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John HewittMy College Years — 1964-2001

By John Edward Hewitt

I've been an adult college student most of my life. Three times I've re-entered and finally I received an Associates degree. I'm now working on a Bachelors, and I have no intention of stopping there. Here are a few tips learned along the way - the long way, that is, and the story of how I learned them, to help and encourage returning students and people who are thinking about returning.

Persevere-Don't Stop
My first return to college was in 1969, inspired by Joe Namath and the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl. I began with one course, English Composition. I passed the course but soon lost interest and opened a business instead of continuing. Every September, though, I would feel like I was missing something. I'd get the urge to go back, and I would contemplate different career possibilities that might be attainable if I had a college degree. Sometimes I went as far as speaking with an advisor or attending an open house. Ten years later I did return, and after attending two colleges on and off and passing three CLEP exams, I was awarded an AS in Business on my daughter's tenth birthday in 1996, at the age of fifty. It had taken thirty-two years to achieve the level of education most students reach in two years. If I hadn't taken the ten years off, I would have graduated at forty years old and in the prime of my working years, when the degree might have had a more significant impact on my job prospects.

Begin with a Variety of Courses
Motivated by that milestone, I began taking courses at the Fairfield University School of Continuing Education, the fourth college I've attended. I had no clear idea what major to pursue, but that was beneficial in the long run and led me to tip number two: Take a diverse selection of courses. Don't decide on a major or a specific program the day you return to college. It's not necessary to choose your exact career goal or final degree that early. On my second return, I was advised to sit in on one session of a law course and a philosophy course before enrolling. I knew nothing about philosophy, but I thought I would enjoy and benefit from the law course. After one night in each class, law seemed dull and philosophy was thought provoking, challenging, and invigorating. I completed the philosophy course and received my first A since elementary school. At Fairfield, I've taken a broad range of courses, including Astronomy, American Studies, Ethics, Religious Studies, and Chemistry. By chance, I registered for an English Writing course. The professor was encouraging, knowledgeable, skilled at teaching, and was particularly tolerant of adult re-entry students. In my thirty-fifth year since high school, I discovered that I wanted to be a writer, and I have continued taking courses leading to a degree in English/Writing. I now write for a weekly newspaper and have submitted many articles for publication such as this one. The additional income augments my day job as a technical writer, and I find writing so enjoyable I can't believe I get paid for it!

Take Writing Courses
Returning students should consider taking writing courses because they offer a wide range of benefits:

  • Students of all ages can use improvement in composition, grammar, and punctuation, and those improvements can be readily observed by employers and others who read our memos, reports, and e-mail messages.
  • Good writing can only help in your present career and improve your chances when seeking a different one.
  • Writing is a transferable skill that can be applied to almost any job in any company.
  • Adult students often have tremendous life experiences to share and find that writing offers a means of telling their stories. Writing, unlike when I was in high school, is really fun!
Writing is also well suited for online courses because it is easy to receive assignments, then complete and submit them electronically. Adult students can really benefit from the flexibility of online courses. I've taken online courses and independent study courses with good results, and instructors using those formats are usually accommodating and tolerant of students' individual needs. Some courses are now "web-enhanced," meaning that sometimes the class meets in the traditional classroom and other work is completed online.

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