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My Biggest Takeaways as a Non-traditional College Student

By: Ethan Fisher, CAMPUSPEAK Speaker

It seems like college was only a short time ago. College was a part of my life for over a decade – and no – I’m not a doctor. In 1998, I started my freshman year, and I didn’t graduate with my first bachelor’s degree until 2010. I received my second bachelor’s degree in 2011 and my master’s degree in 2014. I think it is safe to say that I know the college world better than most.

The majority of my time on campus was filled with nights and weeks of constant binge drinking and partying like many students. Every morning, I woke up with a headache and a dry mouth. My body and brain hurt so much that I wouldn’t get out of bed; pulling the blankets back over me and sleeping the day away. I would attend classes occasionally, neglecting my responsibilities as a student and student-athlete.

Midterms and finals would come and go as laid in my bed waiting for the evening to come so I could start drinking again. The end of the semester showed this with transcripts of grades that consisted of D’s, F’s, Incomplete or Withdrawal.

Already knowing I was failing out of school, my bags were packed and ready to move back home and attend the local community college. This reoccurring lifestyle lasted the next half decade, thinking college was just a game. In total, I failed out of five schools and re-enrolling at the same community college five different semesters.

In 2003 that all changed after getting invited to a local house party. It was a typical night of drinking with friends until I found myself waking up in a hospital bed after drinking wine and blacking out. Eventually, a nurse came in and told me that I drove drunk and killed somebody – let that sink in.

Imagine what it’s like to live the rest of your life knowing you killed an innocent man from drinking and driving. Imagine the person’s family – crying and grieving for the rest of their lives. They lost their family member because of a college student who chose to drink and drive.

It can happen to you!

I had a choice to make. I could give up at life, or I could decide to change. I chose to change.

Fast-forward nearly five years later. School became a priority. I won multiple academic awards and honors. I shifted my priorities when I was released from prison. I knew it was important to get my college education, considering my situation in the legal system. I wanted to graduate from college and earn my degree and prove to everyone that I changed.

College would give me an opportunity to rebuild my life as a convicted felon. It would give me some hope in finding a somewhat normal life and a better job. By 2014, I graduated with two bachelor’s degrees, three minors, one master’s degree and a GPA of 3.71, while working 40 hours per week. From my experience, here are four of my biggest takeaways from my non-traditional time in college:

Manage Your Time – During my last stint in college, I was taking anywhere between 12 – 24 credits a trimester, working 30-40 hours per week and playing college basketball; which is a full-time job. I did this by managing my time. I would “chunk” hours throughout the day based on necessity. I would wake up at 4 AM, work until basketball practice at 6:00 AM. At 9 AM, I would go to class or do homework until break, go home and work a few hours. I would go back to homework or class, work a few hours and back to homework until midnight. I managed my time and made sure I didn’t get burned out on one subject or work by separating tasks in blocks of 2-3 hours.

Build a Relationship with Your Professors – Ask questions and be engaged in classes with your professor. Ask for help and build relationships with your teachers that can not only improve your grades but will also build lasting relationships outside of your college years. Professors want to help their students, and many will continue to do so after you graduate. To this day, I still visit my business professor for his advice about entrepreneurship wisdom and ideas.

Don’t Procrastinate – I managed my time to accomplish more than most. I always made sure I got to projects, papers, or goals as soon as I could. I would start preparing for the midterms after the first week. I would slowly review my notes or do research for my business papers within the first day or two. I would never “cram” for a test or final because I was already prepared. Don’t live your college life stressed out because you’re doing everything last-minute.

Don’t Let Alcohol, Drugs, and Parties Ruin Your Life – It is easy for me to say that alcohol, drugs, and parties in college ruined my life. It also destroyed the life of another person and destroyed their family. I used to think all the stories I heard about accidents and doing dumb things while drunk in college were just scare-tactics by adults. I stumbled around five college campuses thinking that it would NEVER happen to me – and it did!

I wish I had taken school seriously when I first started as a freshman and followed my dreams before I allowed alcohol and drugs to ruin my life. I regret giving into the social pressures of my campus environment, and I wish I had never allowed myself to become a follower of others and chose to be the leader that I am today.

Learn more about Ethan Fisher at campuspeak.com/fisher.