“You Can Go Your Own Way” - A Non-Traditional Path to Higher Education

Louise Cracknell

May 8, 2018

“Hi my name’s Louise, I didn’t have any involvement in higher education when I was an undergrad and I’m still not entirely sure what a Provost does”. Not exactly the most impressive introduction to your new cohort of classmates in a higher education master’s program.

After years of trying to figure out my career path, I find myself on the brink of graduating with a master’s degree in higher education. Me, who didn’t know student affairs was a department until 3 years after graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

One of my biggest insecurities stepping into a master’s program was the long journey it had taken me to get here. Consequently, that meant I felt insecure about my age and my lack of experience. Every time I had an interview for a graduate assistantship I was sure that the person on the other end of the phone was thinking “who let her into a master’s program? She has no idea what she’s doing”. I dreaded the first day of class introductions and as the first week went on and they happened in class after class, that feeling didn’t go away.

It is just a few short days before I walk across the stage to get my diploma and over the past year I have learned a lot about myself, and what I have gained by going my own way.

Age really is just a number

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Working in higher education and working with students has nothing to do with age. It’s all about being able to connect with students and do the job that is asked of you. You have to be able to connect with students whether you are a 22 year graduate student or a 50-year-old Dean of Students. In many ways my age has been more of a help than a hindrance. Not only do I bring more life experience to my work, but I think it brings me extra confidence when I’m speaking with students as well as people in positions of power. I didn’t want to be seen as old and out of touch, and what I’ve learned this year is that I will only appear old and out of touch if I let it happen.

Transferable skills, transferable skills, transferable skills

While my ability to create a child-sized, wearable snail shell out of duct tape, cardboard, and butchers paper is pretty impressive, if I do say so myself, it is not necessarily transferable to higher education. However, my many years of theatre training and experience as a director and educator has shown up in more ways than I can count in the last year, and there are situations that may not have been as successful if I had taken a more traditional path. It’s not about what you do or don’t know, because more knowledge can always be acquired. It’s about taking what you know and finding a way to use it. I’ve always loved my time working in theatre, but I’m so much more proud of my experiences now than I ever have been before. For a long time, I felt directionless, I had taken the wrong path, but seeing how my past can shape and enhance my future, I’m confident that this was the journey I was meant to take.

Everyone else is insecure too

Walking in to class on my first day, knowing that the rest of the room would be filled with former RA’s, orientation leaders, student government participants, and working professionals, I wasn’t sure I was going to have anything to contribute to the conversation. The best remedy for this feeling has been our professional development class. While not every program may have one, it’s my humble opinion that they should. Having a space, once a week, with just 10 other students and our professor to voice the scary things and ask the “stupid” questions has been transformational. There hasn’t been a week so far where someone hasn’t shared an insecurity that most voices in the room have agreed with. We all get it wrong sometimes. There are times when we don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, there isn’t an answer to be had. I have learned to be proud of my insecurities, learned how to challenge them and leverage them, and I think more people should be willing to speak up about theirs.

Louise Cracknell is currently a graduate student at Boston University in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies: Higher Education Administration program. She loves traveling, craft breweries, collecting vinyl records, and gummy bears.

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