Should You Try to Fit In?

If you are returning to education after a break of several years or more, chances are that when you go back, you will be concerned about being significantly older than most of your fellow students. This can put a lot of pressure on you to want to conform to their social conventions, or it can also make you feel like you’re an outsider if you don’t try to fit in with them. But should you even set those standards for yourself, to try to fit in with people who may not be in your age group or have the same extra-curricular interests as you?

It might put your mind at ease to know that mature students are becoming more and more common, and in fact you might not stand out as much as you thought you would. When I went back to college after nearly a ten-year break, I was worried sick that I’d be surrounded by a lot of young kids that I had nothing in common with, and who would see me as being more of a parent figure than a fellow student. As it turned out, those fears were completely unfounded — not only were there plenty of students my age at the college, a lot of the students were several decades older than I was, and they seemed to be getting along just fine. These days, increasing numbers of people are either waiting to get their degrees, or going back to school after a long absence. It’s not all about the youngsters anymore, and there’s no reason to feel like an outsider if you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or even older.

One thing I observed through watching some of the older students at my college is that those who made an effort to try to conform to the social standards of the younger crowd were, ironically, the ones who fit in the least. People can see right through you if you’re not being sincere about who you are, and when that happens, often no one will want to be around you at all. No matter what age you are, you have something unique to offer, both educationally and personally, within the college community, and there’s no mileage in trying to pretend to be a young party-hard co-ed when you much prefer a quiet evening at home. You might be surprised to find, also, that some of the younger students will appreciate your experience and unique perspective on life outside of college, especially since most of them haven’t really been through much of it yet.

Education is of course about learning, but the social aspects can make your time in school either very easy or very difficult. The good news is, no one expects you to be someone you’re not, and with the range of student ages in today’s post-secondary institutions, the chances that you’ll see people in your age group are greater than ever, and even if you don’t, you’ll still find that people will appreciate you for who you are and what you have to offer, rather than measuring you by your birthdate.