Meet Me Halfway: A non-traditional student

When I work with non-traditional students, I often use my own experiences to help them feel more comfortable about their own writing. I’m often congratulated for starting college for the first time at 30, and I’m often confused about how to respond. While it was important for me to go to college, and never doing it wasn’t an option, I didn’t consider what it would be like to be in a room with twenty plus other students fresh out of high school. I also didn’t consider what it would feel like to be perceptibly behind in some aspects.

I’ve had good experiences, such as when a classmate helped me understand that the comma generally goes inside quotation marks. I’ve had not-so-good experiences, such as when other students are might be dismissive of my comments or consider me out-of-touch. I’ve had really great instructors who appreciate that my life experience makes me a dedicated and committed student, but I’ve also had some that seemed to think that experience didn’t have a place in the classroom.

In the end, I try to remember that my education is a very important gift. I also remember the feelings of apprehension that come with writing something new for a class. It happens every quarter when I have to submit a written assignment for the first time: I don’t know this professor, and I’m not sure what they are looking for, or if they are going to like the way I write. I will try to comb the prompt and my syllabus looking for clues and, in the end, I usually end up sending a paper to the writing center for feedback. After doing all of that, my papers usually come back with really good grades.

I try to pass that on to students that I work with in the writing center: it’s important to ask questions and seek clarification when one is unsure, and the writing center is here to help students of all ages and experience – even tutors. It’s the best piece of advice that I’ve ever gotten, and I am always sure to share it with other students.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Emily Power says:

    Thanks Michelle! I like that you discuss how many people respond to your choice to go to college by congratulating you, and don’t realize how odd and slightly insensitive this is. It seems like there is a very clear trajectory people feel like their education needs to follow, involving college right after high school. Education shouldn’t be such a one size fits all affair. After high school, some kids rush to college without any sure purpose why they’re there. People should slow down and keep themselves from focusing on the next thing, especially when they don’t know what it is! Take time to get to know yourself and what you want. Individualize your own life experience ^_^

  • Maggie C. says:


    I thought an excellent point you touched on was that–even though you’re already a great writer–you go to the writing center for feedback. I just had a written feedback appointment for the first time (because of the “first paper panic” you mentioned), and it helped me feel much better about my essay. I think that every writer needs their ideas affirmed and told where things get a little confusing.

    I also think that by practicing what we preach, when we suggest writers to come back, it doesn’t come off as “come back because you need a lot of help;” it comes off more sincere (at least to me). And, coming from the tutoring side, having an appointment for our own work can teach us other tutoring techniques we may want to use in the future.

    Great post!