To start, I did not coin the term, non-traditional student. I actually got it from one of my classmates, who much like me, decided to pursue physical therapy school in her 30s. The term is so good, though, that I had to run with it, but what does it mean?
Let me start by telling you a little bit about my journey to physical therapy school. You see, when I graduated high school, back in 2002, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had really good grades and could have gone to a great college, but I decided to stay home and go to the community college. The idea was that I would take general education courses until I could figure out my major, however several semesters in and I still didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to do. Instead of continuing to take college courses that I was not interested in, I signed up to be an intern for the Disney College Program and moved to Orlando a few months before my 20th birthday. The idea was that I would work at Disney for 7 months, move back to Michigan, and resume taking college courses. At the end of it, I had something else in mind. I decided to stay in Orlando and take classes at the community college. I think I got through one semester, before dropping out of college for good. It was not the right time for me to be in school. I was trying to figure things out. I was living on my own for the first time. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, and as a result, it took several years before I decided to return to college, and even when I did, I still had a lot of things to figure out.
My first semester back, I considered pursuing a degree in diagnostic sonography. The next semester, I considered pursuing paralegal studies. The next semester, I pursued baking and pastry management. I actually graduated with an Associate Degree in Baking and Pastry Management and worked in a banquet kitchen at a large hotel for a year. But as you can probably figure out, this was not the right fit for me. I was miserable. The hours were terrible, and the pay was worse. It was after this learning experience, that I decided it was time to get my Bachelor’s Degree, but I had to be passionate about the degree I was pursuing. Because beforehand I was just trying to finish a degree, any degree, as quickly as possible so that I could start working and making money. The thing is, I was already doing that. I was working. I was making money. But I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing, which made me very unhappy in the long run.
I eventually completed a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise science and immediately followed it up with a Master of Science degree in exercise physiology. When I graduated with a graduate level degree in 2016, I was on top of the world. I was so proud of my efforts. It had taken me a very long time to get there, but I did it, and I was now done with school. I would find a good job, make decent money, and move on. Guess what? It did not end up like that because I couldn’t find a job, and actually lost a job shortly after graduating. So here I am, jobless with a Master of Science degree in exercise physiology. I mean talk about a failure, but I am going to save my thoughts about failures for another post. I eventually found a job as a personal trainer, but I knew in my heart that I didn’t go through all the schooling that I did to become a personal trainer. This is not to say there is anything against the personal training profession, but I could have become a personal trainer without a bachelor and master degree, and thousands of dollars of debt. It was also not the lifestyle that I had envisioned for myself. So after some careful consideration and encouragement from my husband, I decided to apply for physical therapy school. This was a really tough decision for me to make because it meant a year’s worth of prerequisites that I did not want to take. I literally cried my way through Physics I and thought for sure that I wasn’t going to pass, but I did. And then I got invited to an interview for the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program at AdventHealth University. And then I got accepted into the 2017 cohort. And now here I am, almost three years later, about to graduate as a Doctor of Physical Therapy.
I sit back and think about my journey to get to where I am at, and it has not been easy. It has taken me a very long to find my purpose, and honestly there are still some uncertainties about the kind of physical therapist I will be, but I do know that I have been put on this journey for a reason. I won’t lie. It is hard to swallow. Since graduating with a Master degree in 2016, I have had my fair share of ups and downs in terms of not understanding why it has taken me so long to get here. I still question it to this day. I envisioned very different things for my life in terms of a career. I guess the moral of this long story is that we never know where life will take us. The best thing we can do is to quite literally, enjoy the ride. I have had some amazing moments because of this ride and have met incredible people along the way. I also have the most wonderful husband who has supported me through this entire journey. He encouraged me to keep going. He is the reason I signed up for summer classes at the community college in 2016 so that I would be able to complete my prerequisites. So while I do have some, “woe is me moments”, I also have many, “I am very lucky moments.”
My journey is unique to me. It is mine and mine alone. And every moment in time has led me to this very specific moment.