don't know how best to respond to it.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:36 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was in college, the term for folks like you was "townie," as in, "No, I'm not a student, I'm a townie." Perhaps you could meet some other townies in your area and see if there's a similar term used? It was not a derogatory term, just matter-of-fact.
posted by juniperesque at 11:45 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Townie" can definitely be derogatory, and can imply that a person grew up in the area. I wouldn't start using it casually without doing some local research first.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:55 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Correct me if I'm wrong, signondiego, but it sounds as if the issue here is that you never went to college at all. And that you may feel a little awkward about being at a dorm party or kegger when you don't have the segue: "no, I don't go here; I moved here to work after I graduated from College X". I can see how that might happen--I don't think you're imagining the awkwardness there. Taking a class there would really help to give you an entrée with that.
posted by MidStream at 9:45 AM on April 1, 2013

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