Going back to college as an older adult can have its challenges, particularly if it's been a while since you entered a classroom setting or found yourself facing a pile of homework. The good news for older students? You won't be alone. During fall 2015, 60% of the graduate students enrolled at the University of Arizona Global Campus were over the age of 35, 41% were over 40, and nearly 15% were over 50 years old.

What is a Non-Traditional Student?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a non-traditional student is typically someone who is 24 years of age or older. Non-traditional students often do not attend college immediately after high school and typically have work experience or family obligations, which can sometimes make attending a university full-time difficult. But don’t worry, as this is where an online degree can come into play. In many ways, older students have distinct advantages over their younger peers. Here's why.

1. You Know How to Balance Work & Life

Even younger students who were heavily involved in extracurricular activities or held part-time jobs don't really know what it means to multi-task as an adult. Older students have years of experience shouldering heavy loads under their belts.

At a minimum, you've likely held down a full-time job or multiple jobs. Your work goes directly toward paying your bills and saving for your future, both of which take careful management. Caring for family – whether children, aging parents, or both – adds another layer of constant concerns to balance.

All of this hard work is good practice for a graduate program, where an ability to prioritize and multi-task effectively will certainly pay off.

2. You're Wiser

Younger college students might be aware of international affairs, economic forces, or social issues, but people who've been around longer are simply more likely to develop a deep understanding – if not firsthand experience – with what's going on in the world and all the factors involved.

When you're in graduate school, general knowledge counts. The broader your knowledge base, the easier it is to grasp advanced concepts more quickly. You may have actually lived through a case study from one of your classes and therefore be able to provide more context than a younger student could.

In this way, your lived experiences can reinforce classroom lessons, benefitting both your instructors and your younger peers.

3. You’re Goal Oriented

Sometimes younger students aren't sure why they're going to college. Maybe it was expected of them, or they simply couldn't decide what else to do.

Conversely, adults who return to the classroom do so with firm goals in mind. You've made the conscious choice to disrupt your life in order to pursue a specific reward. Whether you want to earn the credentials necessary for promotion, or you're ready for a complete career change, having a goal in mind can be a powerful motivator when enthusiasm begins to flag.

4. You’re Confident

Every student has to deal with a little red tape, no matter how easy their college tries to make the process. Hitches with everything from financial aid applications to class registration to missing out on material when you get sick will occur at some point on the path to your diploma.

Anyone who has spent countless hours waiting in line at the DMV, arguing with bill collectors, or filling out complicated tax paperwork will take the new challenges that school presents in stride.

5. You Know More about Money

Older students are more likely than younger students to enter graduate school with a full understanding of the real costs and the potential rewards of their education. They know to exhaust the full list of resources for financial assistance that are available and how to navigate financial institutions and payment structures.

Although the idea of pursing a master's degree later in life can be anxiety-inducing for some, there are many advantages of going back to school when you're older. Deeper life experiences, broader background knowledge, and a goal-oriented approach can help you persevere and succeed.


Written by University Staff

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