Non-traditional students are coming back to get their education, but they’re looking for something different from traditional students are. You could walk into a traditional college or university classroom and see a few of them among the fresh-faced 18-year-olds. You’ll find lots of non-traditional students looking for college and universities online, too. But they’re there for a different experience, and they come with a whole different set of challenges.
Here are some of the challenges non-traditional students face, who they are, and some solutions for supporting them.
A non-traditional student typically looks like someone who has either been out of school for a while and is returning as an adult later in life, or entry to college is delayed by a year or two after high school. Additionally, non-traditional students are considered to be those with children, who have dependents, or are single parents. Another example could be being employed full-time or being financially independent, or even attending school part-time. A lot of the challenges non-traditional students face come down to time because they work full-time.
Flexibility is a massive incentive for non-traditional students, as they often have many other things going on in their lives at the same time. These students are more inclined to enroll at colleges, particularly online colleges, for flexibility and shorter program completion times.
For many traditional students, attending college is like a rite of passage to adulthood. For non-traditional students, they have different skills, experiences, and opinions from reaching maturity, so college takes on a new meaning. For them, college becomes more about improving on previous skills, self-improvement, or perhaps as a student returning in their 40s or 50s, a new career.
The main difference between a traditional student and a non-traditional one is experience and the many struggles and adversities that may accompany it.
Non-traditional students face a whole different set of challenges than traditional students. Having already reached that maturity milestone traditional students are going for, life has happened to them. Whether that’s kids, financial issues, becoming a single parent, or a myriad of other possibilities, those responsibilities come with them. This can create a real barrier for them achieving their goals.
Some common challenges non-traditional students face include anxieties around affording school, finding the time to study, and achieving a work-study-life balance. While those seem like tremendous obstacles, there’s more: non-traditional students who enter college later in life have lower retention rates and lower graduation rates. This brings us around to perhaps the biggest issue, which easily contributes to all the ones mentioned above: lack of self-confidence.
As a non-traditional student, you may see all these options and find yourself reluctant even to try. To add to that, think about balancing work, life, kids, affording college, and family and friends – it sounds ridiculous. To add to that, if you’re attending college later in life, you may feel you’re already at a disadvantage because of your age. All of this directly impacts self-confidence as a non-traditional student.
Returning to college as a non-traditional student can be a complicated mess when it comes to challenges like these.
Factors like time, money, support, and accessibility are critical to facing the challenges non-traditional students face head-on. Colleges should create more inclusive spaces and bring non-traditional students’ perspectives into play.
Options like online forums for people to chat with like-minded people, flexible learning options (hybrid or strictly online), transparent tuition costs, and being clear about options for financial aid are helpful. Providing multiple ways for students to reach out like telephone, live chat, and email are great options and a need for non-traditional students.
As a college looking to help negate some of the challenges that non-traditional students face, being flexible, with support systems in place, and being clear about financial options will help non-traditional students a long way. Ultimately, let’s be kind, inclusive, and considerate to everyone.
Most of the challenges non-traditional students face can be combated with a well-planned schedule. Make sure you have a solid plan ahead of time. You’ll need to plan to make time for extra money you may need for textbooks, the extra time you’ll need for studying, a plan to counteract excess stress, and know what other challenges you’ll face as a non-traditional student and prepare for them.
Depending on your status, it may also be beneficial to plan out what your typical week may look like. Here we have a couple of examples of how you might plan your week, depending on the challenges you may be facing.
If you’re employed full-time…
If you are a stay-at-home mom with children…
Of course, these are only examples and will vary for each person and situation. The most important thing when you plan out your weekly schedule is that you stick with it. You should have definitive starting and end times for studying, make sure you take breaks, and finally, take time for yourself.
As a human being, you don’t work all day to “deserve” or “earn” rest, it’s something your body needs, or soon enough, you’ll find yourself burning out and with more stress than you know what to do with. For your physical and mental health, especially if you are a non-traditional student returning to school, take a small amount of time each day to unwind and do something you enjoy. Your brain and body will thank you.
Ultimately, as a non-traditional student, you need to know your ‘why.’ Why did you decide to attend college? What is the purpose of it? Keep your ‘why’ in mind, have the motivation to take on the challenge, and be disciplined to succeed when you feel your motivation slipping.
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