Adult Learner

7 reasons why adult students actually have an advantage in the classroom

Adult student advantage

Whether you’re 5 or 35 years old, the first day of school is both exciting and nerve-wracking. For adult students — especially those who’ve been out of the classroom for a few years — it can feel overwhelming. It’s completely normal to have anxiety about overcoming obstacles like financial constraints and balancing work, family and friends on top of school.

But, as an adult learner, you shouldn’t feel intimidated. You should feel empowered. In many ways, you actually have an advantage over traditional students.

7 advantages adult learners have in college

Need some evidence? We spoke with Laurie Dodge, Ed.D., executive vice chancellor of academic affairs and provost at UMass Global, along with other education experts and adult students, to understand how those returning to the classroom stand out among their peers. They have real-life insights into the actual advantages adult students enjoy.

1. You’re more mature and motivated

You’ve got a lot more on the line than a typical 18-year-old. You’ve had time to mature. Your money and ambitions are keeping you devoted to your education rather than family expectations to attend college.

“Adult learners are engaged in the process,” Dodge says. “They are paying money, giving up time with family and balancing work commitments.”

Because they have to make certain sacrifices, adult students are typically more invested in their education as well.

“Adult students are often more motivated for many reasons,” adds Carol Gee, former adjunct professor and retired administrator for Emory College. Gee was once an adult student herself, having begun her college education at age 27 after serving in the Air Force.

“Maybe obtaining a degree would enhance their careers. Maybe it’s a personal achievement that they were unable to obtain due to raising their families or other challenges,” she explains. Whatever your reason might be, having that driving force will help keep you moving forward and focused on your goal of graduating.

2. You bring your professional experience to the classroom

Having work experience is another major benefit for adult students. Whether or not your professional experience directly relates to your studies, it can help you understand classroom lessons in a real-world context. Adult students can draw from their past — and their present — to bring valuable insights into classroom discussions that traditional students may otherwise lack.

Scott Vail, small business owner and former adult student, feels this was an enormous advantage, stating:


Most classes teach principles and theories that traditional students will someday apply. Adult students have actually lived them.

3. You won’t have to worry about college life distractions

The traditional college experience might include distractions, such as loud parties, dorm roommates and figuring out how to do laundry. As an adult student, you’ll have the advantage of truly focusing on what matters: furthering your education.

“I didn’t have to worry about how popular I was and I already knew what life would be like when I was done,” reflects Adam Cole, who went back to school in his 30s. “I really didn’t have time to fool around, so my focus was far more pronounced.”

At this point in your life, you have your priorities straight. And if advancing your career through higher education is one of those priorities, you’ll find yourself at an advantage in the college classroom.

4. You don’t have time to procrastinate

Between class, work and taking care of your family, you’re probably a master of time management. Putting off your studies until the last minute simply isn’t an option for you.

“Adult learners are less likely to procrastinate because of their busy schedules,” says Elaine Sanders of Harlem Girls Inc., who also went back to school later in life.

Being busy can even be a good thing. Balancing the demands of parenting and work could actually help you be more efficient in college. Career coach Christopher K. Lee explains that most adult students are no stranger to having to juggle several priorities. He says:


[Adult learners] have families to feed, kids to drive to soccer games, mortgages and other bills to pay. They tend to have better time management skills, which serves them well in studying adequately and completing assignments on time.

5. You have a unique perspective

Don’t underestimate the power of perspective. It can enlighten classrooms with better conversations. After all, you want to see the value in what you’re learning.

“When teaching, I felt that adult students brought a certain richness to the learning experience,” Dodge offers. “They ask hard questions and push on the relevance and quality of what they’re learning.”

Programs like the ones at UMass Global have been created with these adult students in mind. Rather than traditional tests, for example, students do a lot of writing and reflection on how the principles being learned can be applied to real-life scenarios.

And your perspective not only has the ability to elevate classroom discussions — it can also put your entire learning experience into focus. Vail believes having something greater than your degree to fixate on can be a powerful advantage. For him, it’s his children.

“When I am challenged and start to struggle (or even consider quitting), I focus on them and it gets me through,” Vail says. “[That driving factor] is something unique for each adult student but it keeps them pushing to the degree.”

6. You have grit and perseverance

You aren’t afraid of hard work. You’re determined to put yourself through school, and this grit will help keep you on track through challenging courses and trying times.

“Going to college is not an assumed decision for adult students,” Lee says. “You’re making the conscious decision to advance your education, understanding the sacrifices necessary and the time it takes away from other parts of your life.”

7. You just have a lot more figured out

You know who you are. You know what you want out of life and your career. Understanding these things allows you to put a spotlight on your studies. Jessica Lewis, M.Ed., entered the military after high school and then attended college as an adult. Unlike some of her peers, she already had a strong sense of identity.

“I had been to different countries and had already held a job and leadership roles,” Lewis explains. “I felt like I was much more focused and prepared than many of my peers.”

Having more figured out simply allows you to identify your goals, which can keep you motivated to stay on track to graduate.

Take advantage of your experience

As you can see, being an adult student can certainly benefit you in the classroom. You’re fiercely determined and know exactly why earning this degree is key to reaching your goals.

If you’re thinking about going back to school, make sure you’re researching institutions dedicated to helping adult students like you succeed. Whether it’s advancing your career, achieving personal fulfillment or finishing a degree you started, UMass Global can help.

Take the next step towards achieving your goals. Find out what you should be looking for in a school by visiting our article “The adult learner’s guide to choosing a college.

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