Going to college or university is a big decision at any age. You’ll be investing a lot of time, money, and effort into something that will challenge you intellectually and personally. But the decision to attend college is especially hard when you’re an older student. If you’re eighteen, people probably don’t question you too much if you say you’re headed to college. But if you’re 40 or 50? Here come the questions.
People may say you’re foolish. Why would you waste your time and money on college at this point in your life? They may tell you that you won’t fit in. Do you really want to sit in a room full of kids and try to keep up with them? And they will definitely tell you that you’re too old to change your life direction.
Your first step in responding to your critics?
Trust your gut. You know your life and your goals better than anyone else, and you will know if college is right for you.
I’m here to tell you that in fact, the choice to go to college as an adult is a brave and courageous one. (Need a little extra inspiration to answer these critics? Check out this blog post on doing difficult things and leaving a legacy.) You don’t need to listen to those around you who question your choice and who, frankly, are probably interested in big life changes the same way you are but are too scared to make a bold choice themselves.
What Are the Benefits of Going to College in your 40s and 50s?
Earning a college degree can bring you many benefits at any age. First and foremost, you’ll learn new facts about the world, new ways of seeing things, and how to better express your ideas and insights to others.
The first part of your degree (general education) is all about intellectual exploration and exposing you to a variety of academic fields, each one with its own approach to analyzing the world around us. Then in the later part of your degree, you’ll specialize in one or two fields and really develop some expertise. Along the way you’ll improve your skills in writing, analyzing data, making powerful arguments, and presenting your thoughts to others. If you think of college this way, how could a college degree not be beneficial to anyone at any age?
As a 40- or 50-year old considering college, you may be hearing from others that you’re “too old” to get your degree.
But you have decades ahead of you to make a difference in the world. Don’t let that kind of thinking stop you from your next steps. And remember that as you make this choice, you help to model college-going and dreaming big to all of the people you know. You may be inspiring a family member or friend to have the courage to attend college, too.
Simple Tips for College Success (at any age)
Heading to college at age 40 or 50 will bring some challenges with it. While your critics are wrong to tell you that you can’t fit in at college when you’re older, they are right that most college students will be significantly younger than you and that some aspects of college will be designed around the needs and expectations of a traditionally-aged college student. But with attention to a few simple behaviors, you can ensure that you will be successful in college, at any age.
Ask for Help: College is an entirely new experience and is filled with its own lingo, its own hidden rules, and lots of places where you could get tripped up in big or small ways. Seek out the advice of your professors, the help of your academic advisor, and the services of the various offices on campus (career centers, etc.). Everyone who works at your college is there to support your success, so take advantage of the resources there for you! And if you find yourself having trouble taking advice and guidance, check out these ideas on what might be blocking you and how to really accept the help.
Be Intellectually Open: College is all about expanding your horizons. You’ll be exposed to ideas, arguments, and facts that challenge the way you have seen the world for your whole life. Even though it may be hard at times, make an effort to stay open to these challenges. You may end up seeing things in a whole new way, and the mental and emotional flexibility you will learn in the process will serve you well in your career and in life.
Persevere: College, like anything worth doing, is hard. You’ll have times when you are frustrated, exhausted, and overwhelmed. Find ways to always remember why you started this journey in the first place. Recalling your “why” will help you push through the hard times and back into the excitement and courage that brought you to college in the first place.
Ultimately, only you can make the decision whether going to college in your 40s or 50s is right for you. It will take some soul-searching and finding a way to separate your own thoughts and goals from the pressures you get from those around you. Consider some real reflection on what life really means to you and what choice reflects who you really are. And then, go for it!
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