Heading back to school after years outside the classroom isn't always an easy decision. Adding classes to a full time job is the reality for many who call themselves "non-traditional" students. But this extra load doesn't seem to be slowing them down.
"Actually our enrollment numbers for adult learners, non-traditional students, has increased by 27 percent, just in three years," Interim University of South Dakota Director of Admissions Travis Vlasman said.
This increase is made of people from all walks of life, from single moms and dads, to military veterans back from combat. And it's these types of life experiences that administration believes is adding to the USD campus.
"They've been out working a career, doing different things that many of the current students haven't experienced in life," Vlasman said.
One example is 27-year-old Stacey Allen. Out of high school she had a little girl. So she decided to join the work force immediately to support her new family. Six years ago, Allen decided a college degree would be the best way to help her family and ensure a better future.
"To go any further, I needed to have a degree. And you don't necessarily have to have a degree, but it really would help you to have a degree. And I also thought if something were to happen to that job, I would want something to fall back on," Allen said.
And it's a good thing she did. The branch of the company she's been working for since high school just recently shut down. Luckily for Allen, she will have her degree this May.
Another young mom who decided to head back to school to better herself for her child is 29-year-old Alexis Oskolkoff. Oskolkoff grew up in Rosebud, South Dakota and says her drive has come from showing others how to overcome their circumstances.
"I had my son right after high school. So, I stayed home and took care of him for awhile. And then decided that growing up in poverty and everything, I just decided that a higher education and getting a degree would be the best way to get out," Oskolkoff said.
And for some non-traditional students, coming back to school isn't just about getting their degree and graduating. It's also a chance for them to get involved in the various activities that the university has to offer.
"I'm in nine different clubs and organizations. And I was just elected to have a seat on student government association," Oskolkoff said.
Mike McFarland has also been busy on campus. McFarland is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, as well as a graduate of South Dakota State University. He's now at USD to get his graduate degree to pursue teaching history at the collegiate level.
"I'm kind of a non-traditional, non-traditional student. I was older when I went to SDSU for the first time. I had been in the military and got out. Went to SDSU and graduated. Went back in the military. Had a long 20 plus year career in the military. So obviously I have a long lifetime of experiences to help me make decisions," McFarland said.
While McFarland says the experience he got from the military has been immeasurable, he along with the other adult learners, believe a good education will set you apart from the pack.
"Education and experience, you just can't make up for it. So, if you've got experience and there's a lot of guys that have experience, then something that will make you different is to have an education behind it. So, whether that's a university or a trade school, but you need education," McFarland said.
"You know, if I can do it, they can do it. And it doesn't matter how hard your past was or the trials that you went through. All that matters is where you're going in life," Oskolkoff said.
"You can do whatever you want to do. So, as soon as you figure that out. I think it's just a matter of you doing something and actually contacting someone and making the first move," Allen said.
And if you are thinking about heading back to school, you can contact any university or trade school's admissions department and request more information.