No matter your age, you’re never too old to earn a college or graduate degree.

Business woman smilingCollege might make you think of young men and women strolling through an ivy-laced campus where the only people older than 50 are the professors. But the nature of college is changing—and so too are the students. In fact, more than 40% of American college students are older than the classic right-out-of-high-school demographic,* and students over 50 are increasingly common. Whether you’re looking to start a new career, advance in your current career, or simply attain more education, your age doesn’t have to prevent you from attending college. But that doesn’t mean you won’t face challenges in the classroom. Here are a few strategies that can make attending college more successful if you’re over 50 years old:

Set a Clear Goal

Why do you want to go to college? There is no wrong answer to this question, but it is something that should be clear to you. For instance, if you want a degree to help you make a career change, you should know what career field you want to enter—and why. This will help you choose an appropriate degree program as well as an appropriate university.

Setting a clear goal will also help you while you’re in the classroom. You’ll be motivated by knowing that each class, test, and project is directing you toward a concrete, life-improving goal. Younger students are often uncertain about their futures, but when you’re over 50, knowing exactly what you want to do can help ensure your success.

Know How Much Time You Can Devote to Learning

If you’re like most people over 50, then you have a lot of ongoing commitments. From work to children to aging parents who need caring for, plenty of important demands can compete for your attention. That’s why, before you enroll in a traditional or online university, you should consider how much time you can devote to your studies. Can you be a full-time student at a traditional university, or do you need to pursue a more flexible option? Is spending several years earning your degree possible, or should you seek out ways to accelerate your learning? Accounting for your time now and planning a reasonable schedule for your education can help you succeed once you’re in the classroom.

Consider an Online University

For those over 50, online learning offers a lot of benefits. First and foremost, when you attend an online college, you’ll have a lot more control over your schedule. Rather than having to travel to a campus at specific times, online bachelor’s degree programs and online graduate degree programs allow you to manage your course load in a way that fits your busy life. You can study from home and attend to coursework at times that work best for you.

Additionally, enrolling in an online degree program can help you graduate faster, thus putting you closer to reaching your career and/or life goal. The flexible format alone gives you opportunities to save yourself time and money. Plus, some of the best online universities offer additional ways to accelerate your learning. These include competency-based degree programs that allow you to master specific skills in your field of study at whatever pace works best for you. You can complete as few or as many competencies as you desire during a specific term, giving you the opportunity to lower your tuition costs and finish your online degree faster.

If you’re considering more than one online degree program, some colleges offer ways to shorten the time it takes you to finish. One example is Walden University’s Accelerate Into Master’s (AIM) program, which lets you earn credit toward a master’s degree while you’re earning a bachelor’s. AIM programs are a great choice if you already know you will need a master’s for a career change.

Take Advantage of Resources

States, localities, and schools often have resources available to students over 50. Don’t hesitate to seek out and take advantage of these resources. In particular, you should make yourself aware of what kinds of assistance your university of choice offers to adult learners. A university committed to the success of adult learners is likely to offer everything from financial aid and tutoring to help locating internship and job opportunities. When the coursework gets tough, you’ll be glad you chose a university that knows how to help you reach your goals.

With smart choices—and the right university—you can earn a college or graduate degree no matter your age. After all, you’re never too old to learn something new and improve your life.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online degrees and extensive resources for adult learners. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*Kelly Holland, Back to School: Older Students on the Rise in College Classrooms, NBC News, on the Internet at www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/back-school-older-students-rise-college-classrooms-n191246.

†Kerry Hannon, Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career, The New York Times, on the Internet at www.nytimes.com/2015/04/04/your-money/over-50-and-back-in-college-preparing-for-a-new-career.html.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.