7 reasons why adult students actually have an advantage in the classroom
The first day of school can make you anxious no matter how old you are. For adult students, going back to school after spending years out of the classroom can be even more worrisome. Everything from learning new technology to balancing work and family life can be a little daunting. It’s completely normal for adult students to feel overwhelmed returning to the classroom, whether on campus or online.
But, as an adult student, you shouldn’t feel intimidated. You should feel empowered. In many aspects, you actually have an advantage over traditional students.
Need some evidence? We spoke with Laurie Dodge, Ed.D., vice chancellor of Institutional Advancement and Planning at Brandman University—along with other education experts and adult students—to understand how those returning to the classroom stand out among their peers. They have real-life insights into the actual advantages adult students enjoy.
7 advantages adult students have in college
1. You’re more mature and motivated
You’ve got a lot more on the line than a typical 18-year-old. You’ve had time to mature. Your money and ambitions are keeping you invested in your education rather than family expectations that you’ll automatically attend college.
“Adult learners are engaged in the process,” says Dodge. “They are paying money, giving up time with family and balancing work commitments.”
Because they have to make certain sacrifices, adult students are typically more invested in their education as well.
“Adult students are often more motivated for many reasons,” adds Carol Gee, former adjunct professor and retired administrator for Emory College. Gee was once an adult student herself, having begun her college education at age 27 after serving in the Air Force.
“Maybe obtaining a degree would enhance their careers. Maybe it's a personal achievement that they were unable to obtain due to raising their families or other challenges,” she explains. Whatever your reason might be, having that driving force will help keep you motivated and focused on your goal of graduating.
2. You bring your professional experience to the classroom
Having work experience is also a major benefit for adult students. Whether or not your professional experience directly relates to your studies, it can help you understand classroom lessons in a real-world context. You can draw from your past — and your present — to bring valuable insights into classroom discussions that traditional students may otherwise lack.
“Most classes teach principles and theories that traditional students will someday apply,” says Scott Vail, small business owner and current adult student. “Adult students have actually lived them.”
3. You won’t have to worry about college life distractions
The traditional college experience might include distractions, such as loud parties, dorm roommates and figuring out how to do laundry. As an adult student, you’ll have the advantage of truly focusing on what matters: advancing your education.
“I didn't have to worry about how popular I was and I already knew what life would be like when I was done,” reflects Adam Cole, who went back to school in his 30s. “I really didn't have time to fool around, so my focus was far more pronounced.”
At this point in your life, you have your priorities straight. And if advancing your career through education is one of those priorities, you’ll find yourself at an advantage in the college classroom.
4. You don’t have time to procrastinate
Between class, work and taking care of your family, you’re probably a master of time management. Putting off your studies until the last minute simply isn’t an option for you.
“Adult learners are less likely to procrastinate because of their busy schedules,” says Elaine Sanders of Harlem Girls Inc, who also went back to school later in life.
Being busy can even be a good thing. Balancing the demands of parenting and work could actually help you be more efficient in college.
“Most adult students work full-time day jobs,” explains career coach Christopher K. Lee. “They have families to feed, kids to drive to soccer games, mortgages and other bills to pay. They tend to have better time management skills, which serves them well in studying adequately and completing assignments on time.”
5. You have a unique perspective
Don’t underestimate the power of perspective. It can enlighten classrooms with better discussions. After all, you want to see the value in what you’re learning.
“When teaching, I felt that adult students brought a certain richness to the learning experience,” Dodge offers. “They ask hard questions and push on the relevance and quality of what they're learning.” Programs like the ones at Brandman University have been created with these adult students in mind. Rather than traditional tests, for example, students do a lot of writing and reflection on how the principles being learned can be applied to real-life scenarios.
And your perspective not only has the ability to elevate classroom discussions — it can also put your entire education in perspective. Vail believes having something greater than your degree to focus on can be a powerful advantage. For him, it’s his children.
“When I am challenged and start to struggle (or even consider quitting), I focus on them and it gets me through,” Vail says. “[That driving factor] is something unique for each adult student but it drives them to the degree.”
6. You have grit and perseverance
You aren’t afraid of hard work. You’re determined to put yourself through school while balancing work and family responsibilities. This grit will help keep you on track through challenging courses and trying times.
“Going to college is not an assumed decision for adult students,” Lee says. “You’re making the conscious decision to advance your education, understanding the sacrifices necessary and the time it takes away from other parts of your life.”
7. You just have a lot more figured out
You know who you are. You know what you want out of life and your career. Understanding these things allows you to truly focus on your studies. Jessica Lewis, M.Ed., entered the military after high school, then attended college as an adult. Unlike some of her peers, she already had a strong sense of identity.
“I had been to different countries and had already held a job and leadership roles,” Lewis explains. “I felt like I was much more focused and prepared than many of my peers.”
Having more figured out simply allows you to identify your goals, which can keep you motivated to stay on track with your education.
The adult student advantage is real
As you can see, being an adult student can certainly work to your advantage in the classroom. You’re fiercely motivated and have a clear sight on your career goals. Most importantly, you know how to maintain unshakable grit and persevere in the face of adversity.
If you’re thinking about going back to school, make sure you’re seeking out institutions dedicated to helping adult students like you succeed. Whether it’s advancing your career or finishing a degree you started, Brandman University can help take you there.
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