In an article about nontraditional college students a woman in a white dress and green graduation cap smiling.

Nontraditional Students Shouldn’t Fear Returning to College

No, you're not “too old” to return to school.
December 29, 2022
7 mins read

For many students, the traditional path of starting college immediately after high school may be the right choice for them. However, a significant percentage of high school graduates don’t choose to go to college or university right away. On top of that, some college students withdraw from their school only to choose to re-enter later as nontraditional students. Regardless of the reason, students returning to school after the age of 22 is ultimately not a rare occurrence. Despite this fact, the fear of being “too old” to go back to school is recited in countless social media posts from potential students who worry that they might have missed out by not finishing their degree at a younger age. However, they may be surprised to find out that around 40% of students are over the age of 25. Older students who are concerned about their age should remember that their “outlook may be the bigger issue” than them actually being over the “traditional” student age.

Self-Doubt Is the Biggest Deterrent

A survey from Strada Public Viewpoint shows that self-doubt can be a more powerful deterrent for returning students than factors such as cost. According to the survey, 39% of adults who fear returning to school believe they have “been out of school too long,” while 35% cite that they worry they will not be able to succeed. Along with general self-doubt, fear of new technology is another reason that nontraditional students often worry about re-enrolling in a college or university program. Fortunately, admissions counselors and patient educators are there to assist adult learners in figuring out new technology so that it doesn’t remain an impossible obstacle that stops them from achieving their educational goals.

Representatives from Strada have also noted that adult learners seem doubtful as to whether or not going back to school to get a degree will actually lead to better employment opportunities — a sentiment that began during the pandemic. On the other hand, this line of reasoning remains a big contributing factor as to why students return to college after the age of 25 in the first place.

Adult Students Usually Want a Career Change

Whether it’s a promotion or a change in career, returning students are often motivated by the promise of higher-paying and more fulfilling jobs. In fact, a growing number of adults are now finding that to change jobs, they need to go back to school — this even includes older workers who need additional training at the same job. Since the pandemic, many jobs that didn’t previously require additional education now do. As more and more employers require a stricter set of skills from their applicants, adults well over the age of 25 are taking the leap to go back to school. Not only are nontraditional students often returning to college for career advancement, but employers are more likely to give better employment opportunities to workers over the age of 45, “if they get additional education than if they don’t.”

Since the majority of nontraditional college students have already worked jobs before, they are more career-minded. Most older students are looking to get through quick job programs in school strictly to get into a different part of the workforce. Additionally, having this experience in the workforce can be helpful to students who are going back to school at a later age. Students who already have significant work experience usually know what they want, know what is expected of them and know what skills will take them further in the workplace and closer to their goals. Even if it isn’t the main reason that adult learners return to school, professional networking can also be helpful. After all, making new connections in their chosen field will only be another way to further their current or future careers.

Humans Change Their Minds

While there are those who are lucky enough to know what they want when they are fresh out of high school, many students don’t know what they want to do in life until they are in their mid to late 20s, 30s, 40s or even older. If someone is planning to switch careers, they may have the choice to simply apply for a different job. Many times, the plan to change careers often involves returning to school. While some careers require additional education or certifications, adults who plan on switching to a different career may simply want additional schooling so that they don’t have to start from the very bottom in their new career.

Adult Learners Are Highly Motivated

While self-doubt might convince some nontraditional students that they won’t do well in school, evidence points to the contrary — returning adult students typically have better focus and are often able to excel academically. Some of these students may have gone to school in the past, while many are simply motivated to do well to better their chances in the workforce. According to Franklin University, adult learners often do well academically due to “maturity” and “life experiences,” both of which lend to success both in and outside of the classroom. So long as nontraditional students are receptive to becoming active learners, asking for help when needed and overcoming their fears of returning to school, they can achieve success without fail.

Don’t Let Age Stop You

A college or university experience can be a defining life experience at any stage of life. Whether adult students return to better their employment prospects in a new or old field, increase their professional networking, better their skills or simply develop themselves professionally, they undoubtedly will benefit from not allowing their age to hold them back. After all, there is no shortage of schools that cater to nontraditional students.

Kane Howard, York College

Writer Profile

Kane Howard

York College

Kane Howard is an English major at York College. He has experience with writing both fiction and non-fiction works.

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