Having encountered different issues with college studies in my teens, 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, and upon seeing older people in college, I’ve often wondered as to what is the right age for college in United States.
Though college students come in all age ranges nowadays, the right age for college is closely tied to individual college goals at various stages of life. College at 18 works well as an introduction to higher learning and adult life, whereas college in the 20’s and 30’s generally helps students with building career focus.
However, there are other students who study in their 60’s or even until their 90’s for reasons such as to set an example to their kids, or for further career growth, or for keeping their mind mentally alert in old age.
Right Age For College in US
As long as the student is able to achieve his/ her individual goals with college, the entire college experience can be considered a successful one.
Therefore, the right age for college is when a student knows why s/he is actually enrolled in college, and then if s/he is able to complete college and ultimately move toward that goal.
Here are the most likely college-related goals at each of the age ranges:
- 16yrs to 22 yrs: This is a time when students are just learning to live an adult life, while in the company of other students and college faculty. Therefore, making good friends and having some fun while also studying new and interesting subject courses become key takeaways.
- 23 to 29 yrs: Having a career and making a living are generally at the forefront at this age. So students are likely to have chosen a college major in a field they are interested in and which also has job opportunities. ROI (Return of Investment) of college is very high at this age as the benefits of college graduation will bring in many years of income from employment.
- 30 to 39 yrs: Students are likely to be married with kids, or looking to quickly finish college so as to start a family of their own. Those with good work experience and a bachelors degree will likely be looking for a masters degree. Those without a college degree including single mothers would be desperate to finish college quickly so as to start on a good career and for a good life for their family.
- 40 to 49 yrs: Most students at this age are likely to go for a masters or higher degree that is in line with their field of work. Non graduates with work experience would greatly benefit from online or accelerated degree completion programs for working adults.
- 50 to 59 yrs: Most students at this age are likely to study so as to be a good example to their kids, and perhaps for improvement in their career.
- 60 yrs and above: At an older age, most students tend to look at college as less of a necessity and as more of a place to keep actively learning. Some may view college as something they never got to do when they were younger and so now is when they have the time and independence for college studies. Others may benefit from college by staying mentally active and by developing new interests.
There will definitely be some overlap in student goals in each of these age groups. There are likely to be students with a combination of goals from the different age groups as well.
Multiple college goals can over complicate the college experience and could critically impact degree completion. On the other end of the spectrum, having unclear or no college goals while in college can also cause delays and confusion.
As long as the student is able to carefully view where s/he stands in life financially and personally, s/he will be able to set clear college goals. When the student has such clear goals along with a keen interest in the topic or major of study, that is likely the right time for college.
Most Exciting Age For College
You guessed it, 16 to 22 is by far the most exciting time to be in college. Though there are some A students with a clear career ambition, a larger percentage of students at this age consider college as simply a fun place to be.
For many teenagers, their parents are likely to help out with college expenses, and as long as they scored well in high school, there is likely to be financial aid as well.
In such a scenario, there will be very little financial stress, and as long as the student does not spend too much time partying, there will also be ample time for college studies.
For a student who is able to balance fun with college studies, completing college at this age could provide the biggest bang for the buck as s/he is relatively young, and getting college graduation out of the way early on is usually great for career beginnings.
Choice of College Major
The main disadvantage at this younger age of 16-20’ish is that the student is more likely to be naive and inexperienced. Many young college students do not even know what they want to study in college.
So many of them undertake a college degree without even knowing why they are choosing say history over economics. There are also many students who start college, but are so unprepared for it that they never complete their college degree.
Say No to Student Loans
When one is young and right out of high school, college can be a lot of fun, and even more fun if the parents are paying for the college. Then their teen would not have to keep paying off student loans for years and years after college graduation.
Even if your parents are not supporting you with college, please make sure you do not end up taking student loans. Most college scholarships for full time students pay the tuition fees but not the room & board.
To pay for the room & board for college, most students I have spoken to prefer taking a part time job instead of considering student loans.
It makes financial sense to start with community college for the first two years and then to transfer to an in-state public university for the next 2 yrs of a typical 4 yr bachelors degree.
Community colleges charge much lower tuition and so there will be sufficient financial aid available for funding the next 2 yrs of the bachelors degree. In-state students also pay a much lesser tuition than out-of-state college students.
Most Productive Age For College
The early to late 20’s can be a beneficial time for college students, especially for those who do not have any dependents. If your parents are also helping with college, this can greatly assist you with financial aid applications and with other out-of-pocket college expenses.
The biggest advantage at this age is that most students have likely had the time to figure out a good degree major they are comfortable with. This will further help them to stay motivated about completing college. The initial nervousness or excitement about college will also be over with, so students can spend uninterrupted time in studying.
Graduating college at this age will also tie in nicely with starting a career on a solid educational foundation. This can bring in many years of financial well being in a good job and career.
Most Challenging Age For College
When students are in their 30’s or so, and married or with kids, college can be very tough to handle. College studies frequently take a back seat while attending to the family, diaper changes for the little ones, loss of sleep and so on.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that a nontraditional student has been the typical undergraduate college student in the US ever since 1999 and over the years until the present times.
Money also gets extremely tight here, as most people like to be independent and do not ask parents for help after moving out of their parental home.
Job and College
Having to hold a full time job, while tending to a family and also studying for college is as challenging as climbing the Mount Everest multiple times, over a period of many years until degree completion! Paying for college tuition along with so many other household expenses is not easy at all.
Another point to note is that federal and state scholarships are easier to obtain when someone is studying full time. For part time students, there is generally very little financial aid opportunities.
This situation is being faced by many cash-strapped community college students who are forced to take up full time work while enrolled in college as part time students.
For full time students who are not living with their parents but working part time, it is possible to get state scholarships to support college studies, as long as they are a student in the same state where they’ve been continuously living in.
When speaking with students, I found that they are able to handle their living expenses and college expenses much better when studying full time, and by working part time.
Some might be lucky enough to have parental support and therefore be able to study full time, and then have their parents pay their living expenses.
Single parents in their 20’s or 30’s have it the toughest. There is a well documented case of Kathryn McCormick, a single mom of 2 kids who was working as a waitress for about 35 hrs a week, while studying in a community college. One of her kids was going to school and the other one was under the age of 3.
There is a video of how she was struggling to raise her kids, and her financial difficulties, while going to college and working for a minimum wage at a restaurant.
She quit college early on when she got married and moved with her husband who was in the army. Then getting back to completing college became a nightmarish task which she had never imagined.
There are many single moms like Kathryn who make it through almost impossible odds to raise a family single-handedly while undertaking college.
Most Relaxing Age For College
By the time people are about 60 yrs of age or more, most of their obligations and responsibilities are generally over, and there are unlikely to be any family obligations that would interfere with college. Even if there are work duties, at this later stage, most work would be more easily manageable due to their years of experience.
Final Thoughts on Right Time for US College
Ultimately, the best time for anyone to do college is when they are most determined and interested in doing so. Having clear college goals and a passion for the degree major can act as a strong motivation for getting a college degree!
There are going to be some hurdles and challenges along the way, but if you as a student take the time to plan your life and career carefully, it will be very much possible to complete college at any age.
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