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KateTheGreat's avatar

Have any of you gone back to college later in your life?

Asked by KateTheGreat (13610 points ) November 17th, 2011

My mother, who is 41, has decided to go back to college and obtain a degree. She did go to college for a little while until the strains of motherhood and divorce prohibited her from going any further.

I’m very proud of her for doing this, but I’m just worried that she’s going to struggle a bit since she hasn’t been in school for a very long time.

Do any of you have experience with this situation?

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43 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

My mom did the same thing. But she was 53 and had just spent ten years in prison. While it was more difficult for her she got by.

janbb's avatar

I work with students here all the time who are “returning women.” They are some of the best motivated and smartest students we have; even if they have to get their computer skills up to snuff. Also, a friend of mine, and former Jelly, went back to school in his 50s, getting a GED, a Bsc and now is nearly done with an MSW at 62. It can be done!

syz's avatar

I thought about it. I took the GRE after more than 15 years out of college, and did well on it. But I discovered that absorbing information is harder with an older brain; and then my employment situation changed, and grad school fell by the wayside.

The flip side is that I know I would be a more motivated and organized student – I was an idiot during undergrad.

bobbinhood's avatar

I am currently teaching a student that dropped out of high school at 16, and is now starting college at 60. She struggles because it has been so long and because she didn’t learn all of the study skills in high school, but she is doing very well. She is highly motivated and works much harder than any of the other students. So, while it is difficult for her, the hard work pays off. She is in the top of my class, and from talking to her, she is getting A’s in all of her other classes, as well.

Your mom will be fine. I’m sure it will be very challenging for her, but she will succeed because it’s something she really wants to do. There’s nothing wrong with struggling though it—it just makes the success that much sweeter. My only advice would be not to take too many classes the first semester so she can have the extra time it will take until she gets used to studying again.

blueiiznh's avatar

I have never stopped taking classes even after 2 degrees.

JilltheTooth's avatar

57 here, and starting to bone up on the GRE stuff as I’m seriously considering going for my MLS. Any tips, Little Penguin? Although I’ve been out of the game for a long time, and have memory issues thanks to chemo-brain, I’ll probably be a better student than I was in my youth, as I’ll actually appreciate what I’m doing.

EmptyNest's avatar

I went back for two years when I was in my thirties. As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed I’m slower and became fearful of tests. But I’m 54 now and on Tuesday I took a five part series test for which two hours were allowed. Not only did I pass them all, but I was the first one done and I got the job! Your mom will be fine!

Sunny2's avatar

I went back in my 40’s It was a great experience. It amazed me that the younger students accepted me so readily. My ability to learn was much more efficient. No wasting time; too much to do. I got straight A’s (I’d always been a B student). Encourage her to go and then stand back and watch!

KateTheGreat's avatar

Wow, thanks for all of the responses. Lurve to you all. This makes me a bit more hopeful for my mother. I’ll be sure to share some of this with her.

janbb's avatar

(I just feel happy when I see @SuperMouse appear.)

SuperMouse's avatar

Yep, I am two classes away from degrees in special education and library science. Once I finish I am going to head back for an MLS. @JilltheTooth we can be study buddies. It has been a very good experience. Most of my professors have been my age or younger and I do think they tend to give me more respect as a grown up. I have a work study job that I love and I get along well with my co-workers, probably because they are closer to my age than the students’ age. I am a lot more motivated than I was in my20’s and also a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. I wish I had finished when I was younger but all-in-all I am enjoying school and I am very happy to be finishing.

Thanks @janbb!

MilkyWay's avatar

My dad did that. He got along fine, even took me along with him once. I’m sure your Mum will be fine. Over here, lots of adults are doing it.

muppetish's avatar

Not personal experience, but I attend school with students from all walks of life. Two students in one of my literature classes are older than your mum—both brilliant individuals. One of my co-workers at the Writing Center is also older. He writes wonderful poetry and such an insatiable curiousity for life. I look up to all of them. I hope that I remain a student.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

My dad did that in his late 40’s and throughout his 50’s. He’s got all kinds of degrees and certifications for stuff but mostly his educations was to enrich himself rather than get him a specific job.

I have the chance coming up shortly to also go back to college and I will not only because it will definitely help me with better jobs opportunities, I will enjoy it just because.

tedibear's avatar

I got an Associates in accounting when I was 32 and then went back for a Pastry Arts diploma at age 42. (I think that’s when I started!) Both times my grades and study habits were much better than when I got my B.A.

Just noticed that there are ten year spaces. I wonder what I’ll do when I’m 52. Stay tuned!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Just like with younger (unprepared students) students, many older students (unprepared simply because the college experience changes in some ways all the time) will not succeed but the rare few will do brilliantly.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir : I guess the numbers and percentages are different everywhere. I know quite a number of people around my age who have gone or are going back to get various degrees and most have done very well with it, some getting bachelors, most getting masters, and two that I know of completing their doctorates. I wouldn’t characterize that as a “rare few”. I think they tend to do so well because they can really devote their focus to the task at hand, in this case, school, because their lives are already established, children raised and gone, etc. Maybe it’s different where you are.

janbb's avatar

@JilltheTooth As stated above, that has been my experience too.

chyna's avatar

My best friend went back to school at 50 to get her nursing degree. She finished in the top of her class, over mostly 20 somethings. I am so proud of her.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I agree with @JilltheTooth and @janbb. As a non-traditional student I tend to gravitate toward other non-traditional students and in my job at the library, those are the students I tend to bond with. It has been my experience that it is more than a rare few who flourish when they return to college later in life.

martianspringtime's avatar

I know a few people in my classes this semester who are at the very least over 30, and have known others in past semesters. Actually, the first person I talked to in one of my classes this semester is in her 40s, and although she seems stressed (she works long hours and has some math/science classes she’s not fond of), she also seems to enjoy getting back into the swing of classes. She’s doing rather well as far as I’m aware, and should be finished getting the degree she’s after in one more semester.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SuperMouse Well that’s all good news, then. I know in my class, the older students are not doing as well.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I have run across some digital immigrants who automatically start off at a deficit because they are not familiar with course delivery programs like Angell or Blackboard. That is probably the biggest challenge for most of the non-traditional students I encounter and I can see how that would have a huge negative impact on academic success.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SuperMouse Oh, I do not utilize any technology in my class. It’s their thinking that prevents them from questioning that which a sociologist must question. I guess all the older students I’ve had are pretty religious and they just hate anything I say, which makes sense.

EmptyNest's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir, I have no doubt in my mind that we lose speed and concentration in the aging process. In my thirties I aced everything and it was the most wonderful feeling. Likewise, it’s devastating to lose it. You’ll be there yourself some day (God willing) ;) It’s difficult to understand this unless you’ve gone through it. I hope you will be kind and patient with your older students. :)

Brian1946's avatar

I read an article in Life magazine about 50 years ago stating that people reach their peak mental acuity when they’re about 50, and given today’s greater understanding about maintaining and increasing that acuity, it might peak at an even older age for this generation.

EmptyNest's avatar

@Brian1946, well that’s hopeful! I surprised the crap out of myself when I finished that test before anyone else. It gave me back my self esteem in that area.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@EmptyNest What makes you think I’m not kind and patient to my older students?

JilltheTooth's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir : What makes you think @EmptyNest doesn’t think you are kind and patient to your older students? Honestly, reread it all and can’t find where she said that, unless, of course it’s been edited, in which case never mind.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JilltheTooth I don’t know her so can’t say. Just read last comment as something like ‘oh you’re young, you’ll be old soon, don’t pick on your older students ‘cause you don’t get yet how they might feel’. Anywho, it doesn’t really matter. I’m good at what I do, for all my students. Also, are you her backup or something?

JilltheTooth's avatar

Just wanted clarification @Simone_De_Beauvoir , that’s all. Goodness, you do read so much more into these posts than actually is there, don’t you? What a vivid imagination you have. Not a bad thing in the appropriate context.

Brian1946's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir

“Also, are you her backup or something?”

Yep- us oldsters love to gang up on you wet-behind-the ears whippersnappers! ;-p

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@JilltheTooth “Just wanted clarification” – so did I.

EmptyNest's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir, I wasn’t suggesting you weren’t kind, and didn’t mean to be condescending, either. I was just trying to give some insight. I remember when I was a kid, hearing adults say, “I wish I had her energy”. I had no idea what they were talking about at the time. Now I do.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@EmptyNest Okay. Thanks for clarifying.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I am curious, are you finding that most of your non-traditional students are more narrow minded than your younger students? That is the impression your response gave me. I can’t help but wonder if there is a little bit of bias at play in that kind of thinking.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SuperMouse No, narrow-mindedness shows up in all age groups. It is religious beliefs that correlate with disliking topics discussed. And older people (in my classes) just happen to be uber-religious.

EmptyNest's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I wonder why they take that class, then? When I was in college in my thirties, I took psychology classes. One of the classes was “Child psychology”. I HATED that class because I learned about mistakes I’d already made and it made me feel guilty. For instance, I smoked cigarettes with my middle child and she had learning disabilities. I was also told that C-section babies needed more holding because they were robbed of the squeezing down the birth canal. My youngest was my only C-section baby who was held the least because I had a five-year-old and a two and a half year-old also occupying my time. I’m just wondering if these ladies NEED your class because of their major. (which was my case. I had to take it or else I would have dropped it) If not, they should drop the class if the material upsets them.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@EmptyNest It’s a requirement.

janbb's avatar

Can I ask what the course is?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@janbb Intro to Sociology

EmptyNest's avatar

Thanks for the input, @Simone_De_Beauvoir.

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