Navigating Grad School as a Non-Traditional Student

By: Erin La Fon – Epidemiology

Whether you spent the last couple of years working, you have kids and a family, or you already have a graduate degree there are things we all have in common… life as a non-traditional student. 

The students at Rollins have all taken a different path to get here, but one thing is certain, we’re all trying to navigate our way through our degrees.

My background is definitely not traditional. I graduated from undergrad in 2018 and worked full-time throughout undergrad and afterward. I was then accepted into veterinary school and started in 2019; however, for various reasons, I’m no longer in veterinary school (but that’s a story for another time)! I then proceeded to complete my first master’s degree in 2021 in veterinary forensics, while still working in veterinary medicine. I had absolutely no public health experience prior to coming to Rollins. I’ll admit that as a non-traditional student, this was a little intimidating. Some of my classmates have had amazing experiences in undergrad that built a strong foundation for public health and maybe even helped them understand the basic concepts we learned during our first semester. 

Being a non-traditional student at Rollins is interesting. I feel like I’ve been able to learn from my classmates who are straight from undergrad and they help me stay on top of assignments which isn’t something I was used to doing in the working world while I offer them advice about my experiences between moving to different states, living away from family and friends, and job hunting outside of part-time, academic jobs. 

Something that I’ve found helpful as a non-traditional student is attending networking events and panels to hear about the experiences alumni have had while at Rollins and after graduating. I also suggest getting involved on campus, you don’t have to have a leadership role or join every club but attending events is a great way to de-stress and have fun.

I think as a non-traditional student, some of the pressure I put on myself is unnecessary and I invite you to not be so hard on yourself. When I started, I was determined to do everything all at once: I wanted perfect grades, I wanted a great research position, and I wanted to be extremely active. However, after the first couple of weeks of classes, I realized that I have an entire second life outside of academia. I have a family (spouse and pets) that need me to be there for them, and frankly, I was EXHAUSTED. Ultimately, during my first semester, I decided not to work and I decided that I wasn’t going to get involved in too many activities; I wanted to reinforce good study habits and focus on my grades while I got back into the flow of school. As a non-traditional student, you might not be able to meet all the goals you set for yourself every semester and that is okay!  No matter what challenges you face, remember, you’re not alone and there are plenty of non-traditional students who understand what you’re going through!

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