Life as an adult student at UW-Madison

Janet Moore
Janet Moore

A single mother of two boys, Janet Moore was inspired to earn a bachelor’s degree after working in an environmental education program in the McFarland school district.  She was the recipient of one of the many 2012 scholarships distributed by Continuing Studies’ Adult Career and Special Student Services and is one of two winners of the 2013 Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Awards.

Janet kindly agreed to tell others about life on campus for an adult student.

 Was it difficult to make the decision to return to college as an older student—or as a “nontraditional” student? Did you have any fears? What topics did you consider (if you did) such as finances, study skills, sitting next to younger students?

Returning to school to finish my degree was a wrenching decision, but ultimately one of the best I ever made.  Of course, the biggest fear factor was the financial part. I had no idea how I—a freshly divorced 40-something woman with two kids, just getting on my feet again—was going to afford rent, yet alone college tuition!  I thought it was out of my reach, but I found many resources (tuition reimbursement from my employer, financial aid, and scholarships) to help me out.  And now, here I am two years later—just 12 credits shy of my bachelor’s degree and headed toward the finish line!

What was the reason for your return to campus?  What’s your goal?

I had worked in the McFarland School district as a school forest specialist—leading K-12 field trips and hands-on nature activities for a couple of years. I found that working in an educational environment, surrounded by a group of peers that all had degrees, was inspiring.  Call it “positive peer pressure,” if you will. I also realized, on paper anyway, I was woefully under-qualified even to teach summer school!  I went back with the aim of getting a degree in art education and teaching in K-12 public schools. I have since decided I would like to teach at the college level someday and have added environmental studies as a second major, in addition to art. I would like to pursue a master’s degree and (dare I even say?) a Ph.D., combining my interest in the environment, art, and science.

Now that you are a student, how’s it been being an adult among younger people? Do the other students give you the ‘cold shoulder?’ Do they accept you?

I worked in a high school prior to going back to college, so being around younger people on a daily basis was not new to me. I have found the other students to be very accepting, and some have told me they really admire what I am doing. I use humor a lot to set people at ease, laugh at myself when I need to, and I think that helps a lot. Plus my teenage son gave me lots of “back to school” pointers on how to avoid being “uncool.”

How about the instructors and/or professors? Are they surprised to see you in class? Do they treat you differently?

I think my relationships with my professors have been far better as a returning older student. In some ways, it feels more like a professional or peer relationship—I am much less intimidated than I was in my 20s about approaching professors with questions or comments. In more than one of my classes, I think the professors actually appreciated having someone in class more their own age!

Has it been an advantage at all to be older? If so, how?

I think one advantage is having better time-management skills, along with a clearer sense of my goals and overall mission in life. I have also gained so many life experiences (raising children, having jobs, etc.) that provide a context for my learning. I can make connections between different subjects and pick out what is important so much more easily than when I was younger.

How has the scholarship helped you? How did you find out about the scholarship?

I found out about the scholarship when I saw it posted on the bulletin board in the Humanities building. It has helped me immensely! Initially, I thought I would just take classes six credits at a time, because that’s what I could afford. Getting this scholarship made it possible to take classes full-time and finish my degree much sooner.

It was also such a much-needed vote of confidence in my abilities and validation for the importance of completing my education at a time when I could so easily have given up on my goals.

How many more semesters do you have to complete?

Just one…for now!

What’s your advice to any adult considering returning to UW-Madison for a degree or certificate?

Do not be afraid…do not assume that anything is impossible. If I can do this, certainly anyone can!  I spent way too many years wasting my mental energy, thinking “I can’t.”  Yes, you can…and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll finish. One of my favorite quotes is:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”—Goethe

I am so glad that I finally made the commitment to myself, and ultimately to my friends, family, and community as a whole, to strive to reach my potential. I hope I can be an inspiration as well as an asset to the world.

Don’t forget the deadline for applying for 2013 returning adult student scholarships is March 1. Details are available here.