Accredited Education

Returning to College as an Older Adult

The age of a student attending college is traditionally 18-24. These days, however, more and more older, nontraditional students are returning to college to pursue graduate degrees, to complete a bachelor’s degree program they never finished or to gain certifications or training to make them more competitive in a tight job market. Even with a growing pool of students being nontraditional, many older adults contemplating college find the whole idea nerve-wracking. They might not be thrilled being odd man (or woman) out in a class full of young adults half their age or simply worried about their ability to be successful students after spending so much time out of school.

For many nontraditional students, the first step in returning to college as an older adult is transferring any college credit you already have to the college you wish to attend. Each college has a different set of standards for transferring credit, so it’s key to find a college that readily accepts older transfer credits (for some colleges, things get dicey if the college credit you’ve earned is more than five years old and even more dicey if the credits are more than 10 years old). You may find out after your transcript is evaluated that you must repeat certain classes. That’s why it pays for students who have old college credit to enroll in a college that will accept all or most of their past college credit.

If you never attended college in the past, be prepared to present your college with proof that you’ve earned a high school diploma or GED. If you did poorly in high school, you may have to choose a college with an open admissions policy. Many community colleges are great starting points for nontraditional students due to their open admissions policies. A number of online universities also have open admissions policies. Many nontraditional students find online universities well-suited for their needs because of the added flexibility, as many work full time jobs along with raising a family. Online colleges can help older students take college classes at their own schedule. However, community colleges are also a viable alternative due to night class options and on-campus childcare options.

Finally, when returning to school as an older adult, expect that you may have to take remedial classes in some areas. After all, algebra skills probably aren’t fresh on your mind if you haven’t taken a math class in 5+ years. At many colleges, you will be administered tests that determine your skill level in certain areas, such as writing and math. It may be frustrating to be told you must take a remedial course to get up to speed in an area, but it’s even more frustrating to fall behind in an intro-level course. A little patience and persistence goes a long way.

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