Andrew McCullough

Trying Again: The Experience of One Mature Student

A desk with notebooks, a cup of tea, and a plant | Illustration by Jules Keenan

Deep in my gut, I missed something vital. I knew there was something I wanted to accomplish that got lost in the shuffle of life. Two years ago I was plagued by a mixture of self-doubt, longing, and lost opportunities.

I confessed to my partner that I felt my life had gone off the tracks somewhere. We unearthed that I regretted never finishing university. 

I’ve lived many different lives across the last decade, despite only being 29 (which may seem old to many UNB students). I’ve been a professional artist (and a starving artist), I’ve been an art teacher, I’ve worked in hospitality, I’ve succumbed to trauma, and rose again from the ashes. 

Hell, I even changed my name and changed it back again.

But something was lost from over a decade ago when I was a college freshman. Enrolled in Business Administration, I entered college as a bright but naïve young man. Fresh from the clutches of a caring but at times overbearing mother, I immediately went off the rails, falling into a cycle of partying, drugs, and missed classes.

By my second semester, I dropped out. I prioritized ecstasy over education. I made so many excuses at the time, the most common being that I didn’t like the large class sizes and impersonal relations to the lecturers, a narrative that dominated my life for almost a decade.

Fast forward to just two years ago. I’ve grown significantly, in interests and maturity; I finally felt ready to dismantle my old narrative and take a second crack at academia. This time things would look quite different. Instead of focusing on the mythical practicality that fueled my freshman entrance to UNB, I focused on my passions and interests.

Something magical happens when you take a bunch of classes that you align with your interests – by default, you make them a priority.

Through my experience taking English, Philosophy, and Media Arts and Cultures classes, I discovered (or revived) a love for learning. What began as a journey to finish a degree has transformed into a desire to carve out a life within academia.

My experiences, once as a party-hungry freshman, and secondly as a sober, mature student, have provided me with a unique perspective on the difference that age and life experiences make in qualifying the university experience.

Entering into my education as a mature student, I felt I had a lot to prove. To many, I’m sure I came off as a keener, brownnoser, or whatever else was whispered behind my back. This wouldn’t hinder my determination to extract maximum value from my education and engage thoroughly in every class’s content.

In many of my freshman classmates, I discovered a similar attitude to the one I held in my first university experience. I heard many stories of wild drunk nights, incomplete assignments, and the signs of falling into chaotic cycles of drug use. I reveal this not out of judgement but out of empathy and understanding.

We all recognize there is a push to enter university straight out of high school, to take a practical path as part of the myth that a degree means better job prospects. This push is encouraged by all universities, including UNB, because it increased enrollment numbers and, thus, profit.

For some, university is simply not the right choice. But for many others, that freshman year is a Venus flytrap, luring one in with false ideals and chewing them up in the haze of the college party scene. I don’t want to glamourize this experience by suggesting it is merely a learning experience. For many, once they are chewed up, they never recover. For every person who combats and beats their addictions, there are many more who fall into an endless cycle of self-abuse.

Instead, what I would like to glamourize is a process of discovering oneself before entering into post-secondary education. I’m lucky that through the many lives I’ve led across a dozen years, I’ve been able to piece together a patchwork of self-understanding. Ideally, though, I wish that more high-school graduates would take a couple of years, experience the labour force, lose themselves a little in partying, and discover their interests that arise (outside of the structure of education). After all that, then approach the idea of continuing your education.

Of course, we all must make the journey down our own path. If things are working out for you, that’s wicked, keep going! But if you are feeling significant doubt about your program and your future, there is no shame in taking a break, breathing some stories into your life, and trying again.


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