It’s never too late to attend college.

Adults in their mid-20s and up are a large part of the American college population. In 2015, 8.1 million students 25 years old and over enrolled at postsecondary institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In comparison, 11.8 million students were under age 25.

There are many reasons why older students enroll in college. For some, they were unable to afford the cost of tuition when they graduated high school. For others, the decision is prompted by a career change or new career goals, with an education plan to ideally lead to a different career. Other adults return to school seeking master’s or doctoral degrees or other professional certificates.

While there are many reasons to return to school, for most, it’s an opportunity to secure a degree that locks them into fulfilling and financially solvent careers.

What’s Important to Prospective Students

There are many factors that impact prospective adult students’ search for a college.

A Kresge Foundation study of nontraditional students, including people who enter college many years after high school, identified a number of priorities these prospective students have in mind. The report found their top priorities are affordability and flexibility.

Affordability

Many adults who hold only a high school diploma or GED do not have a lot of money saved to afford the tuition at many four-year universities. Loans may also be difficult for them to get if they haven’t built up enough of a credit history. Nearly half of the students surveyed said they worry “a lot” about how to pay for college.

At the same time, many adults returning to school may need to continue working at least part time to afford their education. The survey found that nearly one in three students said they were “unsure or [didn’t] know anyone who could give them good advice about financing their education.” Of those who work, the same number said they expected to receive financial support from their employers to help pay for a postsecondary degree.

Quality Faculty

Another top priority for adult students who decide to attend college after age 25 is having access to high-quality teachers and learning skills applicable to their current or future careers.

The study also found that 76 percent of adult students said choosing a school where instructors care about students and know how to teach was “absolutely essential” to deciding where to attend.

Considering the costs and stress that accompany obtaining a postsecondary degree, it makes sense that prospective students would want to ensure they’re being led by caring faculty who have students’ best interests at heart, as well as the ability to teach the curriculum in a way that’s understandable.

In addition, the report found that more than 60 percent of prospective students are “a lot more interested” in a university or college that offers hands-on guidance and real-world experience.

Flexibility

Another priority the Kresge Foundation study found is prospective adult students want to take classes online, which significantly contributes to the flexibility and affordability of a postsecondary education.

Nearly three-fourths of prospective adult students said they want to take at least some of their classes online, while 37 percent said it is “absolutely essentially” that their future college offers online classes. Among those older than 25, that number jumped to 41 percent.

Fortunately for them, NCES found that more than 5.7 million people were enrolled in “distance learning” or online classes where they could learn away from campus, a number that is expected to grow.

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Needs of Nontraditional Students

In college, young adults often learn a great deal about life, such as how to balance school with a part-time job, while also learning a lot about themselves emotionally and mentally.

Those who opt not to pursue a postsecondary education right out of high school learn the sometimes difficult lessons of adulthood a little bit sooner, such as working full time and paying taxes, rent and other monthly bills.

So, it’s little surprise that the needs of nontraditional students returning to education differ from those of traditional students.

A U.S. government report shows that when it comes to learning, adult students want to understand the benefits of an education and that they are task-oriented individuals who have experience on their side. Furthermore, adults want to build on their career knowledge and use their education to boost their existing skill set.

Is an Online Degree Right for You?

If you’re looking to return to school and need a flexible schedule, an online degree could be perfect for you. A fully online, asynchronous degree allows you to complete your education and continue your professional career all at the same time.

Adult students’ needs, such as flexibility and affordability, as well as their preferred methods of learning, make West Virginia State University’s online Regents Bachelor of Arts a great option. The Regents B.A. program is designed for nontraditional students who have been out of high school for at least four years and have not completed a bachelor’s degree.

The Regents B.A. allows students to use work or training experiences to receive credit through a life and work experience portfolio, as well as earn credits through the conventional manner of enrolling in classes. Students can also take the CLEP or DANTES exams for credit. Graduates of the program are proficient in critical thinking, oral and written communication, computer skills, goal-setting and problem-solving.

The program can be completed in as little as two years and has a highly competitive tuition cost.  During their studies, students will be able to focus on any subject within the university, as well as gain a broad understanding of multiple class topics.