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Benefits to Being an Adult Learner

May 5, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

As a traditional student, your life is likely to follow a proscribed path: education first, then career, then kids. Nontraditional students do things a little differently, with kids or a job coming first. In general, this is usually seen as a disadvantage—deviance from the “right” way of doing things. But is it really?

Adult learners have several distinct advantages over more traditional students: both at school and in the job market. Here’s why.

Your study is more purposeful

As a traditional college student, you’re in an exploration mode. Most young college students aren’t sure what they want in terms of a career, and their four years in college is a sanctioned time of exploration and experimentation. As a result, while college is fun and valuable, many students miss out on significant opportunities to develop their resumes for later careers—because they haven’t chosen a career yet.

Most adult students don’t go back to school to explore. They’re more aware of the cost of college—in terms of both time and money—and most adult learners make considerable sacrifices to return to school. They have to have very clear goals for what they want out of their college experience, and how a new degree will help them advance. They’re more focused when choosing classes, internship and mentorship opportunities, and extracurricular activities—and many come out of college with stronger resumes and transcripts.


An older adult student gets help from a teacher

Many adults are releasing the benefits of going back to school both for what it can do for their career but also how it can improve their quality of life as well.



You have more contacts at work

Adult students have certain advantages over younger graduates when it comes to starting a career. Many adult students got their start in careers as high school graduates, and go back to school for a degree to further their progress in that career. These graduates already know what industry and possibly what company they’ll work for, and they already possess considerable industry knowledge. Even adult students planning on making a career switch may have more job-market experience and industry contacts than traditional students.

Your college debt may be low—or nonexistent

As a nontraditional student who works full-time, your employer may be willing to pay for some or all of your college tuition. Traditional students usually don’t start full-time work until after graduation, and many leave school under a mountain of debt. If you can get your employer to help with tuition, you could leave with a considerable debt advantage over traditional graduates.

In addition, because of financial and time limitations, many nontraditional students are more open to adult-oriented community colleges and online schools, which can cost considerably less than private institutions.

You’re more driven as a student

As a nontraditional student, you’re less likely to become distracted by the social scene at your school. You’ve made sacrifices to go back, so you’re less likely to try and skate by with just-passing grades. And you’re more aware of the contacts you’ll need once you graduate, so your networking is more targeted.

You’re a role model to your kids

Many nontraditional students are also parents. It can be a huge challenge to go back to school while juggling work and family commitments. Traditional students go to college, get jobs, and then have kids once they’re established in a career. Education is undoubtedly important in their families, but their children don’t see their parents putting their own education first on a first-hand basis.

However, as a parent, you demonstrate the importance of education to your children every day when you show them you’re making your own education a priority. Parents have plenty of opportunities as adult students to show their kids that without a degree, they could only go so far—and persevere despite challenges to completing their education. Many children of parents who went back to school have high respect for their parents’ sacrifices and are likely to make education a priority for themselves.

Nontraditional students are showing that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do things. Adult learners tend to be driven, motivated and workplace-savvy—and many of them are cost-conscious enough to reduce their education debt considerably, or have full-time employers who can help them with tuition. Whenever you decide to get your education, going back to school is the right choice—for your career and your family. As a nontraditional student, you’re likely to appreciate and make the most of the opportunities you’ve been given.




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