The undergraduate college experience is often thought of as a transitional time into adulthood — a period for young adults to explore their identity and discover their aspirations. However, the undergraduate experience is not limited to those 18 to 22 years old.
Adriana Cook, a senior at UNC, enrolled when she was 59 years old. She said her experience has sometimes been alienating as her peers and professors are unsure how to approach her.
Regardless, Cook is confident that this is the right time for her to attend college. Last September, she celebrated 14 years of sobriety and overcoming addiction — a feat that started her on the path to higher education.
“I couldn’t see that what I was doing was ruining my life at that time,” she said. “I think it’s important for younger students to maybe think about postponing college for a little bit — a year or two — to get some life experience and gain a better appreciation of school when they come back."
She added that she is "hugely grateful" for everything she has learned at UNC and doesn't think she would have appreciated the experience as much had she entered college at a younger age.
Cook’s past experiences with addiction have led her to dedicate her life to helping others in similar positions as her younger self. After graduating this spring, she plans to eventually become a substance abuse counselor.
Her two years at UNC have not been easy. She’s been forced to deal with several health issues and the loss of a loved one. But she did not allow these factors to discourage her, and she said walking across the stage in her cap and gown at graduation will be vindication that her hard work was worth it.
Preston Terleski, a 29-year-old senior, is also appreciative of his timing in college and said gaining experience in the workforce prior to enrolling at UNC helped him garner a strong appreciation for the college experience.
Terkleski, along with Cook, encourages those outside of the traditional age to consider the possibility of returning to school.