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Top : Campus Parents : Education: Tips to Help Older Students Attending College After a Divorce

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Education: Tips to Help Older Students Attending College After a Divorce

What do you do after getting divorced, when things may seem the end of the road? Going to college is one option for new divorcees to get back into life with a fresh start.   

Divorcees may be returning to college after many years or starting their post-high school education for the first time.  "...There's no question that it is much more difficult for students who have been out of high school or for students who have dropped out of college to come back," said Phil Caffrey, senior associate director of admissions at Iowa State University.  

A total of 39 percent of all college students are age 25 or older, according to an article published in American Demographics in November 2002. About 75 percent of students live off campus, with 80 percent working.   

"Usually, people go back to learn a new skill set or change careers. Other people will go back if they feel they missed out," said Mary Berg, an admissions counselor at Loyola University in Chicago, Ill. 

College may seem scary for non-traditional students, according to Caffrey.  "When students enter the world of work, they have car payments, house payments, rent. They get sucked into all of those financial obligations, so it becomes very difficult for them to go back to college eventually and either have to quit their job or go to college part time," he said.

Also, older students have other concerns while they're attending school, which makes returning more complicated. "People ...have children and have obligations beyond themselves, so it's hard for them to devote most of their time going to school when they have other obligations," Caffrey said. 

Another worry is that older students know they're different from the crowd, especially when their own children may be going to college at the same time. "Some, if they're coming back as an older adult -- probably, just because they think it's unfamiliar -- some people who are choosing to go back to programs where its mostly traditional students may feel they stick out in the classroom," Berg said.

But Caffrey said older students often fare better than younger ones, because they already know how to deal with life.  

"I think one of the things our non-traditional students find is even though their academic records may not have been as good as the students who come directly out of high school, what they find is they do better here....and the reason for that is motivation and priorities. The students who do come back here have their priorities and do very well," he said. "That's one of the pluses. They find that they really can do it, and that all those years of experience they have are really ground for them."

According to,  "Many professors actually prefer to teach adult students because adults bring real world experience to the classroom and often have more motivation and desire to learn than younger students."  

There are some downsides to being an older student, according to,  Those include the time it takes to complete a degree is twice as long, not having the necessary math and science skills and feeling socially separated from the other students.   

Caffrey said Iowa State may overlook some of its usual GPA standards, because of their work experience.  "Here at Iowa State, we actually have a considerable amount of flexibility with non-traditional students,"   he said.

Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. is another example of a university working to accept older students. A women's unversity, it used evaluations like an on-campus writing test, personal interview and letters of recommendation, according to the university's Web site, "by offering an admissions policy that focuses on overall credentials, not just on GPA or test scores." 

"A lot of colleges have special programs for adults returning to school, and that's easier to get in the swing of things," Berg said. 

Caffrey thinks private colleges sometimes cater to non-traditional students, offering four-week night courses or other specialty programs for older students.

Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., has a Returning to College program, founded on the premise that "returning students benefit from participating in the regular undergraduate curriculum, taking their places at the seminar table, the lab bench, and barre and learning from and with their younger colleagues," according to the college's Web site. 

But the cost of private colleges might stop older students, who are more financially committed. So returning to school at a community college might be a better bet, according to some experts.  "I would say that one option for some people to get the nervous feeling out is go to community college to get their feet wet, especially if they're away from school and have been away a long time. You can take one or two courses really inexpensively, and usually, those will transfer," Berg said.

"You can get your first two years of college coursework completed at a fraction of the cost, and typically, community colleges are pretty good at catering to non-traditional students," Cafferty said.  "Then, after those two years, I would really recommend them to look at their closest public university for the cost factor."  

Cafferty said students returning to college after a divorce should focus on the positives in the long-term. "A big benefit is earning that degree really increases your earning power or to do a career that's much more closely aligned with what your interests are," he said.

According to, "The median annual income for employees with a high school diploma was only $27,915; for a bachelorís degree $51,206. Individuals with only a high school diploma were twice as likely to be unemployed as those holding bachelorís degrees. Those without a high school diploma averaged a yearly income of just $18,734."   

Beyond that, Caffery said, he's seen the real results of returning back to school. "...People are happier. They have achieved something," he said.  

The University of Idaho includes five common excuses older students use:

1. I canít afford it.
Many grants, scholarships, and loans are available anyone who needs financial aid.

2. I won't do well in college.
When rating applicants, colleges look at letters of recommendations, special talents, past job experiences.

3: I need to get a job and make money.
 High-wage jobs require a college degree. 

4. No one in my family has ever gone to college.
While it can be difficult to be the first, it's not impossible. You will need to select, apply to, and enroll in a college, and apply for financial aid.

5. I'm too old.
Half of the students enrolled in college programs across the country are 25 or older.

Krystle Russin is a freelance journalist in Austin, Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in government (pre-law), and minors in journalism and history.

Submitted by: Krystle Russin * †

9-Mar-2010 ††††††† Hits: 294 ††† Rating: 10.00 ††† Votes: 1 †††† Rate It

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