General Education

Returning to College as a Working Adult? Here’s How to Do It.

Returning to College as a Working Adult? Here’s How to Do It.
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Nedda Gilbert March 11, 2019

Not all schools are equipped to support older students—finding one that is will make a world of difference in your college experience.

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While frat parties and midnight pizza orders still hold strong at our nation’s colleges, a new trend is emerging alongside these old classics: undergraduate students who are over 25 years of age. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were approximately 8.1 million students over the age of 25 enrolled in degree-granting post-secondary institutions in 2015, up from 6.5 million in 2001. By 2026, that number is expected to increase to 8.8 million.

If you plan to earn your undergraduate degree as an adult, you are not alone. There are many reasons to start or finish undergraduate studies later in life, from personal preference to work and family commitments, and serving in the military. Your college experience will differ from that of an 18-year-old, but it will still be rewarding.

Here are five tips for going to college when you’re over 25

Believe in yourself! It’s never too late.

Be confident in your decision to earn a college degree. According to Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 65 percent of jobs will require a college degree by the year 2020. Going back to school is a smart investment in your future—and will likely be necessary to reaching your career goals.

__(Life Hacks for Learners: How to Balance College As a Working Parent)__

There are advantages to starting or finishing your undergraduate education over the age of 25. Older students tend to be more mature, motivated, and clear about what they want to get out of their time in school. If you’ve been working for a few years, your life experiences are likely to translate into relevant knowledge and academic aptitude.

Boost your skills.

A fear of writing or a lack of computer skills should not hold you back as an older student. These skills can be learned.

Contact your preferred schools to see if they offer skill-building support for new students. Some institutions provide this in freshman orientation, or as a component of their coursework. They may also offer tutoring, workshops, computer support, and a writing center.

Still feel unprepared for the academic rigor of earning your bachelor’s degree? Many community colleges offer college and career readiness programs, which include computer training and other preparatory classes. You could also get your feet wet with free online education platforms like the Khan Academy or Coursera before jumping into a full degree program.

Find schools designed to accommodate older and working adults.

Earning a degree while working full-time or tending to family can be hectic to say the least. Look for a college that offers adult-friendly resources such as on-campus daycare, evening office hours for administrative and career services, and part-time and weekend degree options.

Not all schools are equipped to support older students. Finding one that is will make a world of difference in your undergraduate experience.

Choose the best format.

What is the right learning experience for your needs? Some students prefer an in-person format; the interaction and relationship-building that goes on in a traditional classroom suits them best.

For others, online study is the most efficient option. Online degree programs offer tremendous flexibility, and the tuition is typically more affordable. Online instructors sometimes offer leniency with assignment due dates, as they understand the demands of juggling a job, a family, and school.

Develop an action plan for success.

Going back to college (online or on-campus) will be an adjustment — especially if you’ve been out of school for a long time. The hardest part might be finding the time to study and do school work. As you get back into the routine of academia, determine your strengths and weaknesses to develop a plan of action.

Here are some tips for mastering school over the age of 25

  • Take notes on your laptop during class
  • Form a study group or reach out to classmates for help
  • Take advantage of academic supports like tutoring or a writing center
  • Stay after class or schedule time to work with your instructors
  • Dedicate a space in your home to studying
  • Don’t procrastinate; break school work into steps
  • Find healthy ways to manage your stress, such as exercising and taking breaks
  • Be efficient: on your days off, plan your week and do advanced meal prep
  • Use a calendar to stay organized
  • Write everything down and prioritize tasks

Rise to the challenge

College can be tough—especially for older students who have already started their adult lives. Your success may depend on finding a program that complements your busy schedule and personal needs.

The good news is that non-traditional students like yourself are the new norm. No matter your age and no matter where you are in your educational journey, there is a college for you.

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.