What Is a Non-Traditional College Student?

What's A Non-Traditional Student
Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Study Consultant at Gradehacker

There is this set-in-stone belief that going to college is a step that has to be taken right after finishing high school. Although many take this direct path to reach their career goals, you might want to focus on different achievements first, such as starting a family, traveling, working, or studying a completely different career.

Once you feel like it’s time, you will pursue higher education, and then you’ll fall into the category of non-traditional college students. Even though they come in different ages or stages in life, their main characteristic is that they are typically older than an average undergraduate student. However, aren’t there other main characteristics too?

Some people think they are too old for college  and ignore the chance to advance in their careers or look for a new exciting job opportunity because they are afraid to stand out like a sore thumb. Still, with almost half of the current college community ranging in ages from 25 to 75, there is no longer a one size fits all profile for the people pursuing postsecondary education.

Because Gradehacker is continuously supporting many non-traditional students, here is a guide to understanding what this type of student is.

If you are more of a visual person, here’s a video where we explain in a more dynamic way what is a non-traditional student. Check it out!

Non-Traditional College Student: A Quick Definition

As mentioned before, a non-traditional student is someone who did not attend college right after high school. That definition might be a bit too broad, so let’s narrow it down to someone who satisfies one or more of the following circumstances:

What's A Non Traditionlal Student

How common are Non-traditional Students?

According to Courtney Hittepole from the University of Denver, the non-traditional student population is increasing in college programs. In fact, an estimated 40% of the current undergraduate population at American colleges and universities are adult students. Also, since projections suggest that the U.S. economy will require 22 million new workers with postsecondary degrees, many will go further with their education to supply this demand.

What challenges do non-traditional students face?

Non-traditional students who attend college face a different set of challenges when trying to complete a degree. They might struggle with feelings of social isolation within their campus community and other external factors that can divide their attention and affect their performance. Juggling many roles, apart from being an undergraduate or graduate student, causes a great deal of stress and exhaustion.

Because of this same reason, non-traditional students often have needs that differ from those of their traditional counterparts. Flexibility and convenience of classes are imperative to obtain a degree successfully in this stage of life.

According to Brightoncollege.edu, that is why online classes work so well for this group. As adult learners, they can fit their studying and class requirements into whatever time of the day is best for them as long as they have a computer nearby.

What's A Non Traditional Student

What advantages do non-traditional students have?

As Ashford University mentions, non-traditional students are 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 they are focused on achieving a degree as soon as possible, their discipline and commitment to their classes often make them shine among their peers.

Non-traditional students characteristics: a quick summary

Pursuing higher education at any age is always a challenging life experience. Adult learners might feel at a disadvantage from traditional students. However, keep in mind the following key points:

  • Being a non-traditional college student is not a bad thing at all

    It only means that you didn't go to college directly after getting your high school diploma. Since this type of student already fills so many other roles in society, they are more experienced in handling responsibilities and pressure

  • Non-traditional students are on the rise

    40% of the current U.S. college population belongs to this group

  • Non-traditional students might feel isolated and also overwhelmed due to their hectic routines

    Still, degrees with online classes are an option to mitigate this situation

  • Non-traditional students should embrace an asset that allows them to have a better approach to the entire college experience

    Instead of seeing previous experiences as a drawback

Although the idea of pursuing a degree as an adult might sound frightening, there are many advantages of going back to school like improving your job offers or getting a well-deserved promotion. Allow yourself to find the best ways to reach your goals through methods like online classes or Gradehacker’s Degree Accelerator  and Entire Class Bundle. We wish you the best of luck in returning to school to achieve your dreams!  

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

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