When Megan Patterson graduated high school 19 years ago, college wasn’t even on her radar. 

Now she is in the middle of her sophomore year of undergraduate studies, working toward her nursing degree. She met with me on Tuesday morning to talk about what it is like to be a non-traditional student in a college built for students with half as much life experience as her. 

“At 37 years old, you have done a lot of this,” Patterson said.

Patterson, who worked as a career firefighter and EMT for 17 years, has two children and a part-time job at a family practice in Goshen. She lives in Syracuse and wakes up early every day in order to get to her classes in time. Like many older students, she balances a full course load and other important aspects of her life at the same time. Being a full-time student for four years isn’t cheap, especially when there are multiple people who depend on your income. 

“I’m going to come out of it with a lot of debt,” said Patterson. “I’m going to have to rely on student loans for living expenses to an extent.”

There is no denying that Goshen College, like most colleges and universities, was designed and works best for recent high school graduates who are leaving home for the first time in their lives. The Goshen Core, which all undergraduate degrees require, is meant to help students learn about a variety of subjects and expose them to the many different cultures and points of view. Older students working toward a traditional undergraduate degree need to take all the required Core classes, including Engaging the Bible, Wellness and SST Alternatives.

“I understand why Goshen does SST, and I think for a lot of people it’s a great thing; it’s a great opportunity. For an adult learner, there is no way I can go overseas,” said Patterson. “I have a child at home. I have obligations that keep me here.”

As for Engaging the Bible, Patterson utilized her commutes to memorize all 66 books of the Bible. 

“I had, on [an] endless loop in my car, this children’s Bible book song,” Patterson said. “I mean, endless loop. Ugh.” 

Despite the various opportunities I gave her to complain about college, she never fell for my bait. I was surprised by how she has seemed to embrace every aspect of her unique experience with gratitude and understanding.

I prompted her often, asking about things that I was sure she would find frustrating. Wasn’t she annoyed that she had to take Wellness? That her Wellness class was at 8 am? That she had to take out so many loans? That she was surrounded by teenagers and young adults? 

In my opinion, she didn’t complain because she knows why she is here, what she wants and the decision to come to college was 100 percent hers. College is such a valuable opportunity and a privilege — something I think many of us younger students forget because we are so preoccupied with our own personal lives and angst. Although many non-traditional students start college without a single credit, they have valuable life experience under their belts, which is priceless.

Patterson agreed.

“Life experience credits would be great!” she said.

When I asked her what advice she has for other older people who are considering starting college for the first time, she kept it simple.

“Buckle down and do it,” said Patterson. “It’s not impossible by any means. It all works out.”