6 things to know about going back to college when you’re much older.


I went back to college at 60, feeling unfulfilled and unprepared for the exciting 21st century workforce I’m hearing about.

OK, OK, it’s taken me 40 years to earn my B.A. and my give-a-crap meter about my place in the 21st workforce is very low.

Back in the early 1970's I earned an A.A. degree from Cape Cod Community College. Over the years I accumulated assorted class credits from assorted colleges and universities in Florida. Now I’m at the University of Central Florida (UCF). I’m taking only online classes — 2 classes every semester including 2 summer sessions — and will graduate (finally) in early 2016 at the tender age of 63.

Applying to UCF required digging back 40 years for transcripts. My high school transcripts from 1970 were on a microfiche spool in the town library, handwritten and barely decipherable. The high school transcript lady commented that I “wasn’t much of a student, but I passed.”

My high school transcript

Four decades have passed since my community college exit and over 20 since my last University class, but I’m pleased to report that a 29 year-old $18 parking violation that I thought was lurking in a computer files someplace didn’t hinder one university’s enthusiasm for sending sealed transcripts (I’m sure the $20 fee made them feel better).

BTW, One of the great mysteries of my life is how big universities manage transcripts for hundreds of thousands of applicants without using a reference number or applicant ID on the envelope.

Here’s the drill about going back later-in-life to college:

1. Everybody takes an online sex and consent course.

It struck me as funny that they’d make a 60 year old take a sex class. I’ve got three grown kids for pete’s sake. I even called to see about an exemption (no go). They start with a pre-test, which I bombed (even with the help of my wife). Then you watch a series of videos and take the test again [99].

My youngest daughter is a freshman at Florida State this year. Things have changed over the past 40 years. Guys still want sex today just as much as we did (or do). The idea of getting consent for sex wasn’t even discussed in the early seventies. You just winged it. Today it’s a big issue on campus, even with LGBTQ students (you can see I’m up-to-date when I added the ‘Q’). Be sure to watch the LGBTQ part of the course if you have friends with gay children.

2. Everybody takes an online alcohol course.

There’s not much new in the alcohol course. Drink too much too fast, you get drunk and do stupid things [ref: #1 above].

Some freshman guy was bird-dogging my daughter early in the fall semester but he drank too much. Quick boot. Good girl.

3. Plan your class schedule in advance.

Take the time to visit an on-campus counsellor in your major. Together you’ll plan all your courses so that you can graduate on time. If you’re an online student (which I am) you pick only on-line classes. This doesn’t mean that you are registered for these classes, but it’s a blueprint for graduation.

Since today I quickly forget almost everything that isn’t top line [where my keys and cellphone are, etc.) they’ll print out a worksheet at the end of your counseling session that will come in useful every semester as a reminder.

4. Register for classes as early as you can.

Search and register for classes for the following semester a couple of months in advance. While my computer skills are above average, my patience (and memory) with poorly designed sites is poor. The university online class search and registration site is horrendous. Every semester I end up calling the office of my major and requesting phone help to navigate the site.

Get your classes scheduled as early as possible.

5. Use age to your advantage.

I’m certainly older than most students, but I’m also older than my instructors. Visit your instructors and introduce yourself. My anthropology instructor teaches over 300 students online every semester. I was the first student of any age to visit her in over 2 years.

The online class environment is all about announcements, assignments, reading, discussions and exams [most multiple choice, but some are essay]. Everything is done through a third-party online college course site.

Instructors are very rigid in how they run their courses. There will be occasions when you screw up. You’ll innocently miss a deadline or badly mangle a rubric (how they and their teaching assistants grade your submissions). Generally, the instructor will give you the benefit of the doubt if you are honest, but not whiny. Most older students have learned to write clearly. Somehow the instructor can sniff this difference and will respond appropriately. If an instructor continues to insist on wearing the academic façade, gently play the age card in your followup e-mail.

6. Every instructor is a little different … even online.

From what I can see, a career as a university professor or instructor is very complicated and full of shitty hidden land mines. Some instructors use teaching assistants to grade work [ref: the rubric] and some don’t. Some communicate and others don’t. Bear in mind that class and online instructors often teach hundreds of students [often 18 — 20 year olds] at one time. Their give-a-crap meters for the basics must be incredibly low. Don’t assume the rules of everyday business decorum and communication apply.

So, here’s the only rule you need to follow: At the beginning of every semester take the time to read the instructor’s syllabuses (syllabi is apparently correct, too) carefully and follow their rules of the road. They’re all a little different. Follow them to a ‘T’.

Enjoy the ride.

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