Returning to College as a Working Adult? Here's How to Do It.

A man smiles.

While frat parties and midnight pizza orders still hold strong at our nation’s colleges, a new trend is emerging alongside these old classics: undergraduate students who are over 25 years of age. If you plan to earn your undergraduate degree as an older student, you are not alone. There are many reasons to start or finish undergraduate studies later in life, from personal preference to work and family commitments, and serving in the military. Your college experience will differ from that of an 18-year-old, and can be very rewarding.

Here are five tips for going to college when you’re over 25

Believe in yourself! It’s never too late.

Going back to school is a smart investment in your future—and can be instrumental in reaching your career goals. There are advantages to starting or finishing your undergraduate education over the age of 25. Older students tend to be more mature, motivated, and clear about what they want to get out of their time in school. If you’ve been working for a few years, your life experiences are likely to translate into relevant knowledge and academic aptitude.

Boost your study skills.

A lack of skills should not hold you back as an older student. Skills can be learned. Contact your preferred schools to see if they offer skill-building support for new students. Some institutions provide this as a component of their coursework. They may also offer tutoring, workshops, computer support, and a writing center.

Find schools designed to accommodate older and working adults.

Earning a degree while working full-time or tending to family can be hectic, to say the least. Look for a college that offers adult-friendly resources, such as part-time or online degree options. For example, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s online Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs offers a flexible bachelor completion program for students who have already completed their Associate’s degree at a Tennessee community college. Students of the program can earn their degree without putting commitments like work and family on hold.

Not all schools are equipped to support older students. Finding one will make a world of difference in your undergraduate experience.

Choose the best format.

What is the right learning experience for your needs? While traditional classroom options work for some, for others, online study is the most efficient option. Online degree programs offer tremendous flexibility, and the overall costs can be more affordable. UT’s bachelor completion program offers online students a blend of synchronous and asynchronous classroom content. Live lecture sessions offer students the opportunity to connect with their professors and classmates.

Develop an action plan for success.

Going back to college whether online or on-campus will be an adjustment — especially if you’ve been out of school for a long time. The hardest part might be finding the time to study and do school work. As you get back into the routine of academia, determine your strengths and weaknesses to develop a plan of action.

Here are some tips for mastering school over the age of 25

  • Take organized class notes
  • Form a study group or reach out to classmates for help
  • Take advantage of academic supports like tutoring
  • Schedule time to work with your instructors
  • Dedicate a space in your home to studying
  • Don’t procrastinate; break school work into steps
  • Find healthy ways to manage your stress, such as exercising and taking breaks
  • Be efficient: on your days off, plan your week and do advanced meal prep
  • Use a calendar to stay organized
  • Write everything down and prioritize tasks

Rise to the challenge

College can be challenging for anyone—older students can draw on maturity and experience to structure an efficient routine and stay organized. Your success may depend on finding a program that complements your busy schedule and personal needs.

The good news is that non-traditional students like yourself are the new norm. No matter your age and no matter where you are in your educational journey, there is a college for you.

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