The Issues and Challenges of Adults Returning to College

Returning adult students may feel out of place in classes with mostly traditional-aged students.
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All students face challenges when going to college. However, adult students returning to school after a break must cope with issues and challenges unique to their age group and situation. However, adults who prepare for and overcome these challenges often have the drive and commitment necessary to learn and succeed in finishing a degree.

1 Other Responsibilities

Family and work responsibilities are among the greatest challenges common to returning students that are not often present in traditional college students. Some traditional-aged students do work, but they may not have to rely on full-time career incomes. Much of the heavy lifting for returning students includes responsibilities to spouses and children. You might have to take classes at night or on weekends to maintain family obligations. This can lead to fatigue and stress. Online courses are one option to help balance your work, family and school commitments.

2 Social Fears

Age doesn't always eradicate the impact of social pressure and personal fears. Returning students may doubt their ability to comfortably interact with much younger peers in a college classroom. Some schools offer adults-only programs and classes, though, and in an online class, this isn't such a concern. However, adult students who take traditional face-to-face classes are usually in the minority as far as age. Being comfortable with yourself and committed to your goals with school will help you face this challenge.

3 Learning Curve

Returning students also face a learning curve that is different from the one experienced by recent high school graduates. Whereas new students must learn to adapt to college, returning students must often learn about how things have changed since their first experience. Technology has become critical in many college classes. Some returning adult students don't have much personal or professional experience with computers, the Internet, social media and email, all of which may apply in classes. Nowadays, classrooms also tend to include more group work and discussions, as opposed to straight lecture.

4 Diversity

As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, college classrooms do as well. Many adults have experienced increased diversity at work, which helps. Age diversity often presents the greatest challenge for older students, though. In work groups, adult students may struggle to build unity with younger students, who usually have less work experience but often have assertive opinions. Adult students may have more ambition and drive as well. This can create struggles if younger students don't put forth maximum effort in a group situation. Having a flexible, outgoing and friendly demeanor can help when showing interest in younger students' opinions.

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.