hen you think of college, you usually think of teenagers and young people on the brink of adulthood partying with friends, studying in the library, living in crowded dormitories. We’ve painted a picture of college that is skewed towards focusing the institution as a time between high school and the professional workforce rather than understanding it for what it really is: an educational institution where one can earn a degree. There is no set age group for earning an education and studying intensively within a chosen field — the idea that college and higher education is only for young people is largely a false narrative fed to us by popular representations of universities and colleges.

In reality, a large percentage of college students do not fall neatly into the demographic that we assume to be the norm — that is, many college students nowadays are over the age of 25, part-time students, and enrolled in a two-year program opposed to what is thought as a typical four-year residential institution. College students are diverse in their lived experiences and stages of life, and just because you may not be the demographic that we assume universities are tailored for doesn’t mean that college is not an option for you. It’s never too late to earn a degree and study the field of your choice.

Whether you want to study philosophy or computer science, you have the right to receive a high-quality education if you want to. Don’t let the qualities that may define you as a nontraditional college student hold you back from taking the leap towards higher education. Instead, find strength and power in knowing that your unique experiences will offer novel insights and perspectives into the classroom. If you’re considering going back to school, here are a few things to keep in mind in order to fully prepare you for this exciting new chapter in your life.

Not All Colleges Are Equally Suited for Adult Students

Picking a college that will welcome you and cater to your needs is so important for students looking to reenter education.

When going back to school as an adult, you must take into consideration that your situation may require a college to offer more flexibility to what may already be a busy schedule. Since many universities operate around an idea of students who are focusing primarily upon school and able to live and reside on-campus, doing a bit of searching to find a program that you believe will be a fit for you will make your college experience the best it can possibly be. This often means looking for a school that will allow part-time or online enrollment for those who already have full-time jobs outside of college or a school that has on-campus childcare services for students who have young children.

Choosing the right school for you also means that you should search for schools that will grant you credit for any courses you may have taken before or information that you’ve acquired through work and life skills. Many students across the country have a gap in their college career due to the tumultuous and unplanned events that dot many of our lives to a point of near upendal. However, the classes you’ve previously taken will often be credited to you by certain universities — you just have to ensure that the program has a lenient transfer policy. For those who’ve never attended college but have gained valuable life skills outside of the classroom, consider taking CLEP exams from the College Board to save some money and earn college credit before attending. Just make sure that the university you end up choosing accepts CLEP credits so you receive credit for the information you know and work you put in!

Photo of student in lab coat working in chemistry lab
A STEM major will look a lot different than one in the humanities — wherever your interests lie, you will find something you love to study at college!

Consider a Major to Study and Why It Interests You

We all know those students who jump from major to major before settling on one that may or may not actually fit their interests — having an idea of what you’d like to study will eliminate worries further down the road.

Although we hear jokes about certain majors being more valuable than others, the truth is that the major you choose to study in college is often not too important in terms of the job market. Having a degree often is more highly sought after than having a degree in a specific field, so you can eliminate worries that your major will not open up any doors for you upon graduation. However, certain fields do rely on applicant pools that have intensive background on the  subject, so if you have a specific career in mind after college, you may want to do a bit of research on what the typical major is for the occupation.

If you are not quite sure what you want to do after earning your degree, there are plenty of great places to start when contemplating a major. The best place to start is to focus on what interests you. Did you have a favorite topic in school that piqued your interest more than others? Do you find yourself reading articles or books, watching movies or television shows, or listening to podcasts that focus on one topic more than others? Interrogating your interests is the first place to begin when choosing an area of study in higher education since it focuses on the things that you already have developed a passion for.

Another thing to consider when choosing a major is to focus on what you excel in. This may be easier said than done — you may not know what field you are particularly gifted in before entering academia and doing the work that certain courses ask of you. Nevertheless, you can look back at your previous schooling or work experiences to locate skills and topics that you were especially strong in. Still stuck? Pick a few classes from different fields that you think will interest you to find out which ones you could find yourself performing well in while still discovering joy and curiosity as you delve deeper the subject.

Look for Ways to Support You Both Financially and Emotionally

College is a taxing time — especially for students who have additional responsibilities to carry. Finding support to alleviate financial worries is important but so is finding outlets to support your overall well being.

Let’s face it: college is expensive. In the United States, the average yearly tuition for college ranges anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 depending on the type of school one attends. It’s expensive and that price tag is extremely inaccessible for many prospective students looking to get a degree. This doesn’t mean that paying for college is impossible, however. For many students, gaining a few credits through a local community college alleviates the high costs of four-year institutions by cutting the time spent there in half. Scholarships, grants, and fellowships are another source of financial support for the high costs associated with higher education. These funding opportunities are often available within specific colleges (check websites of programs and universities you’re interested in to see available scholarships), but there are some scholarships that are specifically for nontraditional students that are worth checking out and even applying for!

While financial support is extremely important when it comes to attending college, finding an emotional support system is equally important. Making sure you have support — whether that be family at home, friends at or outside of school, or even faculty members within your department — is essential when attending college. There are many new stressors you will encounter, and it will likely be difficult at times. Going at it alone is not ideal, so having a strong network of support will help lift you up during the hard moments and will most likely even result in a more successful college experience.

Creating a strong foundation at home is a good step, but having support to lean on within the sphere of the university opens up doors and communication that will benefit you in ways you couldn’t even imagine. Professors and social networks could lead to coveted research opportunities, internships, or programs that could really make your experience stand out to future employers. Don’t be afraid to stay after class to chat with a professor or put yourself out there with fellow students — you may just find a lifelong relationship that makes your college experience just that much more memorable.

Never think that going to college is out of the question — even if it’s not the most traditional path, you can find a way to receive a degree.

Although college is associated with a specific type of student in mind, the mold is meant to be broken by passionate individuals looking to learn more about the world and make a positive impact upon it. Your experience, age, and life so far do not disqualify you from becoming a college graduate, and you should be proud of yourself for even considering this opportunity to further your education.

Sep 9, 2020