Editor’s note: Non-traditional students sometimes face a set of unique challenges when they embark on the journey to obtain a college degree. Amanda Collins, a graduate of both Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) and Missouri State University-Springfield, knows those challenges well. In her column “My Non-Traditional Path to Success” on this page, she is sharing her story and providing insights into the higher education processes for others like her who are considering a return to the classroom. Collins works part time on several projects in the MSU-WP university communications office.
My non-traditional path to success: Attending college for the first time
After attending Student Advising and Registration (STAR) Orientation, registering for classes, and having my schedule in hand, I was ready to begin my journey! Most students take general education classes during their first semester. These classes are the foundation on which students will build their academic career. For me, that meant I had to go back to the basics in math because I had forgotten many of my algebra and geometry principles. I also needed a refresher on how to write an essay. Thankfully, Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) had resources to bring me up to speed.
Acclimating to College
When I arrived on campus, my first thought was “what have I gotten myself into?” I worried I was too old to change careers, nervous I couldn’t keep up with my younger peers. I was a non-traditional student and a “first-generation” college student – neither of my parents had earned a bachelor’s degree.
According to the Center for First-generation Student Success (CFSS), an initiative of National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the Suder Foundation, 28% of first-generation students are 30 years old or older. These non-traditional students may feel out of place when arriving on campus.
My first classes began in the summer. My academic adviser urged me to sign up for summer courses to get ahead in math because my placement scores were low. I’m glad I listened because this allowed me to get used to the campus.
I also struggled with feeling behind my younger classmates who naturally fell into the rhythm of college life. While I frantically scribbled notes by hand, my peers used their smart phones to take pictures of lecture notes on white boards and projector screens. They knew about apps and programs that I had never heard of. Tools for educational assistance have significantly progressed during my absence from the classroom.
My instructors were willing to take extra time both in class and outside of class to ensure their students flourished. They encouraged students to reach out to them during office hours for assistance. My instructors also assured me that I had value; non-traditional students were needed in the classroom because they had experience traditional students have yet to learn. Non-traditional students can add to the discussion with a unique perspective. This bolstered my confidence, and I became more determined to prevail.
Importance of Attendance
I noticed students who often missed class quickly fell behind and became discouraged. Most who regularly skipped class also quit attending altogether. Studies show there is a direct relationship between students’ college attendance and their grades. In fact, attendance is a better predictor of academic performance than any other method used, research reveals. My success relied on near-perfect attendance, so I prepared for unexpected absences by putting extra effort into each assignment and attendance where possible.
I adjusted to college and my love for learning grew. My understanding of the world through the lens of diverse perspectives widened. The faculty and student body became an important part of my life, and I learned more about myself and my place in the world.
With each class, I learned a new set of skills. In addition to my general education classes, I attended education-focused classes as required to complete the Associate of Arts in Teaching requirements. During this time, I quickly discovered my introversion was not well-suited for an elementary classroom. One assignment required I teach a small unit in a local elementary classroom. Unfortunately, my social battery had been drained afterwards, and it took a long time to recover. I feared my plans to teach would be short lived.
MSU-WP offers free tutoring for enrolled college students to aid student success. I needed all the help I could receive because it had been 15 years since I’d been in high school. I needed a deeper understanding of what my college instructors required of me, and I understood that the university tutors were familiar with my instructors.
According to research conducted by the Council of Learning Assistance and Developmental Education Associations, college students who utilize academic assistance, such as tutoring, are more likely to succeed and stay in school. Tutoring benefits students by reinforcing course materials, teaching them new learning methods, and strengthening their accountability.
Even though I had good reading and writing skills, I utilized the Arch W. Shaw Foundation Writing Center to better understand the different types of writing assignments my instructors requested. I also noticed that the writing tutors helped students on writing assignments for any class, not just English composition.
I spent every spare moment in the Math and Science Center. I admired the math tutors’ ability to move from student to student, shifting between algebra to chemistry. The tutors and their advisors were always ready to relieve students’ fears, coaching them, and showing students helpful learning techniques and the atmosphere was always positive and encouraging.
Revising my Original Plan
I enjoyed the writing center’s environment so much that in 2018, I applied for a student-worker position as a writing tutor, was accepted, and worked in the writing center for 3 years. My love for writing blossomed, which added my motivation to change my degree major.
The next move I needed to make was to speak to my adviser about changing majors, but I needed to carefully research my options, which I will cover in my next column.
To learn more about MSU-WP’s writing center, visit the Arch W. Shaw Foundation Writing Center’s page at WP.MissouriState.edu/Tutoring/Shaw-Foundation-Writing-Lab.
To learn more about MSU-WP’s math and science center, visit the Grizzly Math and Science Center’s page at WP.MissouriState.edu/Tutoring/Math-Tutoring.