Struggles of Non Traditional Student

Struggles of Non Traditional Student

Nontraditional students above the age of 23 or 24 make up a higher percentage of college students in the US.

Balancing a career or family alongside college studies is the biggest problem nontraditional students face. Lack of adequate college support is another issue, especially since colleges are more geared toward the traditional student of the 16 to 22 age group.

Nontraditional students can be of many varying types and their circumstances differ from one another considerably. Therefore, it is challenging to find a common solution that addresses the needs of this disparate set of nontraditional students.

What are some obstacles that non-traditional students encounter?

Here are the different types of nontraditional students and their top challenges:

19-22 yrs with gap years after high school

Young single students in this age have a great chance of finishing college. They are also likely to have parental financial support for college and other expenses.

Working Single 23-29 yrs

These slightly older students are likely to be financially independent but at this age, they are usually highly motivated to finish college at the earliest.

Working married 23-29 yrs

Time is in short supply for these students as they have job responsibilities, family responsibilities, and college to attend to.

Single mom/ single parent

Single moms struggle the most due to a lack of sufficient money or time while caring for the family, working and studying for college.

In comparison, single dads are usually financially secure with a well paying job, though they too will be short of time for family and college studies.

Housewife 23-29 yrs

Most housewives at this age will be new mothers and will spend considerable time looking after their infant child or children while focusing on college in their spare time.

Military persons (single/parents)

Military students receive the maximum help and support among all nontraditional students for college. There are military scholarships, tuition discounts, reduced testing fees, and other attractive programs for completing college fast.

However, the biggest challenge for active military persons is that they could be stationed in countries worldwide on various military missions, which will make attending college quite complicated.

30+ yrs parent (working/ not working)

These are older students who will be reentering college after many years. They might even have some previous college credits for transfer.

The biggest challenge for older students is that they would find it hard to keep studying for college while engaged in many other daily activities.

Even if they are working or are parents, those could be more manageable due to their added job experience or more years as a parent.


Traditional vs. Nontraditional student

Traditional college students are those generally in the age group of 18 to 24 yrs. They have a wide range of scholarship options, likely parental financial support for living expenses and college, and no additional responsibilities other than college studies to attend to.

In contrast, nontraditional students are over 24 years of age and have many responsibilities such as full time work, perhaps a family, kids to take care of, in addition to being independent with no support from their own parents for college.

Nontraditional students also do not receive as many scholarships and many of them attend college parttime.

Among all nontraditional students, those who previously did some college have an added advantage and are likely to graduate college sooner.

In contrast, nontraditional students who never completed high school have a more uphill battle and will need to not only complete their GED but will also require additional tutoring or help to manage the rigor of studying for college.

Nontraditional Student: Challenges and Degree Completion

Here are the characteristics that qualify someone as a nontraditional student:

  1. Independent (for financial tax purposes)
  2. Has dependents (kids)
  3. Single with dependents
  4. GED or equivalency, with no high school diploma
  5. Gap years after high school
  6. Exclusively part time student
  7. Working full time
  8. Combination of 1 to 4 or more of the above factors

How do you succeed as a non-traditional student?

As a nontraditional student, one advantage you likely have is some life experience. So simply be proactive and seek support from your college anytime you run into any issues.

Here are important ways by which you can succeed as a nontraditional student:

1) MONEY: Actively seek out colleges that award additional scholarships for nontraditional students. If you have dependents, also look and ask about scholarships which can specifically cover your family’s living expenses.

2) STUDENTS TYPE: Find a college which has a larger percentage of nontraditional students. Ever since 1995-96 till date, students with at least one or more nontraditional student characteristics make up 70% of the college student population.

If you are looking for close to 100% of the school dedicated to nontraditional students, look no further then these flexible, degree completion colleges.

3) CREDIT TRANSFER: Prepare a list of all the college courses you completed from within the last 10 years or so. Locate the course transcripts and detailed course descriptions for the dates when you completed those courses.

Next, order official college transcripts from your previous college/s and send them to your current college for credits transfer.

Credit transfer is an easy way to transfer all your previous college credits to your current transcript for little to no additional cost.

4) SELF-PACED ONLINE-COURSES AND EXAMS: Find more ways to take self-paced online courses and standardized exams so that you can study on your own busy work, family, like and college schedule.

For a listing of low cost online credit-eligible courses, take a look at this article titled Low-cost Online Courses For College Credit.

For standardized exams that can earn you 3 to 6 credits per exam, check out this article titled How Do You Get A 4 Year Degree In 2 Years.

5) STUDENT COUNSELOR: Work closely with your college student counselor. S/he is your closest link to faster degree completion. Always check with him/her before taking any courses or exams so as to ensure that (a) it fits within the degree curriculum, (b) is approved for your degree, (c) is not a duplicate of another course you’ve already completed.

6) OTHER ISSUES: In case of recurrent issues, get a second opinion from other college staff, professors and peer students. Senior students and student mentors at your college can be very helpful when you come across issues that your college student counselors are unable to help you out with.

What are two disadvantages of being a non-traditional student?

The top 2 disadvantages of a nontraditional student are as follows:

1) Though nontraditional students are able to find scholarships to cover their college tuition, many of them are financially independent and some even have a family.

So they often struggle to meet their living expenses with adequate financial support. Scholarships and aid are predominantly given to full time college students, so nontraditional students are unable to work full time along with part time college.

2) Regular full time/ part time colleges are unable to provide them right solutions such as self-paced courses, or faster ways of earning college credits, such as the ability to have experience or non-accredited learning translated to college credits.

Most regular US colleges are geared toward serving the needs of the traditional college students, though research have clearly proven that about 70% of all college students are nontraditional college students.

Retention of Nontraditional Students

Nontraditional students are at the greatest risk of dropping out of college since they constantly undergo extreme hardships such as having kids to care for, not enough money to support the family, and so on.

Here is the NCES data from 2004-2009 among the dropout rates of nontraditional students:

1) 51% of students over the age of 30 drop out of college within 6 years of initial enrollment.

2) About 46% of independent students, whether married or unmarried, or with or without dependents, drop out of college in 6 years.

3) Over 40% of students with two or more nontraditional student characteristics drop out of college within 6 years.

The typical nontraditional student characteristics include:

a. Not having a high school diploma.

b. Having gap years after high school.

c. Attending college as a part time student.

d. Independent financial status.

e. Having one or more dependents of their own.

f. Being single with dependents.

g. Working fulltime.

Do Older Students Have Higher Achievement?

Of nontraditional students who successfully complete their college degree, most are able to get more out of their college learning than traditional college students.

This is evident from the 2017 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report conducted by Ruffalo Noel Levitgz.

Over 70% of nontraditional students get the following benefits in college:

1) They are able to learn more effectively from their instructors and professors

2) They make better college major choices and therefore find the content within their major to be more valuable

3) College faculty enjoy spending the time in imparting them knowledge because nontraditional students are more serious about learning

4) They have better rapport with their college advisors who see them as intelligent and truly interested in their degree and major

Most of the successes of nontraditional students appears to stem from their life experiences and their interest in bettering their education and career.

It appears that college faculty are also aware of the challenges facing nontraditional learners and so they make the extra effort to provide timely feedback and guidance to them, especially since these students are usually short on time due to their work, family and study obligations.

How has being a non-traditional student impacted your academic career?

Nontraditional students generally take either part time courses or online college courses. About 74% of online learners and 67% of other adult nontraditional students reported being extremely satisfied with their college programs.

Here are the key factors that nontraditional students found beneficial:

1) The quality of course instruction was found to be excellent.

2) Faculty provided timely feedback about the degree progress.

3) Adequate financial aid was available for most nontraditional students.

4) Help and information was readily available at the college.

My Experience

In my case, being a nontraditional student made a successful college degree and a professional career possible for me.

I was able to utilize a lot of my prior learning toward my college degree. This in itself saved me a lot of money and years of time which I would have otherwise had to spend in redoing similar courses.

I had much more control over my degree process than I would have ever had as a traditional college student. I could manage my own schedules and study time. I even took several months away from college studies when my work load at my job increased considerably.

Also, since I was older, I was able to directly apply a lot of my college learning in my present job at the time. Money for college was also readily available since I was working at a fulltime job.

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