Entering College as a Non-Traditional Student


If you are single mom and found that you had to give up going back to school to care for your children, you aren’t the only one. Single women do it all the time in order to raise their children. However as children grow up and go to school themselves, single mothers want the chance as well to go back to school. Whether it is to finish where they left off or get continuing education. Sometimes its not as easy to make the transition back to school if you are older but they are plenty others doing the same thing.

Whether you’re a part-time student, an adult student, or a transfer student, according to your university, you are a “non-traditional student.” This title is nothing to concern yourself with and won’t cause you to carry the scarlet letter “A;” according to research, there are six million non-traditional students nationwide. And in some ways, it can be to your benefit. First, let’s take a look at the three main categories of non-traditional students:

1. Part-Time Student: Most universities require a student to take 12 credit hours per semester to be considered full time. Some students have full time jobs that require their schedule to be only partly open for classes. These students are attending the school with less than 12 credit hours, and can be taking as little as one course at a time.

2. Adult Student: Circumstances beyond one’s control as well as decisions made after high school can cause an individual not to consider higher education promptly after high school graduation. Years later, they return to universities to pursue a degree of interest. These students are referred to as “Adult Students,” since their ages may exceed that of most of their classmates.

3. Transfer Student: A student that has completed the first two years of college at a community college, to then complete the rest at a university, is labeled as a transfer student. Generally, transfer students have finished or are closed to finishing the “General Education” requirements the university holds, a standard two-year program.

Other categories include distance learners and members of the military. Each of the types of non-traditional students have needs that differ from group to group, and most importantly, needs that differ from traditional students. Here, some tips to prep non-traditional students along the way:

Time is of the Essence: All categories of non-traditional students understand one thing: in order to get their degrees, they cannot afford to waste money, and more so, precious time. With other responsibilities (families, jobs, bills, etc.), taking a class ‘for the fun of it’ may not be an option in their degree-seeking expenditure. This is where counseling becomes crucial. Set an appointment with the college of your choice’s advising department and come prepared. Here are a few things to have a good idea about:

1. The direction you want to go in. Having a general idea of what majors interest you can help an advisor tackle your true potential and the exact courses to get you there.

2. Your class standing. Whether you’ve taken the accredited two-year program prior or never had a class in any type of college, make sure you have the information your advisor needs. This can include transcripts from high school and college.

3. Your testing history. Changes with every college, but look into what your particular university requires before admission or graduation. Some common tests to have under your belt may be the SAT, ACT, CLEP, and CLAST. Skim official websites for the testing requirements and study materials. Many of these tests have variable availabilities, including weekend and online test dates that can suit your limited time and busy lifestyle.

Financial Aid: It’s rare to find students of any age that can afford their college careers all on their own. Most need some form of financial assistance — and with the rising cost of tuition, textbooks, and living, it’s no surprise that a financial aid office can be as busy the first week back to campus as the streets of New York City at rush hour. Here’s another place you’ll want to plan ahead. Notice how many times this article tells you to be prepared and plan ahead — two crucial elements in creating a smooth transaction into a university as a non-traditional student. According to FurtherYourEducation.com, “One thing to consider is that many campuses allow students to divide their payments over the course of the semester for a small fee. Paying as you go may help you better afford the cost of your education.” There are also other sources non-traditional students can receive funding from:

1. Scholarships & Grants: Truth is, scholarships and grants tend to be very competitive and on a needs-basis. However, if you search long and hard enough, you will come across many scholarships that are available, even some to your specific situation (non-traditional student). Search the web, and sites like www.fastweb.com, , to see if there are any that apply to your specific genre of nontraditional students or even just general scholarships. Also look into filling out the FASFA form for more chances at grants and subsidized / unsubsidized loans.

2. Military Service Benefits: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs, as well as other government agencies, have educational aid available for those who have served in the military, as well as spouses and children of veterans. Check into www.va.gov for more information.

3. Employee Reimbursement Programs: Some jobs pay their employees to go back to school. Can be a rare find, but check into your place of employment. You never know, it could be implemented based on your suggestion.

Other Tips to Help Non-Traditional Students:

• Some schools offer free workshops that you can take advantage of. Returning to school after many years can be challenging. Workshops can help you on everything from brushing up on study skills to learning how to use the internet class system. Look into your particular school and see what their academic offices offer.

• As you know, the decision to return to school will create a major life change. What you want to make sure happens pre-attendance is a discussion with your family on adjustments that may need to be made. The balance of family, work, and school can be overwhelming; be prepared for any situation by discussing what may change and how to handle it. Create a timetable weekly schedule so your family knows when your classes are and when you will be studying/doing homework.

• Remember that organization is vital. With juggling so many tasks, you’ll want to invest in a quality day planner. Write down reminders of projects, exams, and assignments due, so you aren’t surprised when others are handing theirs in to the professor. Speaking of your peers, seek out at least three students and swap phone numbers and/or e-mail addresses. That way, if you have questions on certain assignments or chapters, or if you were to miss a day, you can get the rundown from them.

• Consider buying a laptop. This can be an excellent way to keep organized and multitask brilliantly. Say you have to take your child to a dentist appointment with a long wait time. While sitting in the waiting room, you can bring your laptop and work on assignments or studying.

Congratulations on your educational endeavor – deciding to head back to school after years in the workforce or as another form of non-traditional student can be challenging, but you will reap the benefits later in life. After all, you can never be “too” educated, so enjoy the wealth of knowledge you seek and gain!

Article by Kelly Kennedy

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