What Is a Non-Traditional College Student?

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Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Study Consultant at Gradehacker

Updated in March 2023

What is a Non-Traditional College Student?

While there is this set-in-stone belief that going to college is a step that must be taken right after finishing high school, nowadays, thousands of adult students are part of the growing non-traditional student community.

One common belief is that after high school, traditional students take a more direct path the reach their career goals. But in reality, tons of people don’t think it’s the right time and instead prioritize other things, such as starting a family, traveling, or working.

And if later in life, they feel like it’s time to pursue higher education, they will become non-traditional college students.

But what exactly does it mean to be a non-traditional student? How can you know if you are one?

At Gradehacker, we are the non-traditional adult student #1 resource, and we’ve spent years helping students with tight schedules and many responsibilities reach their goals. We know how important it’s to know where you are standing, and we want to bring you the support you deserve.

So, you better know for sure what a nontraditional student is

But if you are more of a visual person, here’s a video where we explain more dynamically what is a non-traditional student. Check it out!

Non-Traditional College Student: A Quick Definition

As mentioned before, a nontraditional student is someone who didn’t attend college right after high school. Once enrolled, they fit in as either first-year or transfer students.

So under that circumstance, if you follow any of the next items, you might want to check nontraditional characteristics in case you fit in:

Something we noticed that non-traditional students struggle with the most is on balancing their college and personal life. If this is also your case, be sure to incorporate these tips and find the perfect balance!

How Common are Non-traditional Students?

According to the Stony Brook University news teller The Statesman, 40% of the undergraduate students are older than 24, 58% work while attending college, and more than 25% are parents.

Some people think they are too old for college and miss the chance to advance in their careers, but the reality is that a significant part of the college community ranges in age from 25 to 75,

Don’t believe us? Here are the percentages of adults enrolled in postsecondary education:

With the student population growing by going through college enrollment to finally start their postsecondary education, you need to know what accredited institution will benefit you as a nontraditional college student.

So, if you want to know about degree requirements, application fees, and the level of the institution you can apply to, we made a video listing public 2-year institutions to four-year institutions that can give the best assistance to students like you!

You can also check the blog about this for more extended information.

Challenges as Non-Traditional Students

Nontraditional students who attend college face different life circumstances and challenges while trying to complete a degree in postsecondary education.

This part of the student population often struggles with feelings of social isolation within their campus community and other external factors that can divide their attention and affect their academic life.

Juggling many roles, apart from being an undergraduate or graduate student, causes great stress and exhaustion.

Because of this same reason, nontraditional students often have needs that differ from typical college students.

Flexibility, financial aid, and support are essential to obtain a degree successfully after a school diploma in this stage of life.

According to Best Colleges Online, this is why nontraditional students often choose to go as part-time students, and online degrees work so well for them. Adult learners can fit their studying and class requirements into whatever time of the day is best for them as long as they have the necessary technological tools.

What's A Non Traditional Student

Challenges as Non-Traditional Students

As the University of Arizona mentions, nontraditional students benefit from being more goal-oriented and wiser due to their age and life experiences. They know how to manage pressure and finance better than traditional students.

On the other hand, since nontraditional undergraduates focus on achieving a degree as soon as possible, their discipline and commitment to their classes often make them shine among other postsecondary students.

The Reality of Being a Non-traditional Student

Pursuing higher education at any age is always a challenging life experience. 

Nontraditional undergraduates might feel at a disadvantage from traditional students. However, keep in mind the following key points:

Instead of seeing past experiences as a defect, non-traditional students should embrace their situation as an advantage that allows them to approach college effectively.

If, after all this information, you are now wondering how you can make the most of college even when it gets hard, here are some tips to make your journey easier!

Opening Doors For Non-Traditional Students

Although the idea of pursuing a degree as an adult might sound intimidating for some, there are many advantages to pursuing a degree program, like improving your job offers or getting a well-deserved promotion.

Don’t compare yourself to a traditional student! Remember that you take on so many other roles in society, are more experienced in handling responsibilities and pressure, and student resilience is a big quality that educational institutions look for.

Find the best ways to reach your goals, and if at any time you need help with your classes or assignments or want to get your college degree faster, don’t hesitate to contact us!

If you want to find more helpful information, you can check out our blogs:

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega is a Study Consultant and Content Creator for Gradehacker. She has a degree in Education and Literature and is currently working on getting a master’s degree in Linguistics. Even though words, languages, and books are her thing, science and psychology were her hidden passion for many years. Luckily, Gradehacker has allowed her to use all that knowledge by helping many clients with everything they need. Javiera considers herself a proud nerd who likes to learn and read about everything she can find. From movies and comics to microbiology and genetics, every topic is interesting for her. Her curiosity has no limits. Find her on LinkedIn