It’s 4:30 in the morning and the street lights are fading from the night before. While most people are bundled up in bed, peacefully sleeping and patiently waiting for an alarm to wake them up, Holly Varner is pouring her first cup of coffee. Starting her day early is just one minor detail of Holly’s busy schedule.
While 4:30 a.m. may seem unnecessarily early, waking up before the rest of the world is just one small part of being a wife, mother of three and a full time college student. In a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2000-2010 there was a 42 percent increase in students 25 and older attending college nationwide. This trend requires adults who are returning to college or simply starting later than traditional students, to balance everyday life tasks differently than most.
So why are adults going back to school? Not only is there a demand for a degree in United States, but studies show that peak ages for obtaining a master’s, professional or doctorate degree fall between 30 and 64. Holly happens to be right in the middle of this age range. At 41 years old she is in her senior year at Washington State University of Vancouver, earning a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and a double minor in women’s studies and Spanish.
While Holly is eagerly involved in her current academics, she started a family young and has remained focused as a mother and wife for the first half of her life. Before starting school at Clark College, Holly lived in Japan for 12 years travelling with her husband who was in the military. She spent most of her time volunteering and that heavily influenced her interest in studying social sciences. Upon returning to the U.S, Holly reflects on a time when her and her son had class and graduated together with their associate degrees from Clark College. At that time she was in her late thirties, proudly graduating with a 3.98 grade point average. This was just the start of Holly’s impressive scholarly journey.
Currently in her senior year at WSU Vancouver, just months away from graduation, Holly is a student senator, president of the Spanish and Photography club, vice president of the Human Development club, an active member on the Cougar Pride Leadership Committee and a volunteer at the campus Diversity Center. After senate meetings on Wednesday nights, Holly is picking up her youngest son from karate class. Before class on Friday’s, she is helping her oldest son with homework and preparing lunches for the entire family. Finding balance is key to Holly’s success.
“I live by my calendar,” Holly explains when describing how she balances such a wide range of responsibilities. Being a student is just one part of her busy life. She mentions how one of the most challenging parts about being majorly involved has been staying organized, and learning to say no. When Holly gets home at 5 p.m., it is family time. Her goal is to get her homework done before coming home, then dedicate the rest of the evening to relaxing with her husband and kids.
Holly’s schedule may seem hectic but it is a trend for many adults returning to college to live a life that juggles multiple elements. A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, “In May 2013, 18 percent of all jobs in the United States were in occupations that require a bachelor’s degree.” Many adults entering college later than the traditional age have the same idea as Holly; a college education is highly valued by employers and is becoming a requirement. Holly Varner and thousands of other adult college students are aware of the overwhelming need for a degree in today’s work environment, and are willing to wake up before the sun rises in order to earn it.
-Editor’s Note: This story was originally produced by the reporter for her Communications 300 class