Back to the Grind: The Start of Fall Term and How I Got Here

Next Monday, I begin my 6th term as a college student. If you’d told me 2 years ago that I’d be here today, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s not that I didn’t desire higher education, but with 10+ years out of high school, it seemed that ship had sailed.

Over the years, I’d say any day now, I’ll enroll in college. Yet the days, months, and years passed. I kept saying any day now.

I got a nice job at a local bakery and things were going well for awhile. I liked the owners, my co-workers became my friends, and the customers became regulars in my life. I even earned a supervisor position and expanded the job to include social media marketing.

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Christmas gingerbread men

I always enjoyed working in accounts and promotion over baking pastries. But I did really well and the methodical way a bakery runs was a good fit.

Recipes are like algorithms in computer science–a step by step process that is followed word for word. In fact, my CS instructor used recipes as an algorithm example and it clicked in my mind because I knew how to bake cakes.

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Valentine’s Day cookies

Despite enjoying many parts of that job, my heart wasn’t in it. When you’re heart isn’t in something, that lack of interest grows into a monster that can’t be ignored. I was miserable.

One day as I complained about everything under the sun, my coworker recalled something I’d mentioned long before. She asked if I was still considering college. I wanted to go to college, right?

Now that wasn’t the first time someone mentioned college (my mom fit it into every other sentence it seemed). They weren’t meddling, but following up on that thing I said would happen any day now.

That question I’d heard many times before fell differently on my ears this time. I knew right then and there it was time. I applied for financial aid, enrolled in community college, and submitted a 2-month notice. I spent that time training my replacement and anxiously awaiting my new adventure.

I began college that summer. I took on a full load in the shortest term–after being out of school for over 10 years.

It kicked my ass.

My problems came down to poor time management. Any prospective college students, especially those in my situation (older, with a family, etc.): Time management is key.

You need to hit the ground running, or at least moderately jogging, on day 1. Maintain that pace as much as humanely possible. The occasional day off is okay–I take 1 or 2 free days per week–but remember that 1 day easily turns into 2, 3, 4… This is especially true if you’re taking online courses.

My first term was completely online; I’ve taken a mix of online and on campus since. In my experience, online is more difficult. (I’ll write a separate post on the pros and cons of distance learning.)  It requires strict discipline and a well-maintained schedule. When someone isn’t holding you accountable on a day to day basis, it’s so incredibly easy to put things off. And I put things off a lot.

I’ll discuss my first term in a future post. For now, I’ll just say it was a huge challenge. It was also the kind of challenge that leaves you feeling immensely satisfied once finished–the kind of challenging that makes you say, “Let’s do that again.”

I completed 3 courses–Algebra, The College Essay, American Government–with 2 A’s and 1 B. I made the Dean’s List, which was a proud moment; I posted my certificate on the fridge like a proud parent. Still, that B. That pesky B told me I could do better.

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Made it into the Honor Society after 2 terms

I went back in the Fall, taking 4 courses–Algebra II, Technical Writing, Art, and Health–and finished with all A’s. I managed my time much better, not perfect, but better. Again, I can’t stress enough the perks of starting strong. My college opens access to online courses 4 days early. I ignored that access during the summer, but I didn’t make that mistake again. I logged on those 4 days earlier, read the syllabus, and spent the weekend working. When the term officially started that Monday, I was 1 week ahead in all classes. Having that week cushion alleviated the pressure that drowned me during summer term. It gave me time to think through assignments and allowed me to turn in work, not moments before it was due, but when I properly finished. My time management has improved with every term.

Tip: Always pay attention to what works and adjust accordingly. I make a word document every Monday with my entire week laid out. Example: Monday – read chapters 1 & 2, work on CS assignment, complete Psych discussion posts. By sticking to the plan, I know I’m perfectly on schedule. By doing something from the following day, I know I’m building an even better time cushion. Trust me, that cushion comes in handy during Finals.

One more tip for prospective students: consider how your courses work as a whole. If flexibility allows, try to avoid 2 types of the same class (2 writing courses, 2 math courses, etc.) It’s easy to burn out if you’re doing too much of any one thing. I try to keep my courses different enough that I’m excited to switch from one to the other. This gets harder as you go, but even with similar classes you can find variety. I wouldn’t study C++ and Java in the same term, but C++ and Databases is a nice combination.

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Picasso art emulation project

Now I’m heading into Fall term. I’m studying Discrete Math, Computer Science, Web Development, and Communication. I no longer feel that anxiety from last summer because I’ve fallen into a good groove. I’m managing time so well, in fact, that I started a job at an Electronics Lab in June.

So onward and upward we go. Here’s to another successful term.

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