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Age Ain't Nothin But a Number

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As the economy continues to sag and more and more of us are facing the unemployment line, the thought of returning to school is a tempting idea for many people. Adult college students, or non-traditional students, as they are sometimes called, are typically adults over the age of 25 who are going to college to complete their degree or begin college for the first time. Many non-traditional college students have full-time jobs and attend classes in the evenings or on weekends. Many online college programs are available as well.

It’s easy for most of us to be afraid of going back to school and make excuses as to why we cannot take the plunge and do it. After all, the thought of sitting in a lecture hall full of eighteen-year-olds whose biggest concern is which party to attend on Friday night when you’re worried about paying this month’s mortgage can be a tough pill to swallow.

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number!”

It’s often printed across the front of Hallmark cards designed to console people as they hit a milestone birthday – I speak from experience when I say that turning twenty-five and thirty really does creep up on you faster than you ever dreamed it would – but when it’s being said to you personally, you might start thinking otherwise.

That said, the idea of returning to school as an adult might be intimidating, but it is possible and it’s not as bad as you think. The U.S. Department of Education shows that the number of non-traditional college students is increasing steadily each year.

I began college straight out of high school, and earned my Bachelor’s degree by the time I was 23. However, things don’t always turn out exactly as we plan (as you probably know by now!) and I had to make a career change because of health reasons. After a few various part-time jobs I decided to return to school. I applied for admission at a local university, and after my acceptance I enrolled as a part-time student.

My husband watched our daughter while I went to school two afternoons per week. For the most part, I was 8 to 10 years older than most of the other students in my classes and initially I felt like I had more in common with the professors than I did with my classmates, but once the ball got rolling, I was fine.

No one made fun of me, no one called me “old,” and I really did learn a lot. I honestly had fun while learning and I’ve been able to apply my new skills in my daily work routines.

One of my classes was held on a weekday afternoon and the other one met on Saturdays. There were several other older students in my Saturday class, so you might feel comfortable starting out with an evening or weekend class as well if you are concerned about age differences.

Most professors and administrators are reasonable and understanding when it comes to non-traditional students; if emergencies arise, they are typically willing to work with you to figure out a solution to help avoid falling behind in your coursework.

I was able to return to school as a non-traditional student thanks to the help of federal student loans. Most students are able to take out federal student loans, and many others are also eligible for scholarships or grants. Student loans are just what they sound like – you will be borrowing money to attend school and repaying it at a later date. Scholarships and grants are different from loans in that they do not have to be paid back, but they have different eligibility requirements. Many employers even offer tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement.

I will offer more information on the process of applying for financial aid in another blog post, but you can visit http://www.fafsa.ed.gov for more information.

The financial aspects of returning to school are a valid argument for most people – paying for books and tuition can be expensive – but the benefits outweigh the risks. Earning a college degree will, in the long run, increase your earning potential. Research performed by the U.S. Department of Education offers some not-so-surprising statistics.

The median annual earnings of all full-time, full-year wage and salary-earning males aged 25–34 with a high school diploma or GED in 2006 was $30,000; the median earnings of males within the same age range that had a Bachelor’s degree or higher was $50,000.

Median annual earnings of all full-time, full-year wage and salary-earning females aged 25–34 with a high school diploma or GED in 2006 was $24,000 whereas their college-educated counterparts had median salaries of $41,000.

You may already have a Bachelor’s degree but are considering returning to college to work on a Master’s degree. In some cases, a formal education or advanced credentials in the specific field may make a difference in starting-salary offers, but that typically depends on your field and employer.

I want you to remember something if you think that you’re too old to go back to school: a woman named Nola Ochs entered the Guinness Book of World Records on May 14, 2007 when she became the oldest college graduate. Nola received a general studies degree with an emphasis in history from the Fort Hays State University in Kansas … at age the age of 95.

Talk about non-traditional! Way to go, Nola.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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