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The Challenges and Advantages of Being an Older College Student

Monday, July 17, 2023

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When most people think of college students, the image of young adults — recent high school gradsengaging in all aspects of campus life may come to mind. However, a growing number of college students are older. Known as adult learners or nontraditional students, they don’t fit the mold of the conventional college student. In fact, 37% of college students are 25 and older, according to recent data from the Lumina Foundation. Adult students face many challenges when they go back to school, but they also have many advantages. 

Does It Matter How Old You Are in College?

Postsecondary institutions do not impose an age limit on students. In fact, older students enhance diversity in college admissions. To be accepted, you must meet the same academic and financial requirements for admission as other prospective students. However, as an adult learner, your college experience likely won’t be traditional, especially if you are also balancing family and work commitments.

The Challenges of Being an Older College Student

Many adult learners work to support a family and may be trying to save for their children’s future education and retirement. They may find it difficult to pay out of pocket for their own college education. Financial aid is available, but it’s often not enough to cover the entire cost. 

It’s also stressful to attend college when you have other commitments like work, parenting, and caring for elderly parents. Many schools do not cater to adult learners, so academic calendars may clash with these other responsibilities. Also, fitting in as an older transfer student can be a challenge because of life circumstances, experiences, and perspectives that younger students can’t relate to.

A Different Perspective: The Benefits of Being an Older College Student

While there are different challenges for older students, there are many benefits as well. Adult learners bring a wealth of real-world experience to the classroom. They have clear goals and are typically motivated to do well and complete their degrees on time, especially if they are financing their education. Older students are often well respected by college peers and instructors because of the unique perspectives they contribute. 

Overcoming Age Barriers: Tips for Fitting in as an Older College Student

It’s important to connect with your peers so you feel a sense of belonging. If you attend classes on campus, join a study group and make an effort to chat with classmates before and after class. If your courses are online, be an active participant in the online discussions. Respond to your classmates and ask questions. 

It’s important to find a college that fits you. If you’re an older student wondering how to start preparing for college, you can find a community college or four-year school with degree programs that attract other adult learners.  

How to Transition From Workforce to Classroom

You may not be able to leave your job to focus on school full-time, so your college search process should focus on schools that offer flexible scheduling. Look at your local community college or private and public universities that offer evening and weekend classes or asynchronous online classes you can complete on your own time. 

Transitioning to a classroom environment can be daunting at first, so don’t over-schedule yourself. Start with one or two college classes instead of enrolling full-time. If you’re unsure about committing to a degree program, take a course for college credit to test the waters.      

Time Management Strategies

Time management strategies are critical to your success in college. Here are a few tips:

  • Set a schedule and stick to it as much as possible. Use a calendar to track your assignment deadlines and other obligations you have on a given day to ensure you don’t forget anything. 
  • Be flexible. Fit in study time around other activities, and give yourself extra time to complete assignments.   
  • Learn to say no to optional obligations. 
  • Communicate your needs to your family and professors. If you need quiet time at home to study, communicate that to your family. If you need an extension on an assignment due to an unforeseen circumstance, let your instructor know.  
  • Eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone and avoid checking your email if you need to focus. 
  • Prioritize your to-do list. Take care of the more urgent tasks first. Delegate or eliminate tasks as needed. 

It’s also important to get enough sleep, eat well, and squeeze in exercise if you caneven if it’s just a quick stretch or a short walk. Maintaining your health helps to relieve stress. 

Get a study tips refresher.

How to Make Friends as an Older College Student

College life as an older student may feel awkward and isolating at first, but you can make friends. It’s important to just be yourself and not focus on the age difference. Find some common ground as you get to know your classmates, even if you’re just commiserating on shared student experiences. If your schedule permits, try to attend campus events that pique your interest so you can meet like-minded people. 

Dealing with Ageism in College: How to Overcome Stereotypes

Unfortunately, ageism exists on college campuses, but that’s largely due to a lack of knowledge. Be proactive toward overcoming older student stereotypes. First of all, engage with your instructors and classmates. Showing interest in them and allowing them to get to know you will go a long way toward smashing the stigma. If you feel you’re being stereotyped, communicate how you’re feeling and address the issue head on. 

Treat everyone with respect. In some cases, you may be older than your instructor. Everyone, regardless of age, has different perspectives and life experiences to share, so demonstrate your openness to learning from them. And finally, even if you don’t have time to socialize much outside of the classroom, try to attend new student orientation or join a study group.  

Tips on How to Balance Family, Work, and School

It takes practice to achieve balance with family, work, and school, but it is possible if you follow these tips:

  • Get your family on board. Renegotiate household duties to free you up for pursuing your education.
  • Plan out your schedule each week. Know how much time you’ll spend on work and school tasks each day, and intentionally set aside family time. 
  • Set clear boundaries between work, school, and family life. 
  • Take time for yourself. Self-care is vital to recharge. 

From Life Experience to Classroom Success: How to Use Your Age to Your Advantage in College

Ultimately, your maturity and life experience is advantageous in the classroom, which gives you an edge over more traditional students. For example, you can often make connections between your learning both inside and outside the classroom, which deepens your understanding. Unlike the average college student who may still be exploring what they want to do, you likely have a clear goal you want to achieve with your education, such as advancing in your current career or transitioning to something new. This can help you be more focused and make the most out of your program. 

If you’re older and thinking about returning to school, you’re not alone. IvyWise helps prospective students of any age prepare to go back to school, from academic advising and transfer or graduate admissions counseling to test prep and tutoring services. Contact us today to learn how we can help you achieve your goals. 


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