So, you’re thinking about going back to school?

Age is just a number when it comes to education.

James Madison University
Photo courtesy of steheap/AdobeStock

Universities across Virginia are welcoming students of all ages, no matter prior level of higher education. And those students are pursuing all types of degrees, from business to the arts.

Whether a student is looking to get a master’s degree or to finish up a bachelor’s, Virginia universities are making it easier for adults to go back to school. Many universities have programs designed specifically for adult students who either can’t afford the cost of being a full-time student or can’t devote the time required for a 15-credit semester.

George Mason University offers a DIY degree program, which allows students 25 and older to create their own curriculum. This program, called the Bachelor of Individualized Study, is completely self-paced, allowing flexibility in credit hours and time commitment.

Kurt Lazaroff is the assessment and records coordinator for the GMU program, and he says the adults he sees returning to college are exceedingly diverse in all measures, including backgrounds, interests and study pursuits.

GMU isn’t the only university that caters to the needs of adults seeking higher levels of education. James Madison University has a similar program for later-in-life students. Jason Gochenour is the assistant director of undergraduate admissions at JMU, and he says there are two different routes that adults who want to go back to school typically take.

The first route is what he calls the career-switchers, who go back to school to get a degree for a different profession than the one they pursued the first time around. Or, these students pursue their first degrees after already entering the workforce in hopes of switching career paths. The second route is that of transfer students, who Gochenour says typically have completed an associate’s degree. These students transfer to a university—sometimes under a guaranteed admissions agreement—to receive their bachelor’s degree.

Whether applying to university for the first time or transferring from a community college, the rewards of higher education are still attainable. Family life and work might be obstacles that deter adults from going back to school, but the resources universities offer today make it easier to take the plunge. Advising sessions and online tools help better prepare adult students and make coursework more flexible.

Lazaroff and Gochenour agree that the intimidating nature of going back to school can be lessened with guidance.

“Do not be afraid. Pick up the phone and reach out to an institution,” Gochenour says. “This may seem like a daunting task for someone who’s been out of school to now be back in the mix taking classes, [but] we are here to help.”

(Back to School Guide)