How Adults are Furthering Their Education

Adult education refers to any form of learning undertaken by adults after finishing their initial education. It encompasses a wide range of programs and learning formats, from formal degree programs to informal community classes. The key unifying element is that the learners are adults, often defined as those aged 25 and above.

Adult education serves an important role in today’s rapidly changing job market, as well as providing enrichment and development opportunities for learners of all ages. This article will explore the various facets of adult education, including the reasons adults pursue further schooling, the benefits it provides, and the programs available. Whether contemplating a career change, looking to advance in a current field, or simply wishing to learn something new, adult education can be a rewarding experience at any stage of life. Read on to learn more about maximizing this valuable opportunity.

Reasons Adults Pursue Education

Adults pursue further education for a variety of reasons. One of the most common is desiring a career change. As industries evolve and new jobs emerge, it’s becoming increasingly necessary for workers to gain new skills and knowledge. Pursuing a degree, certificate, or specialized training can help adults transition to more rewarding or in-demand careers.

Another major reason is upskilling – acquiring new skills to advance in one’s current career. With rapidly changing technology and workplaces, it’s essential for employees to continuously build their capabilities. Whether it’s learning new software, leadership strategies, or industry best practices, education enables adults to stay competitive.

Beyond career motivations, many adults seek education for personal fulfillment. They may pursue long-held dreams of earning a degree, indulge hobbies and passions through classes, or satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Education later in life provides stimulation and a sense of accomplishment.

Challenges Facing Adult Learners

Returning to school as an adult can be daunting. Adult learners face a unique set of challenges that traditional students often do not encounter. Some of the biggest challenges include:

Time Constraints – Most adult learners have significant time commitments with work, family, and other obligations. Finding time for coursework and study can be extremely difficult. Adults need to carefully schedule study time and be disciplined to maximize learning.

Family Obligations – Adult students frequently have spouses, children, elderly parents or other family members relying on them. Trying to balance educational goals with family responsibilities poses a major obstacle. Childcare and earning an income are common barriers adults must overcome.

Cost – Tuition and educational expenses can be prohibitive, especially for adult independent learners. Many adults cannot rely on family support or financial aid to the same degree as traditional students. Creative budgeting, employer tuition assistance and scholarship opportunities help offset costs.

Long Gap in Education – Adults who have been out of school for many years often struggle re-adapting to academic rigor. Retaining information, writing papers, and test taking can be challenging after a long absence from education. Refresher courses and study skills training help adults get up to speed.

Adult learners can overcome these challenges through careful planning, resourcefulness and determination. With resilience and hard work, adults can achieve their academic goals despite the obstacles.

Types of Adult Education Programs

Adult education encompasses many types of programs to meet the diverse needs of adult learners. Some of the main types of adult education include:

Degree Programs

Adults who want to obtain an undergraduate or graduate degree can enroll in degree completion programs at colleges and universities. These programs are designed specifically for working adults, with evening, weekend and online course options. Popular degree programs include business administration, nursing, education, social work and information technology. Universities may also offer accelerated degree programs that allow adults to obtain a degree more quickly.

Vocational Training

For adults interested in developing career-oriented skills in fields like healthcare, IT, manufacturing and construction, vocational and trade schools offer certificate and diploma programs. These intensive programs focus on hands-on learning and job training. Some programs like medical assisting and cosmetology may prepare students for licensing exams. Community colleges also offer vocational training programs.

Certification Courses

Professional development certifications are available in many industries to help adults advance their careers. These certifications demonstrate proficiency in specialized skills and knowledge. In technology fields, popular certifications include CompTIA and Cisco. Project management certifications like PMP are valued in business. Healthcare workers can obtain certifications in medical specialties. Many certifications require passing an exam and have ongoing education requirements.

Continuing Education

Professionals in fields like healthcare, legal services, accounting and teaching generally need to complete continuing education courses annually to maintain their licenses. Continuing education allows working professionals to update their knowledge and skills in their industry. These courses are typically offered through professional associations, colleges and private companies. Adults can take continuing education online or in person. The number of required continuing education hours varies by profession.

Benefits of Adult Education

Pursuing education as an adult offers numerous advantages that make the effort worthwhile. Some of the key benefits include:

Improved Career Prospects and Salary

One of the main reasons adults seek further education is to advance their careers. Additional education and training makes workers more valuable to employers and better positioned for promotions and pay increases. Adults who complete a degree or certification program often see significant boosts to their earning potential over the long-term.

Cognitive Benefits

Education at any age helps keep the mind sharp by stimulating thought and expanding knowledge. Challenging oneself intellectually can improve memory, reasoning, and processing skills. Learning new material forces the brain to make new connections and neural pathways. Adults who stay mentally active through education tend to experience slower cognitive decline.

Sets an Example for Children

When parents pursue education, it demonstrates the value of lifelong learning to children. Adult learners become role models, showing their kids the importance of developing new skills and knowledge. Observing a parent’s educational journey can motivate children in their own studies and aspirations. Beyond school, learning together as a family through informal education can bring parents and kids closer together.

Online vs. In-Person Education

Online education and in-person education each have their own pros and cons for adult learners. Here is a comparison of some of the key differences:

Pros of Online Education

  • Flexibility – Online classes allow students to learn on their own schedule, which is helpful for adults juggling work, family, and other responsibilities. Students can watch lectures and complete coursework during times that fit their schedule.

  • Lower costs – Online programs tend to have lower tuition and fees compared to traditional colleges. There are no transportation or housing costs.

  • Broader access – Online education opens up opportunities for adults in remote areas without colleges nearby. It also works for those unable to attend classes in person.

  • Self-paced – Some online programs allow students to work at their own pace, which is helpful if they need to take breaks for any reason. Students can speed up or slow down as needed.

Cons of Online Education

  • Less interaction – Online students miss out on face-to-face discussions, collaborations, and networking opportunities that happen in a traditional classroom setting.

  • More self-motivation required – Without set class times, online students must have the discipline to stick to a schedule and stay on top of lectures, assignments, and exams.

  • Potential technical issues – Computer problems, internet outages, and learning new software can disrupt online education if tech issues arise.

  • Not suited for hands-on learning – Programs with labs, clinical rotations, or in-person skills practice may be difficult to complete online.

Pros of In-Person Education

  • Rich interaction – Traditional classes allow adults to have meaningful discussions and collaborate face-to-face with instructors and peers.

  • Hands-on learning – Labs, clinical experiences, and other practical learning opportunities may be more impactful or only possible in a classroom setting.

  • Campus resources – Traditional students can access campus libraries, tutoring centers, advising, and student life activities more easily.

  • Structured environment – With set class schedules and on-campus attendance, some students thrive on the in-person academic environment more than independent online learning.

Cons of In-Person Education

  • Commuting and parking – Adults may need to deal with commutes to campus and parking availability for classes.

  • Rigid schedules – In-person students must build their lives around designated class times, which provides less flexibility.

  • Higher costs – Traditional colleges charge higher tuition plus housing, transportation, and other costs not associated with online programs.

  • Limited options – Adults in rural areas may not have colleges nearby, limiting in-person education options. Relocating may not be feasible.

In summary, online and in-person education both have advantages and disadvantages for adult learners. The right option depends on an individual’s learning style, responsibilities, location, academic program, and technology access. Adults should weigh all these factors when deciding between online vs traditional education.

Paying for Adult Education

Pursuing education as an adult can be expensive, but there are options to help finance it. Many turn to student loans, but it’s wise to explore grants, scholarships, and employer tuition assistance first.


Scholarships provide money for school that does not need to be repaid. Many are offered based on financial need, academic merit, ethnicity, gender, field of study, or other criteria. Community organizations, employers, schools, and private companies offer scholarships. The key is thoroughly researching options and applying to all scholarships you may qualify for.

Popular scholarship search engines like Fastweb,, and Niche can match you with relevant scholarships. But don’t overlook options from your employer, school, local organizations, etc. Persistence in completing multiple scholarship applications pays off.

Employer Tuition Assistance

If you’re employed, check if your company offers tuition reimbursement or assistance. Many provide up to $5,250 per year tax-free for approved programs. Others fully cover tuition and fees. Policies differ on what level of grades or completion is required for reimbursement. Know the details upfront.

Even if your current employer doesn’t offer it, consider exploring ones that do. Some even let you attend school while working part-time. Having an employer invest in your education can make the process more manageable.


Grants provide money for school that does not need to be repaid, often based on financial need. Federal and state governments, schools, and private organizations offer grants. The FAFSA form determines eligibility for federal grants like the Pell Grant and is required for most state and college grants too.

Adult and non-traditional student grants are available. Also research options related to your field, ethnicity, gender, military service, or other criteria. While competitive, grants are extremely helpful for avoiding student loans.

Student Loans

Student loans allow you to borrow money for education and repay it later. Federal loans usually have lower interest rates and better protections than private loans. The FAFSA form determines eligibility. Options include Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, PLUS Loans, and Perkins Loans.

While loans do provide access to education, it’s wise to borrow conservatively. Consider community college for the first two years before transferring to minimize costs. Work part-time if possible. And exhaust other funding options first, so you don’t end up in excessive debt.

Juggling Education with Life Responsibilities

Going back to school as an adult can be a juggling act, as you try to balance education, work, family life, and other responsibilities. It takes planning and commitment to succeed. Here are some tips that can help:

Time Management

  • Use a calendar to schedule study time, just as you would schedule other fixed commitments. Set realistic goals for what you can accomplish each week.

  • Take advantage of small pockets of time, like the commute to work or waiting in line. Use a mobile device to review class notes or listen to a lecture.

  • Set priorities for your time. Focus first on what’s essential for school, then important tasks related to family and work.

  • Look for timesaving strategies like ordering groceries online and cooking meals in advance to spend less time on chores.

  • Wake up early to study before the day gets busy. Or schedule study time in the evenings after dinner.

Prioritizing School

  • Inform family and friends that education is a priority for this season of life. Explain the reasons it’s important to you.

  • Schedule dedicated family time when you disconnect from schoolwork. Being present and focused with loved ones periodically can help gain their support.

  • Arrange for childcare help from family members or swap babysitting with other parents. This allows you uninterrupted study time.

  • Use commuting time for coursework so you can be present with family when at home.

  • Treat schoolwork like an important work project. Schedule it in first before other activities.

Getting Family Support

  • Communicate openly about your schedule, needs, and how family can help. Update them on progress.

  • Involve your family by telling them what you’re learning. Offer to help kids with homework.

  • Celebrate milestones with family, like finishing a difficult paper or exam. Mark progress to maintain motivation.

  • Compromise when possible by giving up a low priority activity to make more time for family and school.

  • Express appreciation for their accommodation of your student life. Show that the effort is worthwhile.

With planning and commitment, adults can succeed in higher education while still meeting other responsibilities. Support from family is also key to effectively juggling school, work and home life.

Applying Learning as an Adult

As an adult learner, it’s important to apply what you learn in a practical way. Choose educational programs that align with your career goals and allow you to immediately implement new skills and knowledge. Look for ways to relate material to your existing work experience so it has more relevance and impact. Some tips:

  • Enroll in certificate programs focused on tangible job skills rather than theoretical academic subjects. Programs in technology, business, healthcare, and trades tend to have the most direct career application.

  • Seek out instructors who have real-world experience in their field, not just academic credentials. They will understand how to tailor coursework for professional settings.

  • Find programs that incorporate internships, apprenticeships, or hands-on learning. Applying skills in real work environments cements learning.

  • Talk to your employer about how additional training can help you take on new responsibilities or advance in your career. Earning a new degree while working shows initiative.

  • Choose capstone projects that solve actual problems or issues at your company. This allows you to implement what you learn.

  • Relate new concepts back to your work experience during class discussions. This helps reveal how they apply in practice.

The most successful adult learners pursue education strategically, choosing programs that clearly ladder up to career goals. Maximizing practical application ensures you get the most value from your time, effort, and tuition investment.


Adult education provides immense value for learners of all ages and backgrounds. Whether it’s finishing a degree, learning a new skill, or pursuing a passion, education empowers adults to improve their lives and open new doors.

The path is not always easy – juggling education with work, family, and other obligations takes dedication. But with the right mindset and support systems, adults can overcome any obstacle. Online and in-person options make education accessible. Financial aid and scholarships reduce the costs. And the self-fulfillment and career advancement make every effort worthwhile.

For adults considering going back to school, don’t let fear hold you back. It’s never too late to learn. Approach education with an open mind and positive attitude. Stay focused on your goals while appreciating the journey. With hard work and commitment, you can achieve anything. The first step is believing in yourself and your ability to succeed.

The rewards of adult education are immense. Increased knowledge builds confidence. New skills lead to promotions. Completed degrees open doors. Most importantly, education allows adults to become role models and lead by example. By investing in yourself, you invest in your family and community. You show what hard work and perseverance can achieve at any age. That inspiration ripples out in countless ways.

Don’t just dream about what you want to do and accomplish. Take that first step and start your educational journey today. The time is now to create the life you want through the power of learning. Be bold and determined. You hold your future in your hands.

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