Advice to College Students Not Digging the Whole Online Thing

Advice to College Students Not Digging the Whole Online Thing

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that “about one out of six prospective students who planned to attend a four-year institution full time in the fall have decided not to do so.”

I’ve heard similar refrains from my students, “If we do online this fall, I’m just going to get a job until things get back to normal.” I get that, especially if you have a family to support or your just unable to do online learning. For the rest, if it is a matter of needing to tap into grit and re-examining your priorities, I think you should do these things before you make any big decisions.

Here’s my personal opinion on the whole “I’m not going to college if it is online” thing. I think you need to pay the bills and support your family. Safety and well-being come first. (Read More: “Working Class Students Doing Double Duty During Corona Virus”). But, if we do end up going online in the Fall, stopping out completely may end up being a long-term decision.

I stopped out four years to join the Army. It was no easy task catching up on the academic knowledge I lost over that time period. As an undergraduate, I represented non-traditional students in Student Government. As an instructor, I am always happy to have them in class. If you are curious, I would encourage you to ask your non-traditional peers about why it took so long to come back.

They will say things like, “I got a job, and even though it didn’t pay a lot I had never really had that kind of money before. Then I met someone, we had some kids, and well, life happened.”

I come from a lower socioeconomic background, and I remember being told by family members in rural Kentucky that $20,000 a year was “good money.” It wasn’t. And earnings in this range certainly aren’t now given inflation and the rising cost of essentials like food and rent. You can get by on this sort of income, but it is incredibly hard to get ahead.

Non-traditional students come back later in life because they want to experience personal fulfillment or find better paying work. Most of the people I meet in that situation are happy with the choices they made; none of them say, “yeah, if I only wouldn’t have had that kid I could be making $75,000 a year right now.”

Still, we know that at this point in your lives, the decisions you make are going to have long-lasting impacts.


I empathize with those of you who feel like you got thrown a curve ball when your life was just starting to take off. Heck, your entire generation probably feels that way with the economy, rising tuition, the environment, and all that other stuff previous generations put on your plate. These problems are real.

But, from what I’ve seen, your generation has the skills and passion needed to overcome pretty much anything.

Don’t fall prey to a victim mindset. That can be especially easy to do when you are cooped up alone due to social distancing. Remember, now is the time to keep fighting for your future. Find your conviction.

Never forget that this virus is going to impact the have nots a lot more than haves. The haves are going to do what they always do: shimmy up that social ladder using generational wealth, connections, and status.

For the rest of us, finding intrinsic motivation to succeed is more important than ever. What do you want out of life? How are you going to accomplish these things? Really take some time to reflect on these questions.

Your generation is similar to its predecessors in that you are in a rat race to climb those socioeconomic rungs. It will be a lot harder without an education. I realize that online learning may not be ideal. I realize you might not find meaning in some of your courses. But never forget that degrees open doors and confer respect.

They are your ticket to get on the ride. And, personally, I would look highly upon any applicant who demonstrated the resilience needed to overcome adversity in these trying times.

So, if you can stick with it, even if that means part time, I encourage you to try. If you can’t, try to find your way back once it is feasible. Don’t give up on the dreams that brought you to college in the first place.

Travis L. MartinPhD, is founding director of the Kentucky Center for Veterans Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. He has established several nationally recognized programs to support returning veterans in higher education and the non-profit sector. A scholar of American literature, psychoanalytic trauma theory, and social theory, Dr. Martin presents frequently at conferences and universities. He has published dozens of research articles and creative short works on veterans’ issues. A former sergeant in the U.S. Army, he served during two deployments in the Iraq War (2003-04 & 2005). His book War and Homecoming: Veteran Identity and the Post-9/11 Generation is slated for publication with the University Press of Kentucky in 2022. He resides in Richmond, KY.