There has been a lot of talk about nontraditional students in higher education. These are students who have not followed the traditional path to college, such as those returning after raising families or those who are returning after having worked for a long time. This article will explain what it means to be a nontraditional student and explore some of the challenges that they face.
So Exactly Is a Nontraditional Student?
A nontraditional student is an older student who was not in college as a teenager or young adult. Nontraditional students can be returning to higher education after a long absence, or they may have been working full-time while raising a family before deciding to return to college.
Nontraditional students may also have been out of school for decades and now want to pursue their academic goals at a later stage in their lives.
The term “non-traditional” refers to any student who does not fit into the traditional demographic profile for college students (that is, 18–22 years old). While most colleges consider anyone over age 23 as “nontraditional,” there are no official definitions or parameters around this term.
A common misconception is that the term “non-traditional” only refers to students who are older than 18 years old. However, some schools have specific programs designed for younger students who have been out of school for some time (such as those who have served in the military).
There are many reasons why a student may choose to attend college later in life. Some people go straight from high school into the workforce and then decide that they want to pursue higher education. Other students may be returning after being out of school for a period of time due to financial, personal, or family issues. They may have been unable to afford college when they were younger as well as having other responsibilities like raising children and working full-time jobs at the same time.
Key Challenges Facing Nontraditional Students
As a nontraditional student, you may face several challenges in your pursuit of a degree. In addition to the usual stressors of college life (like finding time for homework and staying awake during 8 AM classes), you may need additional support and guidance as you navigate life outside of the classroom. The following are some key challenges facing nontraditional students:
- Student Loans. The average cost of tuition and fees at four-year institutions hovers around $30,000 per year—a sum that’s impossible for many students to cover on their own with low-paying jobs and part-time work schedules. Nontraditional students have fewer options when it comes to financial aid than traditional students do because they usually lack the income history needed for loans or grants.* Job Hunting
- Career Change / Financial Aid
- Family Support
- College Experience
Nontraditional students are often forced to take on part-time jobs in order to support themselves while they’re enrolled in school. However, these jobs can make it difficult for you to focus on your studies and graduate on time. Some of the most common challenges facing nontraditional students are listed below: Lack of funds (tuition, textbooks, supplies). For many students who choose to attend college later in life, finances can be a significant issue. You may have trouble paying for tuition and fees at four-year institutions without taking out student loans—a situation that’s especially problematic if you need additional funding for living expenses as well.
Challenges and Support
While it’s true that nontraditional students are seeking the same level of education and outcomes as traditional students, they face a different set of challenges. They may have to juggle work and family obligations with school responsibilities. They may be balancing more than one degree at once or taking classes online while working full-time.
Nontraditional students often lack the support networks other students enjoy; they rely on their own inner strength and motivation to keep going when times get rough. But even though you might be alone in your journey, you’re not alone in your struggles—you can connect with other nontraditional learners through campus groups and online forums that give advice on everything from how to find scholarships to how to succeed academically while working full-time (or two jobs).
Treat your classes like a job. Many nontraditional students work full-time, so they know how important it is to stay organized and keep up with the demands of their education. Treating your classes like a job may seem extreme, but it’s one way to ensure that you’re prioritizing school just as much as your 9-to-5 job. This means setting aside specific times each day when you will study or complete assignments; it also means staying focused during class and not letting distractions get in the way of learning (like checking email or texting friends).
Accepting the age difference
- Accepting the age difference
- You are not alone. There are other people in your situation, and you can find them online or in person. I’m fortunate to know some of these people personally and I can tell you they are phenomenal individuals who have made great contributions to society. They may be a bit older than you but they don’t act like it—they still enjoy life as much as any 19-year-old would, if not more!
- You are not a failure and neither am I! If anything, we should treat ourselves better than our peers because we had more obstacles than most when trying to get an education. We succeeded where others failed, so let’s be proud of that instead of letting our age downplay what we have accomplished so far!
If you can’t find someone your own age who is willing to be friends with you, then find someone older who has a similar interest. A lot of us are into music or sports and there are plenty of people in the same boat as us.
If all else fails, then just create a new identity. For example, if you want to be friends with someone who likes sports but you don’t care about them, then pretend like you do. Watch some games with them and start talking about players or teams that they like.
The pros of maturity
While it may sound like a disadvantage to be older, there are a lot of benefits that come from being more mature.
One of the pros is having life experience. You have more experience in your field and a better understanding of how things work in the real world. This can make you more valuable as a student because you can answer questions other students might not know about or don’t understand yet.
Another benefit is having an established career path with work experience under your belt. This means that when applying for jobs after graduation, you’ll be able to show off all the great things you’ve done at previous jobs while working on projects similar to what they’re looking for here at [School Name]! Plus, some companies are actually interested in hiring people who have been out in the workforce before starting their careers at said company–so if someone else isn’t interested but we are then definitely go ahead with submitting an application anyway!
The other pros of being older are that you have more financial stability, better communication skills (because you’ve had to deal with so many different types of people!), and more time to plan for your future. If you’re planning on going back to school after working for a while, having this experience can be beneficial because it gives you an idea of what life is like outside academia.
Nontraditional Students: Who Are They and What Do They Need?
Nontraditional students are a diverse group of men and women who have decided to continue their education later in life. Nontraditional students tend to be older than traditional students, and they’re more likely to be female, racial or ethnic minorities and first-generation college-goers. They may also have dependents, a disability and/or work outside of the college setting while pursuing their degree. Because these factors can make it difficult for nontraditional learners to succeed academically or financially while at school, it’s important that you understand them so you can provide the support they need to succeed both in your classroom and beyond it!
The following are some of the most common barriers to success for nontraditional students:
The Bottom Line
Nontraditional students are a diverse group of people with many different backgrounds, experiences, and interests. But despite their differences, they share one thing in common: they all want to learn. By embracing this diversity and recognizing the unique needs of nontraditional students, we can help them succeed in your classroom or program.