Senior in classroom with computers and younger students

Doretha Daniels lived through many milestones in history, such as voting rights granted to women, the Great Depression, both world wars, the Civil Rights Movement, the lunar landing and more.

Although Daniels has experienced more life than most, there was still something she wanted to achieve. In 2015, at the age of 99, Daniels earned her college degree. She is the oldest of a new minority of students who are earning their college degrees much later in life.

Senior Adults of All Ages Head Back to School

For example, at 97, Allen Stewart received his master’s in clinical science. At 95, Nola Ochs earned her bachelor’s in history. At 89, Mary Fasano attended Harvard University and graduated with a degree in liberal arts. At 67, Carol Mobley finished her bachelor’s in sociology and continued to pursue a master’s in social work. At 60, Helen White received her master’s in sports management.

The list of college graduates over the age of 50 is growing. In 2011, the National Center for Education Statistics documented more than 500,000 students over 50 enrolled in degree-granting institutions.

According to data from R.T.I, nontraditional students now outnumber those who start as 18-year-old freshmen supported by their parents. International, a North Carolina think tank.

There are numerous advantages to going back to college as a mature student, including the experience, perspective, and focus you can bring to your coursework.

Senior student with a senior teacher in the library

Here are the Top 6 Advantages of Being an Older College Student:


1. You Have Real-World Experience

Life experience is among the primary advantages of being an older college student. Once you have lived in the real world, you know what it means to work hard, manage your time well, and balance your personal, professional, and academic obligations.

You can also apply your real-world experience to your studies. You know best how your newly gained knowledge can help you advance in your career.

2. You Bring a Unique Perspective to the Classroom

Older college students add a great deal of value to class discussions and projects. They tend to possess knowledge and backgrounds that many traditional students do not.

As a nontraditional student, you can speak to your experience working for employers, overcoming challenges to find success in the workplace, and grappling with the various demands of adult life. You have simply lived longer and experienced more things, giving you unique perspectives on the concepts you explore in class.

3. You May Be More Focused and Motivated

Many people in college work hard, but older college students often have a greater appreciation of the importance of higher education and the value it holds. For the first time, older students attending college have likely seen how difficult it can be to move up in a career without a postsecondary education.

This can make mature students more motivated and focused on their goal of receiving a degree. It can also help them avoid many of the distractions that push other college students off track.

4. You Have Clear Goals

Many younger students enter school without clearly defined goals. It often takes them a year or two to choose their major and even longer to determine a career path. As a mature student, you likely have a defined objective in mind as you begin or restart your college journey.

5. You May Be More Committed

Older college students tend to maintain a much greater commitment to their studies and coursework. You are in school to learn and graduate as quickly as possible with a degree to help you achieve your goals. Research published in the Journal of College Student Development in 2012 found that nontraditional students displayed much higher levels of resilience and possessed strong coping strategies to stay on track in college.

6. You May Get Discounts on Classes

Some institutions offer discounts for older college students. The University of Oregon allows state residents 65 and older to audit select courses tuition-free if space is available and the course instructor approves. You must pay any mandatory course fees. Some courses, including creative writing, can only be taken by older auditors in the summer.

Oregon State University waives tuition and fees for residents 65 and older, auditing eight or fewer credits each term. Enrollment is offered on a space-available basis with permission from the instructor. You also must fill out O.S.U.’s non-degree admission application and pay a $30 non-refundable application fee.

Here’s a list and contact information of educational institutions in Oregon that may offer special programs for older adults.

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