Published on 2014/04/02

The Different Lifelong Education Avenues for Adults

The Different Lifelong Education Avenues for Adults
There are a wide variety of options available for adults considering enrolling in higher education; the hardest part is deciding to do so.
As you grow older, the opportunities for continuing your education seem to dwindle and your choices seem limited. Many of the traditional means of higher education seem to accommodate only the recent high school graduate, while only making an exception for non-traditional students.

Here are the main types of higher education available and how you can use them effectively.

Traditional Colleges

Traditional, four-year colleges can be the hardest on older students. Older students who have already had a career, a degree, or are just starting a little later are labeled as non-traditional. Thus, immediately upon registration, they’re set apart from the rest of the population, which can make them feel a little unwelcome.

That’s not the hardest part, however. One of the most difficult challenges of attending a four-year university as an older student is the awareness many feel that they aren’t traditional students. They feel (and usually look) older than their often 18-year-old counterparts, and it isn’t easy navigating social conventions when you’re no longer a young twenty-something.

This distinction is necessary, however, to make sure non-traditional students’ needs are met. For example, students that come in later in life often have work experience that can count toward college credit. Or, if the student comes in with another degree or an associate’s degree, several introductory-level courses (called core, general or university foundations classes, depending on the institution) may be waived so those students can focus on the “meat” of their degree.

Going straight to a four-year university is definitely an option. Be prepared, though, to feel a little disoriented the first semester (as all college students do their first semesters). If, during course registration, you run into difficulty and can’t take any courses that will count for your degree, it’s a good time to look at obtaining a minor, or — if you’re in the education profession — an endorsement.

It’s likely you’ll also have to take elective courses unrelated to your program as a degree requirement. Take this opportunity to enroll in something you’ve always wanted to try: theater, music, American Sign Language, underwater basket weaving, etc.

Community Colleges

Although community colleges have historically been cast as “less prestigious” than universities, this simply isn’t true. In fact, many states have created a transfer system between community colleges and universities, allowing students to go through and receive a top-notch education without a top-notch fee. For example, California has a fully-developed system of junior colleges that allows more students to enroll and serves as an ideal transitional step for young adults fresh out of high school who aren’t quite ready for the demands of a full-scale, four -year university.

Systems like these are often carefully coordinated so students attending a community or junior college enroll in courses that are university-comparable, giving them an equivalent academic experience with perhaps a lighter load.

For those who don’t want to deal with the demands of a large campus, want to get their feet wet before diving headfirst into college or need to attend school part-time, community colleges offer a valuable, diverse experience for less money.

Online Institutions

Online courses are available through the two options we’ve already discussed. The online courses offered are typically built to cater to students (traditional and non-traditional) with busy lives — jobs, kids, etc. There’s a myth almost everyone believes concerning online courses: that they’re easier than face-to-face courses. This is not true.

There are many educators doing research and testing on how to make online courses the best learning experience possible. They are bound to get better and better as time passes. And, because of their popularity, they’re becoming increasingly available.

Many universities also offer hybrid courses, which offer a mix of online and in-person sessions. Often, the in-person sessions are held in the evening once a week or once every two weeks. These courses are there to cater to those who have other obligations, but also attempt to fill the gap online courses have in terms of person-to-person interaction.

There are a lot of different options for going back to school at any age; the hardest part is taking the leap.

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Readers Comments

Daniele Thomas 2014/04/02 at 10:58 am

Good summation of the various pathways by which adults can pursue higher education. It’s interesting that they tend to be pushed toward online courses when research consistently reveals that only a certain type of student does well in that format. I think many adult students look to online courses because of their supposed flexibility and perhaps even because they’ve heard these courses are ‘easier.’ In reality, adult students, particularly those who have been out of school for a long time, need to be in programs where they receive additional support, and this is very rarely found in an online course. This type of student would fare better in a hybrid course or, ideally, in a community college. Community college might be a good option because these tend to have flexible scheduling coupled with a robust out-of-class support system.

Yvonne Laperriere 2014/04/03 at 10:31 am

It’s interesting to consider the pathways adult students are now afforded, that wouldn’t have existed even a decade ago. Of the three discussed, only community colleges would have traditionally been an option for the eager adult student. Now, however, traditional four-year colleges and even online providers are jumping on the bandwagon of serving non-traditional students.

How the higher education landscape has changed.

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