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More People in Their 40s and 50s Are Pursuing Graduate Degrees

Photo credit: iStock/Wavebreak

Photo credit: iStock/Wavebreak

When asked to conjure an image of the typical graduate student, most would describe a messenger-bag-toting twenty-something regardless of discipline. And though they’re not incorrect (historically, graduate students have fallen within this age range), we’re currently seeing an influx of graduate students in the 40 to 50 demographic. 

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, in 2013, there were 358,577 graduate students enrolled between ages 40 and 49, and 198,386 graduate students enrolled between ages 50 and 59. Though these were once considered nontraditional students, they actually demonstrate a trend toward older Americans pursuing graduate degrees beyond the traditional timeframe.

The reasons for the burgeoning interest in graduate programs are many. They range from a longing for continued learning to a desire for a mid-career change. Lucky for them, many graduate programs cater to both ends of that spectrum by allowing for customization within the company.

At Villanova University, for instance, the Master’s degree in Liberal Studies offers students the chance to take 30 credits in a wide variety of subjects to ensure a holistic and cross-discipline curriculum. In fact, students may take only three courses in any one graduate department, with the exception of Liberal Studies itself. From Irish-American literature to Roman Enlightenment, the courses available allow students — who may be returning to the classroom for the first time in 20 or 30 years — the opportunity to explore many of their interests, and perhaps discover new ones.

Villanova’s program is particularly attractive for this demographic because almost all courses are offered in the late afternoon and evening. Plus, many are available year round. That way, students can pursue their master’s in conjunction with other responsibilities.

As they complete their coursework, students are tasked to complete a thesis or project aided by a Villanova advisor. Upon completion, students can use the thesis/project to inform continued graduate studies, or it may be applicable for a possible career change.

AARP suggests that older Americans are looking beyond traditional volunteering and other recreational activities. Staying sharp and pursuing a graduate degree is one way to do that. After all, wasn’t it Albert Einstein who famously said: “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death”?

For more information about pursuing a Master’s degree in Liberal Studies at Villanova University, click here.