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Adult and Returning/Nontraditional students

There are a number of trends changing the way students approach their college education and the way colleges and universities provide their education.  One of the significant trend facing higher education is the increasing number of adult students returning to college to complete their degrees, earn degrees for the first time, or earn graduate degrees for career advancement.  Adult students, also called nontraditional or returning students, are very different than their younger counterparts.  For example, adult students:

  • Have greater demands on their time and face the challenge of balancing work and family,
  • Tend to be more focused on their career goals,
  • Have greater life experience,
  • Are often highly motivated and self-directed,
  • More times than not, have better time management and organizational skills,
  • Truly appreciate the value of a college education,
  • Usually are working full time while attending college part time,
  • Often need to take classes at night or on the weekends,
  • Require a different set of supports from colleges and universities than their younger, traditional-aged counterparts.

In addition to these differences, there are a unique set of challenges that adult students face when entering college.  First, while they often have stronger time management skills, this is a necessity as they face greater demands on their time by family and career obligations in comparison to traditional-age students.  Second, many adult students have not participated in a classroom setting in many years.  It often takes some time before an adult student is back in the routine of going to class, doing homework, participating in group activities, taking tests, and giving presentations.  Finally, for many adult learners, technology becomes a barrier to their learning until they can catch up with traditional-age students who grew up with the latest technologies.  

Adult Educational Services Contacts

Many of the WNY colleges and universities have professional admissions counselors who work with adult and returning students.  Click on Adult Educational Services Committee for contact information at WNY colleges and universities.

Strategies for Success

All students must plan for success, regardless of age or career maturity.  Given that, there are number of strategies adult learners can implement that will facilitate their learning and educational success.

  • Set realistic goals,
  • Prepare your family,
  • Be organized,
  • Update your technological skills,
  • Take care of yourself,
  • Manage your time effectively,
  • Attend new student orientation,
  • Broaden your social network,
  • Take advantage of leadership opportunities,
  • Engage your professors, classmates, and departments,
  • Don't underestimate your ability to contribute!

Going back to college can be as intimidating as going to college as a recent high school graduate.  Look into joining a group of students in your field of study and learn from their experiences and expertise as they will surely learn from yours.  Finally, make sure that you keep things in perspective and remember why you are attending college in the first place.  Your goals are what will drive you but they will also get you through the difficult times.  Good luck!

Sources of Additional Information