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Better Late Than Never

Going to college later in life is different from going there straight out of high school. In my case, I was old enough to be a parent to an “older,” non-traditional student. My son (who was about five years older than most of the seniors) and I had a couple of classes together my first year at Southwestern! (That was fun for me; I hope it was for him.) I’ve also had a couple of teachers the same age as my kids.

Before I attended Southwestern University (SU), I went back to school at Austin Community College (ACC) to try to do something about my singing. The student body there is large – 50,000+, I think. As one might imagine, there is plenty of age variety in a large, open-enrollment community college, so my age didn’t even stand out. Some of my fellow students were retired folks returning to school, and one was the same age as my dad. Senior citizens age 65 and older can enroll during the drop/add period for free for up to 6 credit hours.

Meanwhile, in my exploration of the ACC music curriculum, among many adventures, I happened to fall in love with composing, and hence my attendance at SU as a Theory/Composition major. Most SU students are straight out of high school; older students are rare. Sometimes, especially in my first year there, it felt really awkward; I worried about what the other kids thought. In my first week at school, a couple of girls called me Mrs. Kraft and I told them that they could call me Ashley if they wanted to, but if they were more comfortable calling me Mrs. Kraft, I would be okay with that. They settled on Ashley. There’s no protocol to give us guidelines for such things, you know? I never got a hint of anyone thinking I shouldn’t be there. Besides, I paid my tuition, I showed up, I worked hard, so who cares that I’m so much older? No one did.

There are challenges and advantages to being a “non-traditional,” “elder,” “mature” student (all names I’ve come across). I would say my biggest challenge in the nuts-and-bolts of schoolwork has been memorizing. I could pretty easily memorize things when I was in high school, but it seems to take forEVER to get something to “stick” now. This might not be an issue in other arenas, but in music I had to do a lot of it. Because of this challenge, I’ve learned a lot of neat new memorization tricks! In the broader scheme of things, time management has also been quite challenging for me. I have had a different set of life circumstances to deal with while accomplishing my studies than what my young friends face, but I wouldn’t trade places with an 18-22 year old for anything!

I’d say advantages of my age include drive and focus. There’s nothing like years of making ends meet to make a person appreciate the value of money, and loss of dear ones to make you realize that life is short. So having made the choice to attend school and spend significant time and money at it, I was definitely driven to give it my all, and I did. And I can’t say this for sure, but it seemed like the way I related to my professors was different than most of my fellow students. My interactions weren’t loaded with authority issues such as someone just leaving home might have.

I can say that I have benefited tremendously on a personal level beyond learning about music by completing my degree. I’ve had to push myself way beyond my comfort zone so many times in so many ways that I’m pretty sure it has expanded. Feedback from others tells me that I’m more confident than I used to be. I’m certainly happier than I was 4 or 5 years ago. My appetite for learning is even more revved than it was before, too. And I have made some fantastic friends along the way!

I returned to school after all of my children had started college studies, and I was the last one in my family to get my degree. Now that I’ve graduated, I will say that even though it was very challenging at times, I am very glad I chose to go back to school, and I’m glad it didn’t happen earlier in my life, because I doubt I would ever have studied music the way I am studying it now if I had gotten that first degree I chased (anthropology) or that second one (computer science). If I had put the checkmate on the Bachelor’s degree then, it’s not likely I would have gone back to school. I have learned so much the last couple of years, and I cherish it all.

Permanent link to this article: https://ashleyhkraft.com/better-late-than-never/

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