You've heard it a million times: age is just a number. You want to believe it, but you wonder.
It's come up recently because you're thinking of going back to college. Conventional wisdom says it's never too late. Still, you can't shake the awareness that you're not 18 and that many of your classmates will be. How do you deal with that?
First, realize you're not alone. In fact, approximately 7.5 million fall 2020 college students were at least 25 years old. That's more than one-third of all college students. People forestall college for many good reasons: the cost of attending, military service, starting a new family, a gap year that turns into several, or a lack of enthusiasm for continued schooling right after high school, to name a few. When you return to college as an adult learner, you'll be in good company. You might even be able to earn that degree online from a nationally ranked university.
Need more convincing? You'll find stories online of adults who successfully went back to school. Let them encourage and inspire you. Now, how do you find the degree program that's right for you?
Congratulations on your decision to return to school! Earning a bachelor’s degree is something to be proud of. Also, a college degree significantly improves your chances of getting a job and advancing along your career path. Maybe you started college at some point but didn't finish. No big deal, it really is never too late. We have some great tips on how to boost your skills and develop an action plan for your return. The better you prepare, the fewer surprises will await you.
You'll want to figure out which college credits you've already earned will transfer to your new program. Returning to the same school makes things easier, but most schools will accept at least some of your earned credits if your previous institution has accreditation. Did you earn Cs or above? Was your coursework relevant to your new major? Discuss transfer credits early in the admission process with your prospective school. You don't want to commit to a school only to find you'll have to repeat lots of courses, if that can be avoided.
Were your previous grades poor? There are ways to mitigate poor grades and showcase your abilities. Many admission applications offer students the opportunity to explain past academic performance. Be humble and honest in discussing your past. Share life experiences that have brought you to this new commitment to school. You might also consider taking classes at a community college to demonstrate your ability to earn good grades.
You want to earn your degree, but you also have a job and/or a family. Balancing your life is already a skilled dance, and you are about to add a new complicated move. Know that many others have done it and are doing it: you aren't alone. Employ well-tested strategies to find a school that will make your return easier. Devise a strategy for success before you start your first class. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, you should expect to study two hours per week for each credit hour you take. That means a standard full-time 15-credit course load will require 30 hours a week of preparation.
You may worry how you'll do it. Again, others do, so you can too. It probably does mean giving up incessant doom scrolling and lazy do-nothing days. You'll need to use your time more efficiently to get all your work done.
You may also want to consider attending part-time, especially if you plan to work while you take classes. Are you thinking about keeping your full-time job? You'll almost certainly need to attend school as a part-time student. Your school will assign you an academic advisor. Rely on that person to help you formulate your plan for success. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The school wants you to succeed!
You know that you want to go back to school. You have thought through your action plan and are ready. Now it's time to start the application process. Organization is your friend! Make spreadsheets with deadlines, essay prompts, testing requirements, and everything else you need to track to succeed. This process can seem overwhelming, but if you stay organized and keep your motivation, college applications are really your chance to shine.
You will not be alone when you go back to school. You are in the company of 7.5 million other older students who are starting or going back to school. And yet, you are also unique. You have your own story to tell, your own journey that has led you to pursue a college education. Share that story. When you show up for college orientation, don’t be surprised when you are not the only nontraditional student there. Take advantage of your opportunity to learn from your peers and from your professors. Even those younger students have their own stories to tell. Every peer and professor is a chance to learn and grow.
Now go, chase your dreams and get the degree you have always wanted! It may be the best decision you ever made.
Do you have a question for a Noodle Counselor? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and if your question is featured we'll be in touch!
Victoria Knox is an enrollment advisor partnering with students to find the best higher education program for them as well as partnering with them to make a competitive application. Victoria is a graduate of Texas Christian University where she received two Bachelor's degrees, one in journalism and one in criminal justice.