With frat parties and pizza at midnight still holding strong at our nation’s colleges, a new trend is emerging alongside these old classics: undergraduate students who are over 25 years old. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 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, family commitments, military service. Your college experience will differ from that of an 18-year-old, but it will still be rewarding.
Here's how to prepare for college when you’re over 25:
Believe in yourself! Be confident in your decision to earn a college degree. According to the Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 65% of jobs will require a college degree by the year 2020. Going back to school is a smart investment in your future — and it may even be necessary to your career goals.
There are advantages to starting or finishing your undergraduate education over the age of 25. Older students tend to be more mature, highly 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 for 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.
Know your needs. How do you learn best? 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. 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.
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.
Once you're in? Put these tips into action:
Non-traditional students are the new norm. No matter your age or where you are in your journey, there is a college for you.