People delay entering college for a variety of reasons, including military service, travel experiences, family commitments and time spent in the work force, according to U.S. News and World Report. Students over age 40 have access to the same enrollment resources available to younger students, but some colleges also provide older students additional special services and programs. The University of Maryland, for instance, operates the Returning Students Program designed for students age 25 or older.
Many college students explore majors and possible degrees and certificates, taking longer than the traditional four years to complete a degree. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a well-developed educational plan can help mature students age 40 or beyond get on track to complete a two- or four-year degree without too many diversions. A comprehensive plan puts the required credits for full- or part-time enrollment in writing. The plan also determines the need to take summer school classes. Most colleges also have free access to the resources in school career centers. These resources help you refine your enrollment plan by browsing the print and online sources to select a major and choose electives required by the school for graduation. Despite any inclination to take a horseback riding course to satisfy the general education requirement, you may find your research reveals that a dance class would do more to enhance a degree in early childhood education.
All colleges have formal academic advisement for students, and many also offer counselors with training and experience in helping returning and non-traditional students, including students over age 40. These professionals offer career counseling, advice in creating a two- or four-year study plan and help in selecting a major. Some have special skills in assisting single moms and dads and counseling mature students with learning disabilities. Students over age 60 in some schools have the bonus of attending college without paying tuition; the counseling center or office usually has information about gaining access to this freebie.
Returning students sometimes have credits earned from an earlier college experience that may count toward their current curriculum. Talk with your assigned department advisor or make an appointment with the department chair to advocate for recognition of these credits. Bring your transcripts for the classes listing your grades; any classroom materials, including books you still have from the class; and a copy of the course description from the college catalog from the time of your attendance. This helps determine that the content of the older class aligns with the current course offering. School departments typically have copies of older catalogs. Credit for earlier courses reduces the campus time and also saves tuition money.
Prior Knowledge and Skills Credits
Some college departments, including the City University of New York, give academic credit to older students for life or career knowledge that duplicates introductory course requirements. These provisions aren't always listed in the course catalog and may require a special petition to the school administration. "Prior learning credits" typically recognize your training and knowledge in business management, corporate administration and political work. Schools use the standards set by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning that don't automatically give credit simply for experience. This means you must demonstrate mastery of skills or knowledge on both a theoretical and practical level, including documentation of that knowledge. This sometimes requires making a portfolio with samples of your work and a reflective essay about your learning experiences.
- Forbes: Dreams vs. Debt -- Older College Students Discuss the Value of Going Back to School
- New York Times: Turning Life Experience Into College Credit
- Wayne County Community College District Student Services: Follow Steps to Enroll
- National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series: Increasing Time to Baccalaureate Degree in the United States
- Council for Adult and Experiential Learning: Student Advising
- University of Maryland: Graduate Student Life Handbook -- Returning Students Program
Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.