Three Biggest Challenges for Adult College Students

Posted by on August 25th, 2015

College is challenging for all students, but for adult learners it can be even more daunting. Adults attending college face a different set of issues than their younger counterparts.


They often have additional responsibilities at home or fears about education. They might have the desire to gain essential job-related skills, but lack the study skills necessary to succeed. Whatever the obstacles, there are ways to work with adult learners to make the college experience less challenging and more fulfilling.


Lack of School/Study Skills

Although not everyone has the background or the desire to go to college, jobs and companies often require a college education or at least the skills gained from attending a higher education institution. For adult learners, the lack of job-related skills can force them back into school whether they want to be there or not. One of the challenges adult students face is not knowing how to study. Studying is an essential skill in both life and college. You can help your students gain study skills by introducing key components:

  • Time management and organization: It’s important to learn how to organize study time and prioritize tasks to complete as much as possible. Adult learners should learn to tackle more difficult tasks first before moving on to the simpler ones.
  • Listening: Really absorbing information takes practice. Teach your students to listen thoughtfully by taking notes or summarizing in their own words after information is received.
  • Reading and writing: Studying typically boils down to interpreting information that is read by writing outlines, summaries and syntheses that build comprehension.

Adult learners are often intrinsically motivated. You can encourage your students by helping instill the necessary confidence to succeed. Remind them that they already use many of these skills in everyday life and all they need to do is apply them to studying.


Outside Responsibilities

It’s one thing to be a carefree college student whose only job is to study, learn, and earn a degree. Adult students often have additional responsibilities like families and jobs that require a lot of time. Adding school to the mix creates a challenge.

Adult learners worry about how to pay for school while meeting other financial commitments, where they can fit in crucial study time, and how they can manage their schedule to get to classes and work while taking care of a family. It’s important for adult college students to focus on time management while prioritizing responsibilities and remaining flexible enough to “go with the flow” occasionally.



Students who took a less traditional route to college commonly have negative educational backgrounds. Perhaps they fell behind in high school and felt as though they lacked the necessary skills or knowledge to succeed. Many adult learners face fear and anxiety around traditional education.

Help alleviate your students’ fears with confidence-building activities, lessons on understanding learning styles and adapting them to college classrooms, and by encouraging them to seek outside assistance when necessary. Adult learners are fully able to thrive in college with the right tools and necessary confidence to overcome the challenges.

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