Common Concerns of Adult Students: Why You Shouldn’t Be Concerned

The term “adult students” refers to anyone who is over the age of 25 and attending a postsecondary institution. Contrary to the idea that all college students should get their degrees immediately after graduating from high school, adult learners already make up 38% of college students.

Some adults are enrolling in college for the first time, having previously taken time off to work, travel, or be with family. Some are returning to college to finish their degrees, after having completed a year or two in the years prior. Others are trying to obtain higher degrees so as to increase their hiring potential after graduation. Whatever the reason for wanting to go to college, many adults may find themselves hesitant to make the plunge. The following common concerns of adult students are normal, but definitely not insurmountable.

“I need to be available for my family.”

A baby panda rolls off it's mother's back; family is one of many common concerns of adult students


Whether you’re caring for your parents or starting a family of your own, family is likely a top priority, meaning that education comes second. If you’ve scheduled classes but your kids get sick, chances are that you’ll choose to miss class to take care of them. Most professors are going to understand; after all, they have families, too.

Waiting to return to school until your children are old enough to cook for themselves or mature enough to do their own homework without nagging may minimize some familial distractions, but it’s not the only option. You could also elect to take classes only part-time. For some people, this means going to school when their kids are at school. For others, it means taking night classes that meet after their parents have gone to sleep.

Another option is to see if the school you’re considering offers childcare services. Unfortunately, less than half of all community colleges in the United States offer childcare, but some states are better than others. All of the community colleges in Delaware, Nevada, and Rhode Island offer childcare. Learn more here. Consider also organizing playdates for your children while you are in class or need to study. Your family wants you to be successful. If returning to school is the way you become successful, they’ll understand if you need to lock yourself in a room with a computer every evening to do homework while they watch television.

“I have too much on my plate already.”

Titus from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is complaining

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt / Giphy

You may be working, caring for young children, and cooking dinner every night of the week. It seems like there’s no way you can make any time for classes and the associated homework. But chances are, you’re wrong.

Schools understand that their adult learners have commitments outside of coursework, so your options to take one class a semester or only take online classes that you can complete on your own time are endless. Talk to admissions advisors at your chosen institution about what the time commitment may be like, what your other obligations are, and what type of schedule they recommend.

The majority of in-person college classes meet only two or three times a week, so if you can clear a couple of hours every day (maybe attending classes while your children are at daycare or rearranging your work shifts so that you work more mornings or evenings), you’ll be able to make it to class easily. Set aside a few hours on the weekend or before bed to complete your reading and do your homework.

“I can’t compete with younger students.”

Beyonce puts on glasses and states that she is now all-knowing

Beyonce / Giphy

A young mind is no better than your older mind. In fact, you have the bonus of having life experience and work experience. Even though you’ve been out of the school game for a while, it isn’t like you’ve been sitting idle, doing nothing. You’ve finished high school, just like the traditional kids, and time is on your side, because with time comes experience. Though you may take notes differently and not understand the newest gossip, you have just as much a right to be sitting in a classroom as anyone else, and classrooms aren’t built to be competitive spaces. As long as you pay attention to your professor, study the material, and complete the readings, you won't have a problem. If you’re still worried, check out the academic center or form a study group with other students.

“I don’t think that I will fit in.”

Going to school as an adult is hard; Elaine on Seinfeld talks about how she will go if she doesn't have to be social

Seinfeld / Giphy

Yes, many of your classmates are likely to be younger than you. However, going to school as an adult is a pretty common thing to do. Since nearly 40% of students are adult students, you’re likely to have classmates who are closer to you in age as well. If you’re worried about coming off as awkward or not fitting in with the other students, remember, they’re probably feeling the same way.

As the semester goes on, you’re likely to become more comfortable in your classrooms. Make an effort to talk to other students. You don’t have to become best friends with them, but it’s nice to have a friendly face sitting next to you in class. Of course, this point is moot if you’re enrolled in an online program. There, you can enjoy the anonymity that comes with posting from behind a computer.

“I can’t afford to go to college.”

College can be expensive, and the effects are even more obvious if you’re paying a mortgage, a car loan, and household expenses. One way to work around this is to spread your classes out and only take a couple of credits each semester. Overall the cost will be the same, but it won’t place as much of an immediate burden on your finances.

Also, federal financial aid isn’t limited to traditional students; there is no age limit. Fill out the FAFSA to see what type and amount of aid you may be eligible for. Learn more about federal financial aid here, and consider looking into scholarships specifically for returning and adult students as well.

“I’m not up on the latest technology.”

If there’s one thing that most traditional students have in common, it’s that they’re obsessed with their cell phones and social media. The same may not be true for you. Instead of taking notes on a laptop, you may prefer a pen and paper. While other students seem to have mastered Instagram and Twitter, you may only be interested in email. This is mostly a bonus for you, since you’ll be less likely to get lost on the internet and stop paying attention in class.

When it comes to registration or applying to college, however, you may feel a little behind the times. The good news is that many schools that are aimed at nontraditional students are aware of the technology gap and are always trying to make their websites more navigable. Talk to admissions counselors if you’re having trouble, and they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

“The timing just isn’t right.”

Indiana Jones standing in front of a white board in a classroom

Raiders of the Lost Ark / Giphy

Maybe you feel like you’re too old to make a change and that finishing your degree may not be very helpful in the long run. Would you rather be 20 years out from retirement and working a job that only requires a high school diploma? Or, would you rather be 16 years out from retirement, working a job that requires a bachelor’s degree, and making an extra $450 weekly? It’s never too late to make a change.

Remember, going to college can be intimidating, whether you’re 18 years old or 36, trying to finish an associate’s degree or going for a master’s. For more information on returning to school, studying as an adult, picking the right program, and financial aid options, check out Student Caffé’s articles for returning and adult students. Good luck!

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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