Tips for Senior College Students

When I became a non-traditional college student at the age of 39, I was full of apprehension about whether I could keep up with my young peers and do the work required after a 25-year absence from school.

At the time, the trend for older students to attend college was just beginning, and there weren’t many of us. But it didn’t take long to find friends among the older generation on campus, and on our way to graduation, we learned how to cope, have fun, and learn. Whether you are 39 or 69, you can be successful in college. There are a few things to keep in mind:

Although you may be in a new environment, don’t be intimidated by the young students around you, course requirements, or your professors. Most older students have much life experience that will be of great benefit in completing assignments, talking with professors, and interacting with the younger generation. As long as you don’t treat your young classmates like one of your children, they can become great friends and study partners.

If you have any special requirements that need to be met, talk to college officials and your professors. If you have trouble hearing or seeing, sit at the front (most of us overachievers do anyway). For those with a learning or physical disability, all schools are required to make accommodations to help ensure you will be successful in school. One of my fellow students was an adult diagnosed with ADHD. Sometimes, all he needed was an extra day or two to complete an assignment.

Be determined to finish what you start. There was a reason you decided to go to college. Whether going to college was to find a new career to enhance your future finances, finish a degree that was already started, or just because you wanted to learn new things, don’t allow life along the way to interfere with your goal. There may be situations where there is no alternative, but most conflicts can be resolved so you can stay in school. While I attended college, my sister had leukemia, and I had to periodically travel to Oklahoma City to give her white cells or platelets. I got a divorce. My 16-year-old had a baby, and I had to take care of them. But I knew if I left school, I would have to get a full time job and it wouldn’t be likely at my age that I could, or would, return to school.

Look for support and encouragement among classmates and friends. Realize that while your family may support and encourage your decision to go to school, that support may get somewhat shaky if it interferes with family obligations. Family members may not like making their own dinner or doing their own laundry while you study. When it comes time to join the family on an outing or finishing your research paper, you will have to choose. It may not be as much of a problem for seniors, but for those who still have family at home, there will be conflict.

Study with a group of your peers. There are likely to be students near your age in your classes who would be happy to meet to talk about assignments and study for tests. Input from others is very beneficial when you are having trouble absorbing a concept or remembering information.

I graduated college at 43, and started a journalism career. At 47, I started graduate school, worked for several years and completed my masters at 55. At 57, I started another graduate program to earn certification as a special education teacher and a master’s in special education. I completed certification and class work for the degree. All I have left is to take comprehensive exams to finish. I am now 65. Maybe I should take my own advice and get it done.