Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to college? Or go back to college after a long absence?
Welcome to the world of a "nontraditional" student.
A nontraditional student is anyone who does not enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school, attends part-time for at least part of the academic year, works full-time while enrolled, is financially independent, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent, or does not have a high school diploma.
Let's just say I fit the definition on a number of these counts. Despite a nearly 20-year career in the public relations field while raising a family, I never let go of a dream to find a way to incorporate my love of cooking and all things food-related with a career in the culinary arts.
Had I been able to collect money from everyone who acknowledged my academic pursuit with "Oh, cooking classes -- that sounds like fun!" or "So, you're learning how to cook?," it would have constituted financial aid. While there have been many lab classes, culinary school curriculum includes a healthy dose of learning where cuisine began and the cross-influence that cuisines from different parts of the world have on modern cuisine.
And don't forget the math. If you're going to be converting recipe yields, or someday costing out menus, you have to know how to do the math!
Nontraditional students all seem to have a lot of "life" going on. Many are raising (or have raised) families; there are many single parents, and many who are working while going to school. Some are just "working the job" to pay the bills, and are aiming toward a career in which advanced education means higher earnings as well as the personal satisfaction of knowing that they're equipped with the skills and knowledge it takes to get ahead in their chosen career.
Some of my classmates have included a former EMT, firefighters, ironworker, machinist, displaced auto workers, dog groomer, and a beautician. Our common goal? To put to use the skills, talent, and experience we've gained through our lives in a career that is a good match for what we have to offer. For many of us, the dream of what we want to be when we grow up took a back seat when "life happened," and the second chance to achieve a higher education and new career is truly a gift.
So go ahead and take the plunge. Sign up for one or two classes. Get a feel for what it's like. Chances are, you'll find yourself in the good company of individuals with whom you share a common goal. One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in my most recent academic career is that the learning never really ends.