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4 Tips for Returning College Students

Thinking of going back to college after an extended absence or beginning college later in life? Perhaps you had to work or meet family commitments. Perhaps you just were not ready to start college right out of high school. Whatever the reason, you took some time off but now you have questions or concerns about what your school experience will be as a returning student. 

If you are going back to college 25, or you have been out of school for more than two semesters, your college experience may be different than that of a more “traditional” student, but that does not mean it cannot be as good as, or better than, a younger student’s. Here are some tips for returning college students to make the most of their college opportunities, no matter what their age.

Q: Will it be hard being the “oldest” student in the class?

A: It is very likely that there will be other students your age or even older in your program. Many of today’s college students made the decision to stop attending college and return at a later time in order to meet other obligations in their lives. As a result, the average age of students in college classrooms is adjusting steadily upward. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, while college enrollment of students under 25 increased by 34 percent between 2000 and 2010, enrollment for students over 25 rose by 42 percent during that time period. NCES predicts an increase of 20 percent in enrollment for students over 25 between 2010 and 2020 while only predicting an increase of 11 percent in students under 25. If you are returning to school after age 25, you are definitely not alone!

Younger students may also appreciate the wisdom and life experience returning students can bring to the classroom and professors can also talk to older students in a more adult-to-adult manner as well. Of course, these professors and students can also expect the very best from you since you combine both the intelligence and the maturity that many younger students don’t have.

Q: What if I have forgotten the basic material necessary to understand the class work?

A: This is a real problem that has the potential to get worse. The older we are, the more likely it is that we will forget basic information or lose valuable skills. Fortunately there are several things that returning college students can do to combat this problem.

First, recognize and embrace the fact that you may now learn differently and might have forgotten fundamental facts. If you try to pretend that you can keep up with no effort, you will not make the adjustments needed. Second, review the basics of the course. For example, ask the professor during the first week for a class review sheet and test your knowledge. Many teachers are happy to provide this information. If your professor does not have this information, search the internet for a review on your topic. Finally, if you feel overwhelmed, drop the class and focus on your other courses  until you get back in the “groove” of school. Give yourself time to adjust and you can find that you can do much more than you believe.

Q: What resources are available to help me with my class work?

A: The University of Wisconsin and Missouri State University are just two of many schools that now have offices specifically designed to help the returning college student. Even if your school does not boast such a resource, there may be an advisor in your undergraduate or graduate student advising office who specializes in dealing with the concerns and goals of adult or returning students.

You can also take advantage of many other opportunities. For example, many departments pay students to tutor their peers. Visit the office of the subject in which you are struggling to make an appointment with a free tutor. Your college library may also have resources to help you, such as free computer software that can give you practice in areas in which you might be a bit rusty. The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Student Financial Aid also offers a helpful back-to-school checklist for adult students who are returning to school, or who are attending college for the first time.   

Q: Am I too old to pursue a graduate degree?

A: It is never too late to pursue a higher degree to help you with your career or simply to enhance your personal accomplishments. You may be working longer with a higher degree than you would have planned in the past, but you should never be afraid to pursue that degree – no matter how old you are!

Chad Fisher is an education enthusiast with a passion for building education and career-oriented websites to help people learn more about careers that interest them. He is currently interested in helping people find a career in physical training. Learn more about physical training careers and salaries at his website SMPNET.org.


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