How Old is Too Old to Start College?

When I look back to earlier this year at my decision to go to the U.S., I remember how scary it was.  I was dropping my studies in my own country, Indonesia, to enroll at a college in America, and I had many worries before making this decision.  Questions suddenly rushed into my mind: Am I physically too short? Will people make fun of my funny accent? Will I be able to adapt to their environment?

Nola Ochs oldest college graduate (AP Photo)
Is 22 too old to start college in the US? This is Nola Ochs, who graduated Fort Hays State University at age 95. (AP Photo)

But what worried me the most was this question: Am I too old to enroll to college now?

Let me tell you about my situation at the time. I was registered as an accounting major at Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung, Indonesia. Earlier in 2010, I found out that my father would be posted to the Indonesian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and he asked me whether I wanted to go too and continue my studies in the U.S.

Should I start over?

It was already my sixth semester when I got this news, so I didn’t know how to respond to his offer. After getting some moral support from my counselor and my friends, I started to search for information about college life in the U.S. I looked it up in the internet and looked at some college websites. I went to Edlink Indonesia and AMINEF to get advice.

At AMINEF, when the counselor found out that I was 21, she assumed that I was applying for a graduate program. It was a funny misunderstanding, but at that exact moment, it struck me that I may be too old to start over pursuing my studies at a new college.

Age became my biggest worry about studying in the U.S.

When I applied to Montgomery College, I had just turned 22. Back in my country, it’s not a common thing to start pursuing an undergraduate degree at that age. 22 seemed too old to start studying in college. At least, that’s what I thought at that time.

Finding my peers

My first class at Montgomery College was an ESL class for international students, which I took in the summer before I was set to start my undergraduate degree there. We started by introducing ourselves, and I quickly found out that most of my classmates were even older than me. Some of them were already married and had a job.

My ESL class. Rule #1: Do not hit on the married girls.

My professor even expressed sympathy for the male students in our class, because all the girls were married and we couldn’t hit on any of them.

I remember having a conversation about this topic with an Ethiopian guy that I met while we both were in line waiting for the international student adviser. Out of nowhere, he asked me to guess his age. Trust me, it was awkward! There was definite silence until I answered his question. I made a wild guess and said that he looked 28, just to be polite. It turned out that I had the wrong answer; he was actually 30. And then he asked me if I thought that he was too old to go to college.

I told him that age is not a problem. But in my own head I added, “Maybe.” I still just wasn’t sure at that time.

But in this current semester, I became more open minded about this age issue. Apparently, a lot of adult students take courses in my major. There is even a person in one of my classes who is older than the professor. I started to realize that this is a common thing in the U.S., and people don’t mind adult students pursuing their studies.

Greetings from Salam

My friend Salam from Ethiopia told that her mother started college in the U.S. when she was 53 years old. Everybody around encouraged her, and as a result, she became an honor student. Salam herself started college in the U.S. at the age of 23 to study photography.

Stephanie, a friend from South Korea, told me she thinks that adults have an advantage over younger students and can actually be more successful. The reason is that adult students don’t want to waste their time anymore and this makes them study hard. She is 38, and is going to college in order to get a better job.

If right now anyone asked me if age is a problem, I would answer with great confidence: “Age is just a number. Don’t worry, be happy.”

21 comments

  1. i understand about your decision, to mee there is no late word for study and get new knowledge, age is only a number mate ryan! !! Regards Zodick HALLOBANJO :)).

  2. Ur a good writter,u learnt alot in dc. i luv this..me too i always worries bout my age.unmarry here..i like ur quote age is just a number,dont worry,be happy..

  3. Very nice explanation Ryan!
    According to my personal experience, when I started my bachelor degree, I was just 18 and when I graduated I was 22. But after five years, Now I realize that I studied my bachelor degree too early because when studied we did not focus much on our future, our stupid minds were only engaged and filled with such fool and stupid ideas that let’s finish this then was not thinking about anything else like master, Phd or any further studies. Since I graduated from University, as time passes my absorption of understanding and comprehension skills of learning have increased. It means I can catch, understand and comprehend easily and quickly when reading something. Well, it might be varied person to other. I think as human get more mature, experience and insight, He/She can easily learn and absorb higher lessons. Because maturity, experience of learning things in life can lead one in better and easily understanding of theoretical knowledge. So, if one study in a higher education institution the more later, the most they can get most of it. well definitely, also a limit should be considered for higher studies like between the ages of 25 and 40 in my opinion is the perfect age. That is why this period is called golden period of human age. So, in older age (25 -40) people not only have enough time but also have enough maturity, experience about things in life, have lots of pictures of things in their minds, enough feelings of understanding and quit enough comprehension when reading or listening.

  4. hahaha
    i just can smile when i read it.
    yep yep, umur hanyalah sebuah angka.
    the important thing is ‘Who am I’.
    SEMANKA!!! ‘semangat kakak!!’

  5. for me personally,what worried me the most is = ‘am i physically too short???’
    nice article ryan..
    i hope someday i could go to US and we could meet again…just like the old time

  6. HORAY! finally you made this first posting! ^_^

    gw lanjut pk bhasa indonesia aja ah.. 😛
    umur cm angka yan..
    dan blajar tuh bisa kapan aja..
    mau tua muda yg penting semangatnya!!!

    eh, blogging lagi dong..
    cerita soal hal2 yg unik selama lo di USA.. 🙂

  7. anyway,thanks for your article ,really very nice for your story,it’s true,age just a number,forgot it,don’t care about it,some one told me ,it’s never to later to learn,so just do it,if you dream it,don’t care your age,if someone ask such sensitive topic about age ,just a lot of confidence as well,as far as i know,many success people going to college after they are successfuly,of course,they have the old age compared with fresh man in college,but they totally not care about that,just want achieve them dream which they lost the opportunity when they are young.if you hesitate about your age,maybe u will regret many years later,so if you dream it ,just do it,don’t care about anything,such as your age.

  8. hey ryan, nice post i really like you’re posting. age just number but knowledge not about the age, is about for the desire to learn the age is not a problem.

  9. Ryan!!! I don’t know why but I am very happy reading your writing again after you stopped updating your old blog.
    Well, agree with you! Age is just a matter of number, that’s not some kind of expired date for study!
    Bon courage pour apprandre la bas, ryaaann! Tu me manque beaucoup!!

  10. Uber-cool article, dude! Speaking frankly, you’re getting older is a problem, but when you do get wiser as well it will become a wonderful thing. Enjoy ur every moment, sweet ryan. I miss you a thousand miles!

  11. wooow !

    i dont think age is the problem, but dont waste ur age for thinking about what will you do in the future, lets do something
    And i think u start to do something rab !

  12. Thanks for the article Ryan, it encourages me to continue learning regardless of age, not that I’m old.. Hahaha

  13. Ohh Ryan, i never knew you were worried. I am 24 years old with one kid. Just got accepted to further my postgraduate degree, my semester will commence next year in Feb. I might be the oldest student in my class later, but i dream BIG! So let’s compete who gets the better GPA.

    your ex classmate

  14. Hello Ryan! Really nice article. This question is serious,this is sure. But the paradox is I think that it’s people like you (that is to say young but older than some other students) who are the more sensitive to this topic. Generally as the differents post say older students (above 30) take their decisions very seriously with a strong motivation. I’m French and in France, the feeling is frequently the same as in Indonesia (people could easily consider that 22 is perhaps too old to start studying in the University). Nevertheless, it is frequent to see quite old student (from 25 to 70 sometimes). For each age there is a valuable reason to go to the University (an opportunity to begin a new education or to study in a foreign country ; an opportunity to boost one’s career with a fast and recognized degree (MBA, LLM) or simply the willingness to acquire new knowledge ( For my part, when I began studying in the University a retired person was in my class (of more than 350 persons), you can’t imagine how he enjoyed to study and become friend with people who were younger than his own son!).
    So nice article Ryan, be still high motivated for what you learn and be sure that you could seize many job opportunities later!
    Best regards.

  15. this is really motivate people who want to study at college but worry about their age.
    age is just number. as long as your brain works, you can learn everything you want and get, right? 😀
    congrats for the cool article, yan..
    i proud of you.
    *stop galau! yeaayy!!!*

  16. I learnt alot from your writing. I become optimistic now for my college studying. Thanks for this!

  17. Thanks a lot Ryan for the motivation you give me. I’m 21, I entered college at 19, and being a lazy guys who failed to progress, been deferring and helping father’s business until now. U make me feel like I’m too young to think about age lol. Thanks again, wish you best of luck in the future m8

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