“Managing stress seemed a little easier because I had learned
what was really important in life,” he says. “I felt like I had a
different perspective on how to approach classes, and I noticed
that younger students seemed to have fear about exams or
After 10 years in the auto industry, Roseman was also
cognizant of his strengths and weaknesses, and could
compensate accordingly. For example, deadlines in the business
world had taught him how to budget his time. He also knew that
he was not the type of student who would do well if he stayed up
late finishing a 10-page essay the night before it was due.
A study published in 2012 suggests that the wisdom
Roseman had accumulated with age may be a common
experience for nontraditional students. In the study, published
in the Journal of College Student Development, researchers
surveyed traditional and nontraditional students to investigate
differences in coping strategies, and they discovered that
traditional students were far more likely to employ emotion-oriented coping strategies.
“They tend to focus on their emotions when they confront a
challenge,” says Marcus Johnson, PhD, lead author of the study
and an assistant professor in the School of Education at the
University of Cincinnati. “For example, if they begin to feel stress
about a deadline, instead of being active in trying to meet the
By comparison, nontraditional students are more apt to turn
to task-oriented coping strategies to overcome the stressor, such
as thinking about what steps to take next and devising a plan
of action. Johnson is conducting a follow-up study, and he has
found that nontraditional students report higher levels of self-
efficacy than their younger counterparts.
“They have a more optimistic belief that if they put effort
into their studies, they will succeed,” Johnson says. “They also
report better relationships with professors and instructors and
see them as an academic resource.”
He has also found that the older students report higher levels
of intrinsic motivation and interest, which could be attributed in
part to having a clearer view of their goals.
Johnson believes that his findings contradict the cultural
stereotypes about older students. “I think there is public
perception that nontraditional students are challenged
academically and the odds are stacked against them, but in
reality they have more adaptive psychological characteristics
and these students tend to fare pretty well,” he says.
Age diversity benefits schools
Older students may also have a slight advantage when it comes
to grasping course content simply because they have often had
more opportunities to encounter different people.
“Their life experience can help them come into the program
Robyn El-Bardai, 74, says it is never too late to return to school. After working in education and personnel management for 30 years,
she decided to apply to psychology graduate school to pursue her lifelong interest in helping immigrants and refugees.