As an instructor at a state college I know that today’s college student is just as likely to be middle-aged (or older) as a teenager. Yet, I frequently find myself counseling adults who are thinking about returning to school to further their education. Actually, it is not so much a counseling session as it is a bit of a pep talk. One of the major reasons many adults hesitate before going back to school is the simple fear that they will not be able to keep up intellectually with their younger classmates. Well stop worrying about that. Here are three reasons that the majority of older students actually out perform their younger counterparts in the college classroom.
First, the simple truth is that in most cases the older student is more motivated than the younger student. 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. Also, older students have also experienced the working world without a degree and so are very motivated to gain the financial and professional advantages of an education. This motivation is what gets older students through the challenges that college throws at them — challenges that might derail a younger, less experienced, student. In addition, nontraditional students have usually learned the hard life lesson that having the right attitude is half the battle.
Second, nontraditional students usually know much more about time management than traditional students. Most nontraditional students are balancing work, school, and family so they are very efficient and effective managers of their time. Older students are also more effective at prioritizing their various commitments based on their greater life experience. I see so 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 then the more you know. It is really quite simple. If you have worked, raised a family, and served your community then you know more than most teenagers about a number of things. It just stands to reason. While the younger student might have the advantage of knowledge of certain scientific principles or mathematical rules as well as more recent practice in writing and studying. The older student knows more about people and interpersonal dynamics, their own personal strengths and weaknesses, and historical events as well as current events.
These are not universal truths. Obviously there are younger, more traditional students, who are mature enough to be properly motivated as well as good time managers. Equally there are older students who are not properly motivated and no little about time management. Similarly some older students have lead sheltered lives and some younger students have lead lives of variety and challenge. As a rule, however, I can pretty confidently state that many nontraditional students can find these three strengths — motivation, time management, and life experience — can help them outperform their more traditional counterparts in the college classroom. If your age is all that is holding you back from pursuing your degree then remember that age offers advantages as well as disadvantages.