What Age Do You
Graduate College?

Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M. • 10 Minute Read

Individuals choose to attend college for different reasons influenced by several factors. The age they start, how long it takes, and the age they graduate college differ from person to person. According to the US Employment Rate 2017 trend, 86% of college graduates have a job while only 57% of high-school only graduates have a job.

Learn more about the real life circumstances that face college graduates on a daily basis, and what graduating typically entails in the life of a college student. 

It is no secret that having a college degree increases the chances of a successful career. However, parents sometimes have fears over the rigor and autonomy of college life and consider it daunting for their children. While some others pressure their children to attend college outside of their own interests and priorities.

Some students have no idea of what career they want to be in at the time of High school graduation. When it comes to college education, have you ever considered how young is too young or how old is too old? Or even more interestingly, does age matter? From different angles, we'll consider the right age to graduate college in this article.

College Graduate Age: What Is The Average Age Of A College Graduate

On average, college students graduate with a bachelor's degree at 23-25. Students usually start considering going to college during their compulsory secondary education.

Typically, these students are 17-18 years of age, in their last year of secondary education, and start applying for college if they pick an interest. Exceptions exist, however, like in the case of Michael Kearney, who is the youngest college graduate ever according to the Guinness World Book Record. Michael was born in Honolulu, HI, where he was homeschooled by his mother. Even though diagnosed with ADHD, Kearney began to read at 10 months old and finished his high school education in one year. He holds a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees.  Kearney's college route may have been nontraditional, but certainly successful. Michael graduated from college at the age of ten. Yeah, you heard right! Ten. Research has shown there are quite a number of individuals who graduated before becoming teens or as teens.

Traditional full-time students who start at the age of about 18 graduate college at 23 years, whereas independent students over 24 years of age graduate college at about 32 years. Traditional full-time students are more likely to graduate college within 4 to 6 yrs of enrollment. In 2018, only 62 percent of students had completed their 4-year bachelor's degree started in 2012. According to these statistics, it is clear that the longer you wait to enroll in college, the more time you will take to graduate. It is also clear that quite a number of students who start do not finish college at the right time or at all. 

Depression, finances, loss of interest cause some students to stay longer in college.

For some years, the conversation about equity in higher education has focused on the serious gaps in access for black and Hispanic people. It is also evident that getting into college is not enough; black and Hispanic students are also much less likely to graduate. Aside from student success, career success disparities exist. When gender disparities are taken into consideration, inequalities are even starker. For example, white men earn bachelor's degrees in engineering at roughly 6x the rate of Hispanic women and more than 11x the rate of black women. 

Individuals have different reasons for attending college, and this influences when they start and end. Some feedback on Quora shows common reasons why people attend college. Some went to college to gain knowledge and experience for the possibility of a thriving career; others went out of fear of missing out, some for the need for freedom and job security.

Interestingly, a Professor named Marc stated his own personal reason: "I pursued college because I was 27 with no marketable skills and had no job security. I was a laborer, and I did not possess the physical fortitude that such a job requires. I decided to go back to college to earn a degree in education. I never looked back as I have earned 3 degrees and am working on a 4th. College is not for everyone, but it is there for all who will give it a try. There are plenty of other ways to gain knowledge, but college provides a systematic manner on focusing on a particular topic where your accomplishments are documented for anyone to examine." Well, Prof. Marc was a bit older than the average age for college, but he was able to develop a strong 'why' for going to college, and this gave him enough grit to pursue degrees up to four times, even ignoring the age he'll have to graduate.

Some others, like Marilyn, did not choose to go to college but considered it a norm that she had to follow through. Whether it be fear, or compulsion, or job security, irrespective of the reason, grit is needed to stay through with college till graduation. On some occasions, it might take time to develop the grit, so starting might be later than usual; however, it is much better than starting without it and not finishing the college education. Having a 'why' that is self-convincing enough will give you the grit to start and complete college irrespective of age.

Just like Michael Kearney and Professor Marc, age is really not an issue. But, we cannot ignore the benefits of attending and graduating from college at the regular 23-25 years age bracket. Because college is more than just gaining knowledge, it is important to attend one that makes interactions easier for you. It is paramount to have classmates in college whom you can easily relate to and make friends with. This can be very helpful for a good college experience and for completing your college degree quickly and easily.

So it is typically advised to find a college that fits your exact age-specific needs. This will help you get more comfortable with the college you enroll in. However, for others not within the common age bracket, being friendly and open can help navigate through this challenge, as others should be receptive in return.

18-24-year-old students transition smoothly to a good career, though this depends on whether they are really interested in college, what they majored in, and the reputation of the college they graduated from. We all know that not all traditional students who graduate college make a successful career for themselves. Some were too young to take college seriously and might not graduate or graduate with bad grades.

A lot of students enter college at this age bracket due to societal or/and parental pressure rather than upon exploring their personal options and interests, as stated earlier in this article. So rather than quickly hoping to go to college right after high school like everybody else, it is advisable that students observe the options and the varieties of suitable degrees and college majors to choose from. This increases their chances of future career success and job satisfaction.

It is true that the sooner a college student graduates, the sooner they can get the right job opportunities, so the age at graduation is definitely of some importance. But, it is even more important to have the right mindset for serious college learning and for starting one's career, irrespective of the age upon graduation.

Some students take a year break after high school to figure themselves out or discover their passions or interests while travelling. Age should not stop you from starting college. However, it is best to finish college and graduate on time. The longer you spend in college, the more you’re likely to lose motivation.

How To Graduate On Time (Or Before It’s Expected)

In conclusion, we'll look at strategies that can be considered to finish college on time or even early:

If you want to graduate early, taking fast-track courses can help. Without sacrificing the quality of education, you get, or accreditation universities have started offering accelerated classes online.

For instance, rather than stay in class for 15 weeks, you can take fast-track online courses for a lesser time. This will require more hard work and effort from you, though. This can be considered if you are diligent enough to follow through with it and come out with good grades.

Also, similar work experience in your area of study can help you earn college credit. The work experiences or training must, however, coincide with the instruction you'd get in the classroom. Education doesn't always have to be limited to a classroom, and certain universities recognize this and can give you some university credits. This can help you graduate earlier than the regular length. This is of great benefit to older students who have had some job experience and want a college degree to further pursue the career they were already on.

Taking some examinations like the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) can help you earn credit. The DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) is also an available examination program for a variety of subjects; once passed students can earn college credit. Just like the CLEP, this exam program is widely accepted, and more than 1,900 colleges and universities accept DSST credit. Taking these exams can help reduce the time spent in college.

As much as student success is important, career success is also essential because that's the whole essence of going to college in the first place. Once you have clarity on what interest or career path you want to take, you can accelerate quickly in your career journey. There really should be no pressure on what is or what isn't the best age to graduate. It is best to take your time, know what you want for a career and then go for it.

Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
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Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
Related Articles
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