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"Old" undergraduate

Alice,

I am over 26 years old but I still am an undergraduate student. I find myself constantly hanging out with people much younger than I am and I sometimes feel out of place. Is it wrong to hangout with a younger college crowd?

Sincerely,
Old undergraduate

Dear Old undergraduate, 

Finding yourself in situations where you have social support, connections, and fun can be invigorating. By that token, there’s nothing right or wrong about hanging out with a younger crowd unless you begin to feel that the relationship is one-sided. That said, it’s not unusual to question your current situation and it may be time to do some self-reflecting. Have you considered what it means for you to be friends with someone regardless of their age? Consider exploring whether your feelings of uncertainty are related to age alone or something else. You might also search around to find other communities or connections that align with your interests. You might find it helpful to focus more on the benefits of being friends with your classmates and less on their age. 

Depending on your surroundings, you may have a lot in common with the people you connect with, or you may come from very different backgrounds and life experiences. With this in mind, being friends with a younger group may have its perks. Perhaps it helps you reclaim part of young adulthood, maybe you serve as a mentor for some of them, or maybe they're just plain fun to be around. On the other hand, it's also possible that hanging out with your younger classmates may not be meeting your needs for friendship. Perhaps you feel as if they can't fully relate to your experiences, or they can't form as deep of a connection with you as you would like. Maybe there are even cultural references that they miss (or that you miss) because of the age differences. 

In addition to reflecting on what you get out of your relationships with your younger peers, you might reflect on why you feel out of place with them. Consider taking the time to identify what might be behind your perceived social divide exploring such questions as: 

  • Do you feel included in your younger peers’ activities or conversations? 
  • Are you familiar with the topics they typically discuss? Do you share interests? 
  • Are you able to find common ground in your values, beliefs, and priorities? 
  • Do you feel like they can relate to your experience in school and life (and vice versa)? 
  • Do they check in with you to see how you're doing, and do you do the same? 
  • Are you able to spend time with them in your preferred manner, whether that be group outings or smaller one-on-one time? 

Thinking through some of these questions may help you pinpoint why you feel the way you do. Having these answers may then allow you some clarity about whether you’d like to continue with these relationships or begin to look for another community on campus (or beyond) that meets your wants and needs. 

The good news is that colleges and universities usually offer a number of opportunities for connection with other folks on campus. One place you may choose to start your search is by looking into student organizations. What do you like to do outside of class? An option for meeting folks could be joining groups that center around activities or hobbies that you are interested in or enjoy. To that end, it could be a good idea to check for flyers on campus or online for different student organizations. Trying out a few out and continuing to go back to the ones you enjoy might allow you to make new friends. Not finding a club or organization that piques your interest? Maybe you can create one yourself! 

Colleges and universities often also have resources available to students that have taken a non-traditional path into higher education. It’s likely there are other students like you that are pursuing their undergraduate degree and are feeling similarly about their relationship. It may also be a matter of branching out from your immediate classmates and trying to make connections with students from other departments or education levels. You might consider starting to study in a library that typically houses graduate students that may be closer to your age. You might also ask around to find out where older students hang out, rather than where the young undergraduates go, if you’d like to be around folks your own age. 

The world is also so much bigger than just your school. If nothing on campus is a good match for you, you might try to pursue your hobbies in the community. Consider checking out different recreational activities like sports or creative outlets in the local town or city. If you’re interested in starting a new hobby, you might try doing a quick internet search of what's available in your area. Lastly, there are a number of meet-up groups on various social platforms that you might try out. 

Here's hoping this provided some friend-making fodder for you as you continue your time on campus. Whether you stick with your younger peers or explore other places and spaces for friendly folks closer to your age, it's never a bad idea to consider expanding your horizons a bit. 

Good luck! 

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Last updated Sep 01, 2023
Originally published Jan 27, 1995

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