Colleges have become increasingly diverse, not only from a gender and ethnic standpoint, but also in terms of age. Non-traditional adult students, frustrated by economic conditions, unemployment or career stagnation, return to school to get degrees or acquire new skills. The adult student has several key advantages relative to younger peers, but they also face some challenges.


While many students of all ages go to school with ambitious academic goals, nontraditional students usually return to school with a focus. Some return after a job layoff forces them to recognize the need for increased education. Others want to shift careers, and classes or a new degree program are necessary to make that happen. Additionally, while often strong grade performers, adult students tend to focus on learning and retention to achieve current or future professional objectives.

Faculty Rapport

Ethical college faculty will never hold, demonstrate nor convey favoritism toward any student in a class. However, because adult students are often closer in age and life experiences than younger, traditional students, faculty sometimes develop a natural rapport and respect for adult students. This is useful for adult learners when they participate in class discussions or seek help from professors on class work during office hours.

Lifestyle Obstacles

Life situations and obstacles can impede the performance of adult students. Many have kids and full-time careers when they return to school. This leads to time and energy conflicts. A February 2013 "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" article highlighted obstacles faced by military veterans returning to school after active duty. Colleges increasingly offer online course options and academic support systems for adult learners to assist adults in finding a balance between work, life and school.

Academic Preparation

Adult learners sometimes express fear about returning to school after time away. The longer the gap between school experiences, the greater the concern. Being the oldest student or only nontraditional student in class, being unprepared for the class setting and academic rigor, and lack of familiarity with current classroom learning techniques are among common concerns. Students often resolve these issues within a short while, especially when they find other nontraditional students around. Communication with professors and academic support center staff can help greatly in the transition back to school.