Getting ready to go to college soon? If you’re just finishing up high school, you may think you know ALL the changes in college trends over the last 10 years, but in reality you probably don’t. And if you’ve already been to college once, but now (after being in the workforce for a while) you’re going back to school for a 2.0 career change, well, most likely you’re in for a rude awakening. The truth is college has changed more in the last 10 than it has since the birth of our nation—which means going back to school may not be quite what you expected.

But it’s the big departures from old school that seem to make everyone’s head spin. So even if you’re just thinking about enrolling in the higher halls of learning, it might behoove you to use these next few languishing months of summer vacation to educate yourself on the new college frontier BEFORE you commit to anything. It’s not that college is any scarier than it’s ever been, it’s just different than it used to be. And nothing illustrates those differences more than these four new trends that are cropping up on college campuses all over the country.

  1. Age Before Beauty
  2. Used to be colleges were synonymous with young, attractive co-eds (who were barely old enough to vote) running from one frat party to the next, wasting “Daddy’s money” on an education that taught them little more than how to create the perfect beer bong. Not anymore. According to the education blog, Edvisors, 38 percent of all college students are over age 25, and they are serious about their educations. Even schools like Harvard and Notre Dame are seeing their average student age creep up to 27. Why? The reasons are varied:

      People seeking career changes
      College costs going up (forcing people to put off college to work first and save up tuition)
      Job competition on the rise
      People enlisting in the armed forces now, to get a free education later

    College is no longer just fun and games, and nothing reflects that more than the new (wrinkled) face of the earnest student who is there to learn. The irony? This new demographic is old enough to legally drink, but is often too tired from studying to go out and party.

  3. Distance Learning
  4. If the face of the average college student has aged, then the campus itself has morphed into a computer screen. Distance learning, sometimes referred to as online college, has gone from a community ed novelty to a legitimate way for students to earn college degrees. Nearly four million people take some form of accredited college courses via distance learning, with almost every major college and university participating. And why not? It’s easy, it keeps costs down, and people don’t have to quit their day jobs to go back to school. And let’s be honest; once you have your degree very few employers care about the nuts and bolts of how you earned it.

  5. Technology Over Textbooks
  6. Textbooks used to add up to hundreds of dollars per term for any poor, starving college student. And boy, were they a bear to lug around. But now many of those same books fit nicely onto a smart phone, iPod, or laptop. Oh, you can still print them out and fill notebooks full of tree-eating paper, if you like. But the nice thing is, you don’t have to. Technology has changed the format of assigned college reading, to e-books, PDF files, blogs, and websites. Plus, students can communicate with their instructors via email, Twitter, Facebook, or comments on a blogsite. Some teachers even require their students to set up their own blogs as a means of submitting work.

  7. Foreign Campus, American Degree
  8. Used to be that if you wanted to travel you waited until after you graduated from college to do so, but now more students than ever are making the world their classrooms. Fortunately, it’s easy for them to do, since many American colleges and universities have set up satellite campuses in foreign countries. Originally designed to attract foreign students to American schools (without making them incur the expense of relocating to the United States), many American students have figured out that they, too, can attend these foreign-American schools and still obtain the same degree as if they stayed at home. The Institute of International Education reports that 260,327 American students studied outside the U.S. for college credit during the 2008/2009 school year (up 150 percent since 2000) proving that if students have opportunities to learn abroad they’ll take advantage of them.

Of course, none of these new trends should discourage you from starting or returning to college. On the contrary, with technology in the mix distance learning opens the doors to a whole new world of possibilities for the student who has to hold down a job while attending school. With all the changes we’re seeing in how people go to college many of the traditional barriers that kept people out of school are coming down, which means you have to ask yourself, “Is the time right for me to go back to school?” Could be the answer is yes.

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