Posted by: Gillian | July 13, 2010

Overcoming dropping out of education

It is educational awards season and amid all the speeches there’s been one that has stood out. Carolyn P McCartney, high school drop-out, aged 56, is now a registered nurse with an Associate’s degree in nursing. Lost to the system after poor careers advice when at school, she speaks clearly of the stigma and personal sense of failure this brought. Yet, there she was, having got back into education, being broadcast live and on stage in front of about a thousand people, rightly proud of her degree and articulate about the positive effect this has had. The speech made at Excelsior College Commencement is available at (start at about the 32 minute mark). So, how do people get over the fear, re-engage with learning and get started again in formal education?

First, it might help to know that in most countries there are more people over 21 in college and higher education first degrees than there are ‘traditional’ students. You are not too old.

Second, colleges and universities have changed enormously in the last ten years and they are still changing to make it easier for adults to get started and fit education with their working and family lives. If your local college has fixed schedules that you cannot meet or you are made to feel odd when you pluck up courage to visit the admissions office, look elsewhere. There are lots of options.

Third, you do not have to sign up for a whole degree. Indeed, many places will not let you sign up for a whole degree if you dropped out of school. This is not because they are being élitist or stuck-up. Good universities and colleges know that dipping a toe back in the water takes an effort. Getting some success in one short course will help rebuild confidence and make it easier for you to choose what and where to study next. It will also make you more successful because you can spend more time on getting used to studying before you have to worry about different subjects. If you can use a computer mouse, an IT literacy course may be a good place to start. Many universities require students to take short IT courses some time in their first year and the practical skills involved are useful everywhere. Other starting points may be college writing (most degrees require writing) or a single course in something you think you will enjoy. When looking for these, remember:

  1. Be easy on yourself. Look for courses that fit your schedule. If the times are wrong, try somewhere else or look online.
  2. Check the course is a ‘real one’ (properly accredited). (See Is it a good university?)
  3. Go for it. One step at a time, you can do it.

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