“That’s all I ever really learned in college” – CCSF edition

Yesterday morning I checked the San Francisco State University web site to see if my admission status had been updated and found some great news — my status changed from APPLICANT to ADMITTED!  Certainly a nice surprise!  Hooray!  Who would have thought even just three years ago that I would be ready to transfer back into a four-year university by now?

The news that I’ll be moving on to another school in spring 2012 elicits a curious mix of jubilation and trepidation from me. New campus to learn, new culture to explore, new … bureaucracy to navigate.  Certainly, the learning curve will be a little less shocking than the one I experienced during my matriculation into City College of San Francisco in 2010 after, oh, 12 years outside the realm of higher education. But there will undoubtedly be another learning curve nonetheless.

And speaking of that learning curve, this news reminds me of the lessons I have learned from going back to school as a non-traditional student.  Do you remember the movie Reality Bites?  Someone once told me I reminded them of all the characters in that movie rolled into one.  HA!  Nice to know I exhibited all the style and symptoms of late-stage Generation X anxiety + ennui in the mid-90s when it was still hot.  But that is neither here nor there.  More to the point, remember when Vicki declares her social security number as the only thing she really learned in college?  I am reminded of that moment now, as I look back at how college is arguably less about learning content than proving you are functional, curious, and capable of jumping through hoops. And what good would all my hard-earned lessons be if I didn’t share insights with you?  In the spirit of community and sharing knowledge, here are some of the more significant lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of years.

  • Bureaucracy, Bureaucracy, Bureaucracy.  Everything about going back to school takes longer than you think it should. I started taking actions a good six months before I ever stepped into a classroom for this second round of education — at a community college. From online forms to complete, to paper cards that you have to carry around to get stamped as you finish tasks, to performing feats of line-waiting that would make even Sisyphus cringe, a whole new world of “waiting” awaits the student. And once you’ve matriculated, there will be classes you need that you can’t get into until next semester (or the next. or the next.) and financial aid processes to navigate. But the lesson here is to find joy and excitement in each little step. It’s a process, and every victory is cause for celebration! I have had many good friends cheer me on and give me advice on this over the past few semesters.
  • Must play well with others. Ahh, yes.  After you get into classes, it is not long before these dreaded words come up: “now get into groups….” This is a psychologically tense moment for me, for certain. To this day, I go instantly to that place of the 14 year old who thinks nobody wants to pick him for the dodgeball team. But so does everyone else!  So we must just dive in and make it happen. No matter what group you assemble, or what your personality is, there will always be people who make it challenging for you. There will be overachievers whose visions will infiltrate every aspect of the project, and there will be slacker tag-alongs who will ride your hard work to a decent grade.  There will be chatty Kathys who will dominate discussions, and wallflowers who will get mad that they aren’t asked to contribute. IT’S JUST LIKE IN THE REAL WORLD! Surprise!  “Groups” in school are usually only slightly more functional than a staff meeting at a non-profit. And I can tell you that from experience, because I’ve done them both! And speaking of experience…
  • You might get more out of school the second time around. While I do wish I had been ready to succeed at my first attempt at school at the University of Virginia, I wasn’t. There was no use in trying to force it. I did try, and I was definitely not ready. But now, I am finding that structured education integrates astoundingly well into real-world experience. I don’t think structured education was going to work as well for me the other way around — the traditional way. Other non-traditional students may echo this sentiment; many educated people may not. But, I am actually enjoying reviewing my library of experiences with new knowledge and tools. For example, if you sat me down with a Financial Accounting book in 1994, I probably would have set it on fire and lit a cigarette with it. But at this point in my life, I’ve worked in businesses and organizations and can look back and say, “oh, so THAT is how that works! And this is how I should do it in the future.”

And there is more, of course, but you have already exhibited great patience in coming this far with me! And there is much more to learn, for this is only the first step in my own journey to a four-year degree in Business Administration – Marketing. But for now, I just want to say “Thank you!” to all my friends and family who encouraged me to take these steps and do this for myself, and for sharing in the process and the progress.  Thank you, thank you, thank you! Stay tuned for “That’s All I Ever Really Learned in College” — SFSU Edition…

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