College can be intimidating, especially if you’re not the age of the traditional college student and you’ve never attended before, or perhaps never finished the first time you did attend. You might be bothered by questions about your ability to recall previous lessons or have social anxiety about adjusting to a far more modern class room or fitting in with younger students. These worries can distract and even derail many from ever even attempting a return to college. However, many older adults today are also finding that returning to college can to be a success story because it brings with it as many advantages as it does challenges.
One of those many advantages is that non-traditional aged, or returning students, are not alone. A 2012 report from ABC News states that nearly 4 million people over the age of 35 were enrolled in degree granting institutes in 2010. This number, according to the National Center for Education Statistics is up 20% from the start of the recession in 2006. Since this time, the average age of college students continues to rise. So the reality is that the modern classroom has far more returning students than ever before. These returning students not only enjoy the company of their peers, but they also enjoy an edge of discipline in their studies.
Returning college students often have better study habits, are more disciplined, and score higher marks than traditional aged students. Robert W. Greene, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of French, State University of New York at Albany observes returning students “want to be where they are, sitting in a classroom taking courses toward a degree.” This leads to, as Greene sees it, “good study habits…in a word, they are motivated…a pleasure to teach.” Equipped with the life lessons their extra experience has given them, returning college students are focused, driven, and successful. Once you’ve hit a few bumps in the road of life, the challenges of a classroom are just not as daunting. Ultimately, returning college students often have a better grasp of who they are and what they want out of a degree than they did or would have when they were 18 or 19.
Older students more often know what they want from their college experience which gives them a decisive edge in applying what they learn. It’s just true that adults who have had time to live in the world, work in an industry or two, have a family, or perhaps have started their own business know more about what they want to do and what they don’t want to do than they did fresh out of high school. They understand their values in ways that informs the decisions they make. Having been tasked with making adult decisions for yourself and your family for a decade gives insight, plain and simple. This insight allows returning students to leverage their education to their advantage in ways they’d simply not be aware of at much younger ages, an advantage that can ultimately be immeasurable.
There is no simple answer to the question of whether or not returning to college is right for you. For some, certification in their field might be a better option. For others, experience in their line of work may be the goal. A first step would be to assess yourself and your desired career to see where you would like to go with your life and evaluate the paths and risks available to you to reach that goal. Certainly taking on a new endeavor can be risky, and returning to college is no different from other life changes in this respect. However, the rewards and advantages offered by returning to college later in life clearly make it a far wiser risk than most other options for the many older adult students returning and excelling in today’s modern college classroom.