What Does It Mean to be a Non-Traditional Student?

what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-non-traditional-studentIf you are considering attending college in a less than typical way, you may be wondering if you fall into the category of non-traditional students. Although there is not a one size fits all definition, students categorized in this manner are typically older than average undergraduate students. They may face unique challenges as college students because of their age and their particular life situations.

A Stretchy Definition

When people talk about less than traditional college students, they are generally referring to students who do not go the typical route of attending college immediately after or very soon following high school graduation. Traditional students who fit that pattern are typically in college between the ages of 18-23. While many traditional college students do need to work part-time during their studies, they are usually free to devote a good portion of their time to full-time classes and college activities.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, non-traditional students are usually 24 and older. As slightly older young adults, many students who attend college at this age have work experience or family situations that can sometimes make attending college full-time difficult. Some of these students may actually hold down full-time jobs and only attend school part-time or on an occasional basis. Unlike younger, more traditional students, they do not often live on campus.

Challenges and Support

Adult students who attend college later face some unique challenges when trying to complete a degree, including financial challenges. More than any one defining factor, non-trad students are those who are more vulnerable to factors that might make them unable to complete their schooling. They might be single parents, for example, who must divide their attention between work, family, and school. Some students who attend college in a less traditional fashion might have had challenges in completing high school and hold a GED rather than a standard diploma.

Because of their unique challenges, many colleges and universities work hard to create support networks that can offer such students the help they need to persevere in getting their degree. One such organization is the Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education (ANTSHE), which seeks ways to help both its individual student members and its member schools who are supporting adult learners in their educational journeys. Some of the ways they do this is through the provision of scholarships. They also offer conferences, publications and other resources, firm in their belief that it’s never too late for someone to enroll in school and to complete their education.

If you are a non-typically aged student who has been considering going back to college or wanting to support someone you know in that kind of goal, it’s good to be aware of the opportunities available today for such students. Circumstances may make a college career hard, but life experience can also provide perseverance to continue on toward the goal of graduation. Although non-traditional students can find their educational paths challenging, they also have a lot to offer a traditional student body.

Related: Financial Aid Information for Single Parents