A Guide: How to survive your first week at college as a non-traditional student

This week’s column for the WIR.

This also aired on KAXE Northern Community Radio.

September 12th, 2012
A Guide: How to survive your first week
at collegeas a non-traditional student
By Mary Eileen Finch


1. Get out of bed early. Notice I didn’t say, “Wake up early.” This is because you will already be awake. Because you have been awake all night staring at the ceiling and wondering why in the world you ever thought going back to college was a good idea.

2. Decide to fix a healthy breakfast to start your day off right. Get out the farm fresh eggs. Throw them on the table when you hear insane amounts of gagging coming from the bathroom. Spend the next 30 minutes cleaning up your 12-year-old son’s vomit. Lose your appetite. Skip breakfast.

3. Consider inserting a catheter. I’m not joking. Your bladder hasn’t been the same since your kids sat on it for nine months at a time, squishing it down to the size of a marble, all while gaining weight as fast as a baby elephant. You probably think it’s no big deal to make it through a two-hour class without urinating, but you’d be wrong. Very wrong. (I have yet to locate the cafeteria or the student lounge on campus but I already know the locations of all the bathrooms, every single one.)

4. Prepare for a heart attack when you purchase your Intro to Psychology textbook and the numbers on the receipt add up to more than you paid for your entire electric bill last month. Feel a little bit better when you’re told that you can sell the book back to them if you keep it in mint condition. Prepare for another heart attack when, later that day, you end up dropping a huge spoonful of spaghetti sauce on Freud’s head because you were trying to study while cooking dinner. Briefly consider the possibility of trying to convince staff that Sigmund always had red hair that smelled slightly of tomatoes.

5. Pull your homework assignment out of your bag at the start of class and hope that your instructor has a good sense of humor and will smile, instead of sigh, at all the superhero doodles your six-year-old son made while “helping” you study. Write in “My teacher is SUPER!” for extra brownie points.

6. In the middle of your first class notice that there is only one empty chair in the whole room, the chair directly next to you. In the middle of your second class notice that, again, there is only one empty chair in the whole room…the one right next to you. Notice that this goes on in every class and repeats every day for the whole week. Start wearing more deodorant. When that doesn’t help just blame the chair, it must be broken. Then resort to obsessing over why everyone in the school is afraid of you before finally realizing that the chair makes the perfect leg rest. Embrace your aloofness and sit out the rest of the semester in utter comfort by utilizing both chairs for yourself.

7. Carry a pack of tissues with you for those moments when you reach into your bag and find a note from your husband with a Winnie the Pooh Bear quote on it. (Yes, Pooh Bear…didn’t know he was so profound did you?) “There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. From everyone in your life. A co-worker who happens to also attend the same college can take you under her wing and show you around campus. A husband who has a Master’s in psychology can perfectly explain the Bystander Effect while relating every study ever conducted on the topic. A friend who is also an arts editor can patiently help you choose which musical performance would be best to attend for your concert review project. A mentor with a child who is also attending college can offer experienced guidance. And your 14-year-old daughter can explain negative exponents to you.

9. Relax when you realize that it’s not as scary as you thought it was going to be.

Cry happy tears when you discover that all your instructors are very kind, helpful, and just as determined as you are to make this all work out.

And smile when you get home and the children are waiting at the door to hear all about your new adventure.


Mary's first day at college!

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