The Best U.S. Cities for Going Back to School as an Adult

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Going back to school as an adult and earning your degree is a remarkable achievement, as not everyone chooses to pursue higher education immediately after high school. There are numerous reasons why individuals may opt to go to college later in life. Perhaps you were dedicated to raising a family, encountered financial challenges or gained valuable experience in a trade. Regardless of the circumstances, it is never too late to return to campus, whether in person or virtually to embark on a new career path. In fact, roughly one-third of student enrollments in post-secondary institutions are comprised of students aged 25 and older, underscoring the keen interest of adult learners.1

In This Article:

With the aim of supporting and inspiring all students in their pursuit of completing a degree, Grand Canyon University (GCU), in collaboration with Grand Canyon Education (GCE), set out to uncover the best cities for adults looking to complete their degrees. Keep reading to unveil the top cities for future graduates!

Methodology for Identifying the Best Cities for Adults Returning to College

To determine which cities offer the best options for adults returning to college, we started by analyzing 10 factors for 100 of the largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas based on population, according to the Census.2

We first pulled data from the sources listed in the below table for each city in our analysis. Based on the ranges associated with each factor, we translated the raw data into a score on a scale from zero to five, with five indicating the most favorable conditions for nontraditional students returning to school and zero indicating the least favorable. Each factor was weighted equally. Nontraditional students include those who returned to college one or more years after graduating high school or those who attended school on a part-time basis.3

Each of the scaled factor scores was multiplied by two and added together for a total possible score of 100. The final city score is based on the total weights (20) times the highest possible factor score (5) for a possible total score of 100. A perfect score of 100 would indicate the best city for going back to school as an adult, based on these factors. Below is a complete list of the factors analyzed, sources used and weights assigned.

To determine the best cities to go back to school, we compared each U.S. city across these criteria and weighted each:

Ranking Factor


No. of no-cost Wi-Fi hotspots (per 100,000)


No. of coffee shops (per 100,000)


Percent of population with access to 1 Gig


Average internet cost (per month)


Number of internet providers (per 100,000)


Percent of adults with a computer and internet subscription

U.S. Census8

Number of public universities

National Center for Education Statistics9

Number of private universities

National Center for Education Statistics9

Average acceptance rate


Average graduation rate



Key Findings on Adults Returning to College

  • Washington, D.C., is deemed the best U.S. city for the adult student to go back to school thanks to its high graduation rate (63.5%) and great access to the internet with 99.40% of the population having access to 1 GB internet speeds.10,6
  • New Orleans, Louisiana, ranks second with 109.5 hotspots per 100,000 residents and 100% of the city has access to 1 GB internet speeds.4,6
  • Denver, Colorado, rounds out the top three with a high acceptance rate of 83.1%. The city also offers a conducive environment for studying, thanks to its abundance of coffee shops (12.4 per 100K residents) to get work done.10,5

The 15 Best U.S. Cities for the Adult Student Returning to School

U.S. map showcasing the 15 best U.S. cities to go back to school

Adults returning to college often face the challenge of juggling multiple responsibilities, including family, work and online courses. To determine the cities where adult learners are most likely to thrive in their educational pursuits, we carefully assessed various factors, such as acceptance rates, graduation rates, access to the internet and more.

1. Washington, D.C.

Placing No. 1 on our list is Washington, D.C., which features a city score of 70.50 out of 100. D.C. boasts 40 internet providers and roughly 19.5 free Wi-Fi hotspots per 100K residents.6,4

D.C. is home to adult public charter schools, which are specifically designed to cater to adults beyond the traditional high school setting. These schools offer a range of programs, including those focused on helping the adult student population attain the equivalent of a GED and enroll in industry-specific programs.11

2. New Orleans, Louisiana

Adult learners can succeed in New Orleans, Louisiana, which ranks No. 2 with a score of 69.50 out of 100. New Orleans is home to 39 internet providers and an outstanding 92.21% of adults have access to both a computer and an internet subscription, ensuring widespread connectivity and technological resources for educational pursuits.6,8

In New Orleans, the Youth Empowerment Project offers programs specifically designed to empower adults in their educational journeys. This organization helps adults enroll in postsecondary education and training programs, while also providing crucial support in navigating the complex landscape of financial aid.12

3. Denver, Colorado

Coming in No. 3 is Denver, Colorado, which received a city score of 67.90 out of 100. Denver features roughly 39.9 free Wi-Fi hotspots per 100K residents and 46 internet providers.4,6

Colorado has forged a valuable partnership with the REACH Collaborative, a crucial initiative focused on supporting the educational aspirations of the adult student population. This collaborative effort aims to address the financial barriers faced by nontraditional students and foster increased graduation rates within the Colorado community college system, showcasing Colorado’s effort toward adults returning to college.13

4. Seattle, Washington

Placing No. 4 on our list is Seattle, Washington, which received a city score of 67.10 out of 100. Seattle boasts an impressive ratio of 13.36 coffee shops per 100,000 residents, which provides a welcoming atmosphere for studying, especially for those who are going back to school as an adult. Moreover, the state of Washington is home to an extensive educational landscape, with 35 public universities.5,9

Seattle serves as a hub for educational institutions that cater to the specific needs of older adults, offering a wide range of professional programs and workshops. Adults may sign up to become firefighters, counselors, interpreters and more, which may be one reason why they’re high on our list.14

5. Colorado Springs, Colorado

Following close behind is Colorado Springs, Colorado, which received a city score of 66.80 out of 100. Colorado Springs received high marks due to having 82.59 free Wi-Fi hot spots per 100K residents.4

Colorado is actively fostering a supportive environment for older adults completing a degree through the implementation of the Finish What You Started Program. This program provides support to students with some college experience, as well as those without a degree and/or those who applied in previous years but did not attend college, creating a path forward for students to attain their degree.15

Top 100 U.S. Cities for Adults Completing a Degree


Curious if your city is an ideal destination for returning to school? Take a deeper dive into the top 100 cities on our list and explore key findings such as the average acceptance rate, graduation rate, number of coffee shops per 100,000 people and much more!

Phoenix, Arizona, (GCU’s hometown) offers a wealth of digital connectivity options for its residents. Phoenix features 20.93 free Wi-Fi hotspots per 100,000 residents, ensuring that quality internet services are within reach for students. Roughly 98.30% of the population in Phoenix has access to high-speed internet, which is important for those who are completing a degree online. 4,6

Closing Thoughts on Going Back to School As an Adult

While certain cities are well-suited for adults returning to school, others may lack the necessary infrastructure and support. At GCU, we understand the unique needs of nontraditional students and provide a multitude of options for adults heading back to school. We offer flexible online courses and evening classes that can work with your schedule.

As an adult student, you may be interested in graduating sooner, which is why we developed programs like our accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing, which allows you to apply previous credits toward your degree, combining them with online learning for a more efficient path to graduation.

Moreover, GCU offers a wide range of programs that can be completed entirely online, empowering you to create a learning schedule that fits your lifestyle. At GCU, we prioritize supporting your educational endeavors so that you can position yourself to excel in any field, armed with a degree that reflects your dedication and commitment to lifelong learning!


1 National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.) Student Enrollment: How Many Students Ages 25 and Over Enroll in Postsecondary Institutions in the Fall? Retrieved on June 21, 2023

2 United States Census Bureau. (n.d.) Total Population. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

3 Muniz, Hannah. (2023, May 24). What Is a Nontraditional Student. Best Colleges. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

4 WiFi Map. (n.d.) Cities With Free WiFi in the United States. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

5 The Real Yellow Pages. (n.d.) Discover Local. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

6 BroadbandNow. (n.d.) Find Every Internet Provider in Your Area. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

7 Numbeo. (n.d.) Cost of Living. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

8 United States Census Bureau. (n.d.) B28012 Age and Enrollment Status by Computer Ownership and Internet Subscription Status. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

9 National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.) IPEDS. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

10 Univistats. (n.d.) Academic Statistics by State. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

11 Coffin, Chelsea & Rubin, Julie. (2023, May 23). D.C.’s Adult Public Charter Schools: Who They Serve, How They Serve, and What They Achieve. D.C. Policy Center. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

12 Youth Empowerment Project. (n.d.) YEP Educates. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

13 Gonzales, Jason. (2021, September 29). Colorado Joins National Effort to Help Older Students Access Community College. CPR News. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

14 Williams, Allison. (2012, November 28). Adult and Continuing Education. SeattleMet. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

15 Colorado Department of Higher Education. (n.d.) Finish What You Started Provider. Retrieved on June 21, 2023.

Approved by Executive Director of Office of Communications and Public Relations on July 17, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.