Admissions Blog: What it’s like to be a non-traditional student at Sweet Briar

Campus bikesMy name is Julie Horton, and I’m pretty stoked to share my perspective on the Admissions Blog. I’m a junior majoring in history, minoring in religion and on the teaching track to earn state licensure and a Master of Arts in Teaching degree. Additionally, I’m in the Honors Program and was recently elected to serve on the Student Government Association. Oh, I almost forgot to mention: I’m a wife, mother of three incredible children and 49 years old. Yes, I’m pushing 50 and I’m in college. Sounds crazy, right? Let me tell you my story.

I married a Navy man at the young age of 18 and had my first child at 20. Two more babies came four and 13 years later. My husband deployed A LOT. Because he was gone so much, we decided that I would be the “constant” in our children’s lives by not working outside the home. My baby became a teen, which downsized my job as stay-at-home mom. Being “downsized” created an unbelievably large hole in my life; I felt that my life’s purpose was quickly fading. I became depressed and wondered what I should do — now that two of three kids had flown the coop and the third was aching for independence from Mom and Dad. I realized: “Oh, my word. I’m having a midlife crisis!” And let me tell you: it wasn’t pretty.

Julie Horton family
Julie Horton (right) with her family

Everyone has midlife crises, right? I wandered and wondered, cried and talked to a therapist to figure out how to redefine myself. I’d spent my entire adult life ensuring that my children attained their hopes and dreams and that my husband’s career soared. I willingly placed myself on the far back burner. I needed some kind of diversion, so I began substitute-teaching part time. I fell in love with the classroom and accepted more and more subbing positions. One day, the special education teacher I worked with on a particular assignment told me that I would make a great high school teacher, and urged me to consider going back to school. I told her it would take too long, that I’d be in my 50s by the time I finished, that I didn’t think I had the ambition or patience to do something as drastic as going to college at my age. She encouraged me to keep it in the back of my mind, and I did.

While visiting the Amherst County Honey Bee Festival a couple of months later (small-town festivals are a huge deal!), I spotted a Sweet Briar College banner hanging in the far corner of the gymnasium. Walking past, I noticed the staff giving away fabulous pink pens. I ambled over and began some small talk so I’d feel less guilty about going over just to snatch up a free pen. (It had a light on one end; can you blame me?) The admissions staff manning the Sweet Briar booth told me about the Turning Point program for students of non-traditional age (basically, any woman older than 23) seeking a college education.

My initial reaction was reserved. How could a middle-aged woman fit in at a school teeming with 18- to 22-year-olds? I’d never be able to keep up with the fast pace of college work. Was I smart enough to even think about going to college? All that therapy to treat my midlife crisis kicked in and I said to myself, “Well… why not?”

students cheering

I scheduled a visit the following month and was hooked. I applied, was accepted and began my college career in the fall 2016 semester. I faced — and overcame — all the fears that surrounded such a major life change. Today, I’m not just surviving at Sweet Briar; I am THRIVING!

Sweet Briar College is dedicated to ensuring student success by offering a plethora of options for tutoring and support, as well as employing engaged, dedicated professors who care about the needs of each student. Also, my worries about acceptance into the fold flew right out the window after the first couple of weeks. I’ve made many friends who will be part of my heart forever. Although my time is at a premium — since I have a family and household to help care for — I DO have a place at Sweet Briar and it has become like a second home. I’m reminded of that fact each day by my fellow sister Vixens, who accept me for who I am and encourage me to participate in extracurricular activities alongside them.

Regardless of your race, creed, ethnicity or age, there IS a place for you at Sweet Briar. Stop dragging your feet and come see what Sweet Briar can offer you: a place for any woman who believes there is “nothing that you cannot do!”


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Julie HortonJulie Horton is a junior with a passion for American history. She’s the wife of a retired Navy officer and a mother who dances in the kitchen with her kids when they visit. After graduation, she plans to teach high school history and government, keeping her summer months open to fish, work in her garden and travel the world.