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How to Go to College as a Non-Traditional Student

A non-traditional student is someone who does not fall within the category of a person who is 22 years of age or younger. Many may be going to college for the first time, while some may be returning to enhance or change their careers. Most do not have access to the same financial resources, such as family.


Older students are concerned about funding their education and there are many financial options for non-traditional students. Colleges at all levels offer programs for returning or late blooming students. There are work experience scholarships and other special types of funding available. Find out about them from local school counselors and Financial Aid Offices. Try Financial Aid Foundations and associations to find unique scholarship and grant programs. Contact your community colleges for information on U.S. Government awards for retraining. Check with your employers for assistance with tuition payment programs.  

Performance Anxiety

Many non-traditional students confront the fact that they have been out of school for awhile and therefore, may need time to get up to speed on attending classes, turning in assignments and interacting in a student environment. Some are afraid that they will not do well because of this, which is inaccurate. The truth is that life and work experience greatly enhances education and that most non-traditional students earn higher grades in college than if they had gone straight from high school.


There exists a great deal of ageism in society. Non-traditional students are often concerned that they will be treated unfairly due to their age, both by other students and instructors. Much of the time, this is an incorrect assumption. It is a fact that many younger students consider it an advantage to have someone older to converse with for different perspectives. Professors generally appreciate the wealth of experience that an older student can bring to the table.

Work-Life Balance

Time management is another consideration for non-traditional students. To avoid conflict with jobs, non-traditional students can find classes at night, on weekends and through distance education opportunities. Also, with technological advances, college courses are often scheduled online and instructors are accessible in a variety of ways.

Grading Competition

One of the greatest issues a non-traditional student faces is grading. Many students fear that regular students will establish curves that increase an instructor's expectations to an unreasonable degree. Interestingly, this is the same concern of the regular student as to the non-traditional student. The reality is that they both can work on the same level easily enough for it not to matter.

Other Considerations

Try obtaining funding at public colleges and universities. The costs can be considerably lower with more attendance options. Community colleges are great resources with a wealth of information and courses geared toward the non-traditional student. Some even have partnerships with local employers. Consider the idea of attending on a part-time basis at first, to ease back into school. Taking on a heavy load at first could be daunting. Sign up for one or two classes initially to get your feet wet. This will also allow you to prevent overload.

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