Younger online college studentsHow much should your age affect your decision between earning a degree on-campus or online? A distance learning education has long appealed to older students who need the flexible schedule to balance their courses – and coursework – with family and work responsibilities. Today, though, more young college students than ever are enrolling in online classes.

Shifting Student Populations

In the past, online college has been primarily sought-after by nontraditional students. These students are typically older than 25-years-old. In fact, 25- to 29-year-olds make up the largest age group among online college students, according to EdTech magazine. Many of these online students are working full-time and studying part-time. Some are changing careers, while others are military personnel looking to earn a civilian education to go along with their experience in the armed forces.

However, online college is increasingly capturing the attention of younger students, according to U.S. News & World Report. Students under age 25 made up just 25 percent of online college students in 2012, according to U.S. News. In 2015, 34 percent – a full third – of all online college students surveyed were younger than 25 years of age, according to an annual report by The Learning House, Inc., and Aslanian Market Research, which points to “a trend emerging for younger students.”

Why is the number of young college students enrolling in online courses on the increase? The appeal of the flexibility, convenience and cost-effectiveness of an online college education transcends age groups.

Traditional Vs. Nontraditional Students

Generally, you can start taking online college courses at any age as long as you meet entrance requirements like having a high school diploma or GED. Students can and do begin online college courses even when they’re fresh out of high school. While students who have only recently finished a traditional high school education might find the adjustment to independent online learning more difficult than they expected, they can certainly succeed with enough discipline and dedication.

Traditional and nontraditional students often have different education needs, so they may be looking for different things in an online college degree program. For example, older students who are more interested in a self-directed learning style that allows them to make discoveries for themselves might want to enroll in a school where programs are tailored for adult learning styles, but younger students who don’t have as much life experience to build on may feel lost in such a program. Young students who are eager to have the full “college experience,” not just the education and corresponding degree, may want to seek out schools that offer virtual and face-to-face networking events, clubs and extracurricular activities.

As you weigh your academic options, it’s important to know that an online education is an available choice regardless of your age. You also need to keep in mind what factors matter most to your age group and to you personally, so you can choose the best educational fit for you.