Every year thousands of people older than typical college age consider going back to college. Many of these "non-traditional" students have spent years in the workforce. They skipped college to raise families and take on big commitments like mortgages. Still others already have a degree, but have run out of opportunities in their current career and are seeking to better their financial situation. No matter the individual situation, non-traditional students make a huge decision when they decide to pursue college later in life. They're different. But that difference isn't a disadvantage, despite the fears they might have about sitting in a classroom with younger students. Here are 15 advantages to being an older college student, or 15 ways non-traditional students see the world differently.
Focus comes naturally.
For the typical college student coming straight from high school, focus is an issue. These traditional students are often living away from home for the first time in their lives, and that freedom proves a powerful distraction. The non-traditional student, on the other hand, has already experienced newfound freedom, and therefore finds it much easier to focus on the things that matter most: namely, school.
The future is clear.
Many students, regardless of age, work through school towards a particular career path. Eighty percent of traditional college students will change their major at least once. Non-traditional students have an advantage. They have a better idea of what career best suits their personality, lifestyle, and needs. They know what they want, and their choices leading up to that new career will be more informed and directed because of it.
Common college challenges are only minor issues.
Most college services are organized to help teenagers solve every issue that stands between them and their degree. These issues include choosing the right college classes, registering for those classes, meeting all of the requirements, submitting the proper paperwork, etc. For the non-traditional student who has experienced a job, life, mortgages, and bills, it's easier to see the bigger picture and the steps it takes to achieve it, often with less handholding.
Every work/life/school sacrifice is a big deal.
For the typical college student, there is no priority more important than school, but that's just not the case for the vast majority of non-traditional students. Many older students who choose to go back to college take on a lifestyle of juggling studies, a full-time job, and maybe even a family. When this is the case, choosing to sacrifice one thing for another carries more weight and bigger consequences. Study for that exam or attend a child's school play? Prepare for that meeting at work or take advantage of a professor's office hours?
The process of earning a degree is less intimidating.
It's fair to say that many non-traditional students feel nervous about joining a class made up almost exclusively of younger students, but they really shouldn't. Once they get over the initial learning curve of being in a classroom, most older students find that pursuing a degree is far less intimidating than they imagined — especially if they've already raised children, climbed the career ladder, or tackled things like mortgages.
Non-traditional students know their own worth.
Goals, even one as initially daunting as returning to college, are easier to achieve when the goal-setter knows his or her own worth. Such a healthy self view can only come with years of experience, something every non-traditional student already possesses.
Networking is a valuable skill.
Non-traditional students with work experience probably have a good idea about the importance of networking. After all, it's not just what you know, but who you know. Whether these older students are pursuing their degree to improve their career prospects, or to enter a new field, they understand that networking with as many different people as possible is a powerful tool when it comes to reaching goals and creating new opportunities.
College is somewhere worth being.
According to various studies, students ages 18-24 are largely motivated by their parents when it comes to choosing a college and succeeding at that college. In other words, when parents value higher education, so, too, do the students. Parents are less influential for non-traditional students. These students are motivated to succeed in school for their own personal reasons.
Education is a valuable asset.
It's hard to really appreciate a time-consuming and expensive education when you've faced few challenges in the real world. Most non-traditional students know all too well what it's like to lose a promotion to someone with a higher degree, to make less than they're worth, to be laid off, or to sacrifice their own goals for their families. Bettering one's self through education means more when it also means bettering one's situation in life.
Non-traditional students have experienced more of the world.
It's easier to see the world differently when you've seen more of it. Simply by existing on earth longer, non-traditional students have a head start in college. It's likely they've read more books, traveled more places, and witnessed more historical events than their typical traditional peer. This head start is valuable when it comes to learning new things and mastering new skills.
Organization and time management are keys to success.
Non-traditional students have already lived and worked in the real world, so it's no surprise to them that organization, time management, and responsibility are big factors in succeeding. Younger students, on the other hand, must often learn this the hard way.
Success is the only option.
When one chooses to go back to school for a second chance at pursuing a degree and career, the stakes are naturally a little higher. Add to the mix a family to support, like so many non-traditional students have, and success in school becomes the one and only option.
School is fun!
Perhaps it's understandable that many students attending college right after high school think of class, homework, and studying as a major chore. For adult students who have taken a lengthy break from school, the process of learning is often looked upon as fun! Needless to say, this outlook often translates into a higher level of success.
Non-traditional students have the opportunity to be role models.
Non-traditional students are inspiring! It can be a huge challenge to return to school after years of surviving in the real world, and others recognize this. Non-traditional students set an excellent example of perseverance and the importance of education for their children and other young people.
College really is an investment.
Though many may want to, few non-traditional students decide to go back to college simply to better themselves. Most are there to better their situation in life, professionally and financially. Therefore, making such a large financial commitment is truly thought of as an investment, and hopefully even appreciated as one.