Considerations for “Non-Traditional” College Students

As a non-traditional college student, considered to be someone who is older than 25 years when enrolling in college, you must consider various factors that traditional students may not.

From financial to personal differences between you and your classmates, there is a lot you should consider. But, these considerations should not discourage you from returning to school. In fact, they should help you realize how much furthering your education can do for you. Going back to school can change your life.

Though college may be a different kind of adjustment for non-traditional students, they are encouraged to pursue their education regardless of age or circumstances. Every student can thrive in the classroom, and non-traditional students are no exception. However, before paying tuition, non-traditional students are advised to fully consider the effects the following aspects of college may have on their learning experience. Still, students should know that the main goal is to enjoy their studies and successfully complete a degree program.

Financial Considerations

While non-traditional students may apply for student aid like any other student, their finances may not be as stable as those of younger students with parental assistance. With other commitments and responsibilities such as bills, mortgages and child support, non-traditional students may find the investment in a college education risky.

Nevertheless, you should remember that your experience in the job field may benefit you during your financial aid search, granting you additional funds that other students may not have available to them. Consequently, you may find the following financial aid resources:

  • Scholarships for non-traditional students
  • FAFSA financial aid opportunities
  • Increased loan limits
  • Employer tuition assistance

Additionally, senior citizens may obtain some free college courses at schools throughout the U.S. While not all universities allow the senior tuition waiver, adults older than 60 years old may find a few institutions to which they may apply for a free education.

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Home Life and School Balance

Many non-traditional students have established home lives that require extra attention or work that is more time consuming than an on-campus or part-time position. Therefore, when applying to college, non-traditional students often seek out flexible degree programs that offer numerous online courses, independent research opportunities or early graduation for those who qualify for general education exemptions. Whether they choose to fast-track their degrees or take advantage of self-paced programs that offer individualized focus on studies, non-traditional students have countless options.

Some examples of the types of programs that provide flexible scheduling and accelerated degrees are listed below:

  • Programs that offer credit for life and work experience. This credit system allows students with prior real-world experience to avoid taking repetitive or unnecessary classes that pertain to their work or home lives.
  • Programs without weekly deadlines or scheduled courses. In these programs, students may complete a course at their own pace, finishing by the end of the semester with little instruction. All work must be completed by the semester’s end, but the student can choose when he or she works on each assignment.
  • Online programs. These programs are not only flexible, but affordable. Often, credit transfers from other institutions are accepted, and students can access their courses at any time.

Age-Differences

Non-traditional students may experience fear or anxiety related to the age difference between them and their younger classmates. This feeling is common and understandable, but the fact is that more and more adult students have entered college in the past decade than ever before. Therefore, this feeling needs to be addressed before it causes non-traditional students to drop out of their program.

To combat this feeling, non-traditional students are encouraged to participate in campus activities and to utilize the electronic and physical resources available to them whenever possible. Improving their personal experiences as students by becoming more involved increases the likelihood they will stay enrolled. However, higher education institutions are just as responsible for supporting the emotional and educational needs of non-traditional students as the students are. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of non-traditional students will continue to grow at a higher rate than traditional students, which means schools need to adapt to their needs.

The following list includes the current types of limitations non-traditional students may face in some colleges and universities:

  • Evening school events or required outings that occur during normal work hours
  • Newer technology with little or no technical support help
  • Inaccessible classrooms
  • Insufficient academic support
  • Preferred program is unavailable

These limitations of post-secondary institutions greatly affect non-traditional students and may cause them to feel inferior to their younger counterparts, so non-traditional students should search for colleges that can accommodate these needs.

How will a degree benefit you?

Research on non-traditional students has indicated that approximately 66 percent of adults without a college degree would like to return to college to earn a degree or certification. Of those adults, most cited career advancement and personal satisfaction as the motivations for returning to college. While some may discover that a degree is required for a promotion or a desired career path, others may decide to return to school for the financial benefits college graduates may receive.

If you are wondering what a college education can do for you as a non-traditional student, you should refer to the following reasons why adults should go back to school:

  • Job security. If you are happy with your current position and wish to remain employed and hirable for years to come, then investing in a college education may be the right decision. A college degree can make you more valuable to employers and less likely to be laid off.
  • Changing career paths. Regardless of the reason you are considering applying to other jobs, a college education can help you expand your resume and impress potential employers.
  • Confidence. Doubting your abilities is never a good thing, but a college education can give you the skills and confidence in your abilities to succeed and ensure you are being treated fairly as an employee.
  • Sense of accomplishment. Some non-traditional students decide to return to college simply because they feel like they need to accomplish something. Becoming a college graduate is a tremendous feat, and earning the long-awaited respect that accompanies a college degree can be wonderful.

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