Among the bustle of first-year students rushing to class, lugging plastic storage containers to residence halls and wandering around Talley Student Union looking for free stuff is another group of new students often forgotten in the hype.
According to NC State University’s 2021-22 Common Data Set, 4% of NC State undergraduates enrolled in the fall 2021 semester were older than 25. This percentage, made up mostly of individuals who took a few years after graduating high school or after earning their associate degree to work and pursue other interests, may seem small. Still, it makes up approximately 1,060 students on campus. For many, their unique experience as adult students can feel isolating. It’s important to remember that, despite being a minority on campus, there should be no shame in returning to school.
According to Champlain College, one of the biggest challenges older students face is the fear of not being cut out for college life, specifically the fear of standing out for your age. For many older students, it’s difficult to find people the same age as you to become friends with. This can develop into feelings of isolation and make it difficult to enjoy the experience.
Through orientation, Talley Takeovers and other events hosted by the University last fall semester, I was never at a loss for opportunities to make new friends. But these same opportunities are not as available for older students. There are currently little to no events or groups dedicated for older students to connect and receive support. Instead, these students are left to fend for themselves.
Another major challenge facing older students is having to balance classes with jobs, family and other responsibilities that are likely more common for these students than for someone just out of high school. This can make it tricky to stay on top of schoolwork and earn good grades.
Many older students have either taken a break from school to work or pursue other interests outside of college. Returning to school is an exciting time full of unique experiences that differ from what a typical incoming first-year student would have. Still, older students have to go through similar growing pains while registering for classes, navigating campus and getting more familiar with the University. Doing all this without a support system of people who understand what you are going through makes it a difficult, often lonely, time.
One solution would be for the University to do a better job connecting older students. The small percentage of these students on campus makes it difficult for them to find others who are in the same boat as they are. But, by hosting designated orientations or offering group advising sessions, there would be more opportunities for adult students to feel less alone.
Through supportive events specifically designed for their unique challenges, older students can be more successful in college. They can focus more on their courses while also enjoying the culture of NC State and finding community.
It’s important that older students remember there is no shame in being a nontraditional student. Whether you are returning to school after taking a break or whether this is your first time on a college campus, it’s admirable that you have taken this step to grow academically. Prioritizing your intellectual development is something to celebrate, no matter your age.