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College for Adults
Q: Dear doctor,
I always have had a desire to attend college but I had a bad high-school experience. I mean I didn't do good and I am 38 years old. Even though I have a desire to go to school, I have anxiety being able to perform in school. What is your advice?
A: You are brave to ask this question, and I congratulate you on taking this step. There are millions of adults like you who have not done well in school for one reason or another, but who want to learn and don't know were to turn.
I would suggest that you contact a college or junior college in your area and ask them what they offer for adult students who didn't do well in high school, but who want to go to college. Many schools now offer programs that are specifically designed for students like you. As an example, you might take a look at the adult baccalaureate programs offered by Lesley College. Colleges that cater to adult learners offer special support services such as counseling or tutoring, as well as individually designed instruction. When these colleges accept you, they want you to be successful -- and they usually work hard to help you do just that. I would not suggest that you enroll in a traditional undergraduate college that "has a few adults" in classes, (but I must say that I have seen some wonderful supports offered naturally by 19 or 20-year-old students who "took good care" of returning adults.) At first, you might try taking one course in a subject you are very interested in, or in which you have some skill or talent (such as an art class or computer class), so you can ease into the college environment without having to worry so much about the coursework.
You didn't say what kind of difficulty you had in high school, but since you're 38, you may have an undiagnosed learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many students your age and older attended schools before the identification and treatment of learning difficulties was a common practice. If you had trouble learning even though you feel that you were bright enough to do so, you should contact a hospital or clinic in your area that specializes in the evaluation of adults with learning disabilities or attentional problems. They can also help you find a college that offers special programs for adults with learning disabilities. You may have had problems in school because you never learned how to read and write well, even though you didn't have any disability. Adult literacy programs for poor readers can be found in most cities, and this might be just what you need. You also said that you get anxious when you think about going back to school. If this is a serious anxiety that really keeps you from moving forward, then ask your doctor to refer you to a counselor (psychologist, social worker, or psychiatrist) who can help you with this problem.
Good luck on your quest. Drop us a line when you finish your first course, OK?
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.