Now more than ever, many adults are finding a need to pursue higher education in the form of a bachelor's or master's degree. These adult students are often called non-traditional students. Traditional students are those who attend a college campus directly after graduating from high school. Non-traditional students are usually over the age of 24 and may or may not go to a traditional college campus to get their education. These adult students aren’t able to just put their life on hold to attend school. They often have full-time jobs, families to take care of, or goals that often aren’t flexible with the constraints of a traditional college schedule. Working adults should carefully consider all their options when determining if and how they should go back to school. Learn more about what considerations you need to make before choosing how to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree.
There are a wide variety of reasons that non-traditional students make the choice to go back to college. Some of the reasons adults go back to college to get a bachelor's or master's degree may include:
They are looking for a career change
They have hopes for a raise
They have a desire for a promotion within their company or field
There are educational requirements for them to move up in their field
They are seeing a downturn in the job market and want to increase their skills
They want to stand out to potential employers
They have a desire for self-improvement
They have a desire finish a degree they started in the past
Every individual will have their own reasons for wanting to go back to school. But generally speaking, adults who want to go back to school will have specific reasons and motivations for wanting to further their education.
Traditional programs may not always be a great fit for adult learners. Programs more specifically designed for busy adults can be a much better option for several reasons, including:
Confidence gap. There is a widely studied phenomenon called “the confidence gap” details how older, non-traditional students may feel their chances of graduating are much lower because of their unique issues and obstacles. They already may feel out-of-place or nervous about higher education, so removing the pressure being surrounded by younger students in a class can be a great benefit to adult students.
Flexibility. Adult students often are working full-time, have children or family responsibilities, or have a career plan that doesn’t allow for the routine full-time, on-campus university experience. Academic degree programs built for adult learners often offer flexibility that allows students to learn in a way that works best for them. For example, WGU offers fully online courses and no specific class times, so students can work on their courses whenever is best for their schedule.
Timing. Adult students often have specific time limits to do the work, and deadlines when they need their degree. Adult learning programs are designed to help students accelerate their online courses and graduate faster. For example, WGU utilizes competency-based education that allows students to move through online courses as quickly as they can master the material. This means that students usually move through online programs much faster than other academic settings.
Affordability. Adult learners may be concerned about pursuing higher education because of the cost of tuition. Adult degree programs are often online, which can make the tuition much more affordable for students. Online colleges have fewer expenses, so they are often able to have much lower tuition bills for students.
There are many things that are important to look for when it comes to an adult online program, including:
Flexible schedule. Some online programs are the same as traditional programs in that they have specific class times you’re expected to be at. For many working adults, that simply won’t work. Know what you can handle when it comes to your time commitment and schedule and look for a online program that can meet your needs.
Accreditation. Accreditation is key to finding a good adult degree program. Degree mills and scam universities may try to get adult learners to sign up for a program, pay a ton of money, all for a degree that isn’t accredited. Research the school you are interested in and make sure it is accredited by a reputable accreditation body. For example, WGU is accredited by the top regional accrediting body, making a degree from WGU highly respected. Accredited schools are also able to offer financial aid, so you can get help making tuition more affordable. If a school isn't qualified to offer financial aid, it may be worth a second glance.
Online offerings. Most adult learners are looking for online programs that they can accomplish wherever they live. It’s valuable for these adults learners to have the ability to access their education anywhere they are, instead of having to go to a campus and attend a physical class. At WGU, all of our bachelor's and master's degree programs are online, with a few exceptions for student demonstration in education degrees, and clinical requirements for healthcare degrees. For the most part, you can earn your bachelor's or master's degree entirely online, while keeping your career and family responsibilities in check. Make sure you carefully research your program before committing.
Acceleration. Most adult learners are looking for the opportunity to accelerate their learning and courses. Many adult programs have options for adult learners to utilize previous college experience, prior learning, or an associate degree and get college credit for their past knowledge. This allows them move faster through courses than traditional colleges. Research how the college you are considering handles acceleration. For example, at WGU there is a generous transfer policy that allows you to get college credit for prior school experience and waive courses. We also utilize competency-based education that allows students to go through their courses as quickly as they are able.
Support. It’s a good idea to find an online university that offers the support you need to succeed. Online resources, mentors and counselors that are available to support you, and great faculty members are key to your success as a student. Make sure you choose an online university that has the resources and support you want. WGU has dedicated Program Mentors that are with you every step of the way, Enrollment Counselors to help you through the enrollment process, and knowledgeable faculty who are always eager to connect.
There are many degree programs that are ideal for working adults who want to further their education. Some of the most common and popular degree options for adult learners include:
Accounting. An accounting degree can be a great fit for working adults. For many adults currently working in business, an accounting degree can bolster their qualifications and make them eligible for better paying positions in the business world.
Business. A general business administration degree is the perfect introduction into college and the business world. For adults hoping to change industries or get a better job, a business administration degree is an ideal choice. Business administration helps students graduate with the knowledge of business they need to make an impact, and a business administration degree holds the important credential that can set them apart from other job candidates.
Data management. A data management degree can help many individuals interested in IT get the specific skills they need to land a great job. Many people who currently work in IT or attended a coding camp may find they need additional credentials to land jobs in the industry. A data management and data analytics degree could be the perfect fit here.
Education. Many teachers or those working in education need an additional degree to help them qualify for raises or a move into administration. Current teachers find that adult learning programs and online education is vital in helping them get the credentials they need in a way that fits with their schedule.
Nursing. For adults currently working as nurses, an adult learning program can help them get the degree they need to earn a raise or qualify for a promotion. Additionally, many hospitals are working to get more of their nurses bachelor’s degrees, so an online degree program can allow nurses to get this credential without having to stop working.
If you’re considering going back to school as an adult, an online degree program can be ideal in helping you meet your goals without interrupting your life. Carefully consider what you need in a degree program before choosing one, so you can find success as you learn.