Adult Education: A Primer

So, you didn’t graduate from college.

(Why is that, anyway? Were you dumb? Poor? Lazy? Mentally ill? Inconsistent with birth control? A Phish fan who couldn’t resist the lure of the tour?)

Well, whatever the reason, now that you’re a few years down the road, you realize that you may have really screwed the pooch as far as career advancement and cocktail chatter are concerned. (“What year did you graduate?” “I…went to (name of school) until 1997.”) But it’s okay! You can finish your education as an adult. There are just a few questions you need to answer for yourself first.

1. Do you have a lot of money you’re not using or planning to use? Maybe you only recently shed the burden of student loans from your first joust with the ivory tower, and now you’re thinking, Man, I miss paying that bill. You’re in luck! Because school is expensive. It’s not just tuition, it’s also books and the astronomical opportunity cost of all the things you’ll no longer be able to do. You will probably get to borrow money again. Enjoy!

2. Do you have a lot of leisure time that you’re dying to fill with drudgery? Solution — school! Nothing whiles away the hours after work and on weekends like six chapters a week of Psychology 101 or 300 pages on modern Irish history. Oh wait, did I say or? I meant and. Six chapters AND 300 pages.

3. Do you enjoy writing in a manner that is pointlessly constrained, dry, and formulaic? You hit the jackpot bucko, because you’ll be doing that nonstop. Fifteen pages on gender differences in use of language — Happy St. Patrick’s Day! A PowerPoint presentation on the genesis of prion disease — Merry Christmas, baby! Welcome to the salon of liberal artistes. Who needs hobbies/ companionship/ sex/ sleep anyway, when you can make a bibliography instead? But ah ah ah, mister, be careful! Points off if you use the wrong font size/ margins/ spacing/ naming convention! And however closely you think you’re following the assigned style guide, you’re wrong! TURABIAN that, bitches!

4. Do you like being told what to read and when to read it? I sure do! One of the chief frustrations of my adult life used to be that there are so few good books to read and so much time to not read them. Not any more! Now I get a list of books every 6-10 weeks that I have to plow through, and at least half of them are fantastically, laughably overpriced, which helps me with number one above. Even really interesting topics can be made painfully, grindingly dull when academics sink their teeth in. Ask yourself, would you rather read a gussied-up Master’s thesis on globalization or have dental work done? Whatever you say now, by your second semester your answer will be Thank god I have dental insurance, crappy though it is!

5. Do you enjoy pointlessly cumbersome technology? Then you are going to LOVE the online learning component of your classes! The system doesn’t quite employ a greenscreen, but it’s just as clunky and counterintuitive as it would be if it did. Remember when email was really hard to use and had a terrible interface? Welcome back to the bad old days with Blackboard and Blackboard Vista! I don’t know why universities can’t make use of readily available technological advances like everyone else has, but thank god they don’t.  I say if you can’t do it in Internet Explorer 6 with a Java plugin that never works and four separate passwords, it’s simply not worth doing.

BONUS: If you enjoy reading the unbalanced rantings of people on message boards — in college these days, that’s your homework! Guess what? At least one person in all your classes likes to write at length about God and sociology or God and biology or God and iambic pentameter. So fun and fascinating! Amen!

6. Do you wish you knew more people with overinflated egos? Academia is for you! Forget your job experience and hard-won life lessons; it’s people who have spent their lives on campus who really know what’s up. It’s especially fun to take a class that dovetails with your professional life and find out how very little you know about things. Thank heavens you get the benefit of learning from professors who DO know (what books say about things).

7. Do you miss the innocence and naiveté of your youth? You’re going to get a big heaping dose of that loving feeling when your professors and academic advisors start talking to you like you just fell off the top of your parents’ station wagon!  Just go with it — as I said, the things you’ve learned in the decades since you last set foot in a classroom are meaningless anyway. And you’ll save a ton on moisturizer if you start thinking of yourself as a high school graduate! (Oh, ha ha, that’s how we got here in the first place — I meant a recent high school graduate.)

8. Do you have a completely flexible schedule that you can conform entirely to the demands of an arbitrary academic calendar? You’d better hope so, because attendance counts — just tell your boss that you’re not going on that business trip because you can’t miss the lecture on use of metaphor in the work of Flannery O’Connor. And office hours are usually Tuesday from 11 a.m. – 11:45 a.m., so don’t schedule any meetings then either if you know what’s good for you! Your job responsibilities will wait.

9. Do you still harbor a naughty dream of sleeping with one of your professors? Just put some leather elbow patches on the next time you masturbate. It will be much more fulfilling. You don’t have time for an affair anyway — you have two papers due this week!

In sum, going back to school as an adult is an amazing opportunity for personal growth. Sure, you don’t get to do any of the stuff you actually enjoyed when you went to college last time, like staying up late gossiping with your roommates, or drinking two-for-one pitchers of beer five nights a week, or going to concerts in grubby little clubs on Mondays at 11, or discovering postmodernism and being blown away by how, like, deep it is and stuff, but that’s okay. Post-adolescent you already did that! But you do get to see just how much inane hoop-jumping you can endure now that you are all grown up.

Before you embark on this great journey, take a moment to picture post-adolescent you, all firm-skinned and bedheaded. Whatever circumstances drove that person to drop out, they seem petty and inconsequential now, don’t they? I mean, yes, when I dropped out I was utterly impoverished as well horrifically depressed and wishing I were dead, but I think I could have soldiered on if I’d had more spine.

Now visualize kicking 20-year-old you in the face for being such a moron and putting you in this position as an adult. Your therapist may suggest that forgiving yourself would be the healthier course, but you will soon learn to distrust everyone with advanced degrees, so pay no attention.

And don’t forget, registration for spring classes opens soon! I get to take statistics, because it’s beautiful outside and my birthday is coming up and nothing else in my life is hard at all right now. At least I get to pay full price for the privilege! TC mark

image – Fields of View


More From Thought Catalog

  • Michaelwg

    I was thinking about going back. Thank you for helping me settle my internal debate. I’m going to move to Thailand and buy a dog instead.

    • claire

      wish i could drop off AGAIN and go to thailand. ;/

  • Eklavya Singh

    I feel this is a very confined view of what education can be like. It does not seem like you are having fun with your chosen field (liberal arts in this case?) as you thought you would. Interest in your area of research and enough partying are essential components of a satisfying student life.

    • Dani

      No, when you go to school as a grownup with job experience you see how trite college is. 

  • Amie Perez

    Story of my life. 

  • Hannah

    Beautifully hilarious.

  • Secretly Old Guy in Class

    As someone going through this right now as well, I’d like to make a slightly pervy addition.  Sitting in classes with young women that have fully developed bodies, yet the minds of 19 year old girls, is starting to take a toll on my willpower.  Even with some slight frontal hairline thinning, I’m constantly mistaken for a dude in his mid-twenties (mind you, I don’t think I look that age, I just think 18-20 y/o women don’t really know what a reasonably well-maintained 38 y/o actually looks like up close).

    Sooner or later, my will to resist the invites to “18 to party, 21 to drink” events or worse, the 21st B-day Bash(!), will erode and instead of viewing them with the marginally compassionate and bemused gaze of someone two decades past appropriate dating range, the lecherous perv in me will one day just be like, “yeah, of course I’m going.  i’ll text you when I get there.”

    If you are a(n older) guy who can pass for someone in his mid-twenties, and have no qualms about lying to young girls about your true age, and (somehow) enjoys the company of young (read: almost brainless [shhhh, guys are too]) women–at least long enough to have sex with them–then going back to school might just be the best thing to ever happen to that lost decade you call your thirties.

    Unfortunately, time has played a rather insidious trick on me.  Although substantially still attracted to nice figures and pretty faces, I find myself much (much!) more into things like interest-compatibility or similar world-views and other such nonsense.  Time, that clever thief, has robbed me of whatever pleasure I might have received were I a full-blown predator.

    So, young ladies, if you are secretly crushing on that self-confident guy in your Ethics, Probability/Stats, Calc 1 class that seems a little older than the bros, yet also happens to display zero awkwardness while talking to you and usually seems to “get” you, then rest assured–I [probably] will not be taking advantage of you.

    I can only speak for myself, though.

  • TuraLura

    How very timely! For the first time in more than 20 years I have started to consider going back to college.

    But I’ve been very lucky, and the experiences I had instead of college managed to add up to enough experience that I have a job with authority and autonomy that’s way beyond my official education level. I have no problem talking about my job at cocktail parties; in fact, talking about my work at cocktail parties is part of my job.

    When I was in school, I was very good at it. But now I’m not so sure I could put up with the lack of autonomy that would be involved. Thanks for writing this!

  • Confused

    I’m sorry, I’m confused. I started college when I was 17 and finished when I just turned 21, I studied Architecture. The whole time I was there I thought I was going insane and felt exactly the way you have described. 
    I am now still 21 and working abroad (although not in Thailand) teaching children (i.e. not working not as an Architect) and I’m happy, albeit a little paranoid about the lack of respect there is at home for people working in this profession especially in comparison to those working as Architects. 

    I agree completely with what you’ve written about the glorious experience that is college life; professors with ‘over-inflated egos’ who love the sound of their own voices and are unbearably patronizing , ‘pointlessly constrained’ writing on subjects of little or no interest or relevance to everyday life, with ridiculous rules about formatting etc. I obviously do not have the life experience to back up my opinion and opinions change with age and time. My point is, I am a ‘brainless’ 21 year old who ‘soldiered on’ through the ‘horrific depression’ and ‘wishing I were dead’, thinking ‘this is hell but at least I’ll have a piece of paper at the end of it’ and graduated, with a piece of paper in a field of study that is completely irrelevant to the job I now have but without which I could not have obtained the job. Now having read your piece, I’m wondering if it was the right thing to do. Is it that as a result of my age I just think you ‘get’ me?  Or is society just a bit mad? One of the requirements for the job I have now was a bachelors degree but it didn’t matter what subject it was in…I realize that they see having the degree as proof that you’re able to stick at something or that you’re capable or intelligent etc., but is there not something wrong with that mindset in itself? 

  • J H

    This perfectly describes the way I feel about school now.  I dropped out at 20, now back at 23.  You would think, “oh no big deal!” as I’m still college age-ish.  I’m constantly shocked by the simple mindedness and stupidity of classmates (some are smarter than me, but I ignore them cause that’s awkward).  Also, 19 year olds make me feel strangely old with their talk of “keggers” and “fake-id’s.”  Mostly, I just think the whole thing is absurd as I haven’t learned anything relevant for what I want to do yet.  Then again, beats working at my menial job for the rest of my life.

  • Xxxx


  • soon to be BA

    I laughed through the whole article. Thank God I’m graduating in two months. However, the work world is just as full of idiots with overinflated egos– if you disagree, tell me where you work so I can apply ASAP.

  • Squidward Tentacles

    menial labor sucks. peers who confidently assume (and assume you assume) religion, self-interest, sex specific magazines, pop-culture and knowledge of social protocol exhaust the set of axioms needed to make informed decisions are depressing. thinking is unfortunately a privilege, and it can be very lonely at the bottom if it’s your thing. 

  • Wes

    Stuck in the middle right now of if I should stay in school, or should I not. I’m 20 years old. What gets to me is the cost, and not just what it costs now, but what I’ll be stuck with for a very long time. I’ve figured to go all they way I would have something around 50k in debt, which I am firmly believing will hinder the advancement and flexibility of my life. Especially with my chosen major, Architecture, which I love, but do not see paying off really anytime soon. If at all. So I’m left wondering if I keep going and dig this hole I’ll be in, or try it out and see what I can make of myself. We’ll See.

  • Sahar Soos

    all thoughts of dropping out are gone now.. thank you  :P

blog comments powered by Disqus