As an instructor at a private college, in spite of the fact that I have contact with the younger generation, I frequently find myself counseling adults thinking about returning to school to further their education. Actually, it is not that much a counseling session, as it is a bit of “a pep talk”.
One of the major reasons that many adults hesitate before going back to school is the simple fear that they will not be able to keep up with their younger classmates. Well, you have to stop worrying about that! Here are the three most important reasons that the majority of older students actually out perform their younger counterparts in the college classroom.
First: It is a simple truth that in most cases the older student is more motivated than the younger student. Therefore it is more likely that the older student is footing the bill, so values their education for that reason and wants to make sure they get the most out of their investment. Older students have also experienced the working world without a degree and are very motivated to gain the financial and professional advantages of an education. This motivation gets older students through the challenges that college throws at them, i.e. challenges that might derail a younger, less experienced, student. In addition, non-traditional students have usually learned the hard life lesson that having the right attitude is half the battle.
Second: Non-traditional students know much more about time management, than traditional students. Most non-traditional students are balancing work, school, and family, and in this respect, they are very efficient and effective managers of their time. Older students are more effective at prioritizing their various commitments, based on their greater life experience. There are many more younger, more traditional students getting themselves into trouble with their classes and assignments and observe in many cases the problem is one of simple time management and priorities.
Finally: The greater and more diverse your life experience is, the more you know. It is really that simple! If you have worked, raised a family and served your community, then you know more than most teenagers about a number of things. The younger student might have the advantage of knowledge of certain scientific principles or mathematical rules, more recent practice in writing and studying, but the older student knows more about people and interpersonal dynamics, their own personal strengths and weaknesses, and historical events, as well as current events.
Of course, these are not universal truths. There are younger, more traditional students, who are mature enough to be properly motivated, and are also good time managers. In this sense, there are older students who are not properly motivated and know little about time management. Some older students have lead sheltered lives and some younger students have lead lives of variety and challenge. However, I can pretty confidently state that many non-traditional students can find these three strengths: motivation, time management, and life experience, helping them outperform their more traditional counterparts in the college classroom. If your age is all that is holding you back from pursuing your degree, you should remember that age offers both advantages as well as disadvantages which we briefly summed up above.
One learns as long as one lives!