He had to relearn things from high school in addition to absorbing the new material. He befriended professors and put all of his energy into getting nearly straight A’s. After a year, he decided to transfer to a school that offers an international curriculum and Arabic. He started at GWU last month.
“In some aspects, it seems like a big waste of time,” Sable said of his year at Appalachian State. “But if I didn’t do that, then I wouldn’t have gotten in here.”
The mother of four
Community colleges are more tailored to nontraditional students than four-year institutions. Still, when India Price, 34, talks about studying at Northern Virginia Community College, she keeps using the words “system” and “strategy.”
Price is a divorced mother with four children, ages 15, 11, 9 and 2. Her résumé includes one year at Rutgers University, years in retail management, some dental hygienist courses and, now, business courses at NOVA. She prefers eight-week classes that allow her to have a laser focus on specific topics. She calculates how many points she needs to get an A in each class and avoids over-studying because she needs to drive her son to football practices and help with her kids’ homework.
Price works part-time on campus, which covers her tuition. She hopes to finish her associate degree in the spring and then enroll at a University of Virginia satellite campus. She recently changed her major so that more of her classes will transfer.
“It has been a lot of strategic planning, a lot of hope, a lot of faith,” Price said. “I don’t like to call it beating the system. I call it being strategic.”
Price also carves out time to lead a student honors society, which has taught her how to network.
“When I get back to the workforce, I’m going to be competing with people 10, 15 years my junior,” Price said. “So what can I do to make myself more marketable?”
The young self-supporter
Age is only one indicator of nontraditional students. The other signs can be more difficult to spot. Take Tiffany Wilt, for example. The 19-year-old graduated from Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville and is in her second year of Montgomery College’s honors program.
Wilt plans to eventually study anthropology at a four-year university. She is a vegan with a funky haircut. She seems like the most traditional of traditional students.
But during her first semester, Wilt struggled in her classes. She finally confided in a professor that she bought all of her books online to save money but got several wrong editions — with different page numbers, chapters and information. She couldn’t afford a new set.
Wilt has lived on her own and supported herself since she was 17. She is on Medicaid and her tuition is paid by a scholarship. Although Wilt says she is no longer dependent on her parents, the separation has not been documented, and she has been told she cannot apply for federal loans and aid until she turns 24.
Wilt babysits, and she works 35 hours a week at an organic grocery store, making $11 an hour and about $1,200 a month, which covers her $550 rent, $320 monthly car costs and other expenses. This is luxury, she says, compared with last year when she earned $7.50 an hour at a burger joint, couldn’t afford a car and had to pull an all-nighter at least once a week.
“My professors don’t know unless I have a reason I have to tell them,” Wilt said of her situation. “I don’t want them to treat me special or pity me. I put myself in this situation.”