At USC, more than 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students are 40 years or older.
Obtaining higher education is not meant for any specific age groups, it is meant for everyone. Sure, most undergraduate students are typically between 18 and 22 years old, but that does not apply to every student. There are plenty of students who do not identify with the “normal” college age but that does not make them any different from the larger student body.
Everyone comes from a different background and different circumstances that may impact the time and place they may obtain a college education. For instance, there are 1,200 enrolled veterans at USC per semester. It’s important to avoid making generalizations when it comes to age and education and be more inclusive of others.
Those within the average college student age should be more informed and aware of the wider range of individuals that make up the entire student community on college campuses, specifically here at USC — without treating them differently. You would not ask a 20-year-old looking student how old they are, so why ask a 30-or 40-year-old looking student? Why does it matter how old they are? They are here for the exact same reason you are, which is to get a college education.
Ageism is not something that is often as heightened as something such as sexism. But it is just as prevalent. Like sexism, it is a form of prejudice but on the grounds of a person’s age. Older students are often stigmatized on campus because they are generally underrepresented. People may make assumptions or stereotypes — or as mentioned, ask their age — which can be intrusive or make one feel uncomfortable. That is not to say that younger students should not ask older students questions if they are just curious about their life path, but they should be more mindful with what kinds of questions they may ask and how.
At USC, 38.3% of students are ages 25 and over. This population of students may be made up of veterans, working parents, international student or simply those who desired the opportunity for a college education. There is an array of diverse students on campus who all have a story that led them here. These stories can be shared with others and conversations are invited. But it is important to be respectful of others and inclusive.
Yes, older students exist on campus. Yes, they may stand out in a lecture filled with a majority of students who recently graduated from high school. No, asking their age because you’re just “curious” is not appropriate because it can make someone feel uncomfortable or put on the spot. Instead invite them for a conversation like you would with any other student and share your stories with one another. Be open-minded about other people’s pathways and know that there is more than one.
Not everyone on campus is part of the “average.” But that’s what makes USC a more diverse community.