Nontraditional Students: Find the Right College

Posted in: General Education

Written by Kathleen Carmichael, Ph.D.

If any one of these describes you, you’re part of one of the fastest-growing groups on college campuses. Nontraditional students include a range of students who have been away from formal education for a significant period of time, pursuing career or other life activities.

But nontraditional students include more than the baby boomer population. You may be considered part of this student body if you’re beginning college past the age of 21, are married or divorced, have dependents, are enrolled part-time while you work, are a veteran – or if you meet many other qualifications.

As a member of this new student body, however, you may face special challenges in finding a college that suits your needs. Here are some things to look for at your school:

Flexible scheduling. Does your school offer all of the required courses for your major at times that will work for your schedule? Check whether your school offers distance learning programs (sometimes online) or independent study options.

Alternative credit opportunities. Check out course credit for life or work experience. Some schools have individualized school-specific testing programs. Others will allow you to take CLEP® (College-Level Examination Program) tests for college credit (although you may still have to pay a fee to ensure that these credits appear on your transcript).

Special aid and scholarships. Worried about paying for college? Check out new categories of financial assistance and scholarships that take into account a broad range of factors, including life experience. Some schools offer "childships" (childcare scholarships) or will pay a portion of daycare costs for qualified students.

Location and a strong commuter support system. Distance matters when you’re living off-campus. Make sure you’ll have access to administrative offices outside of traditional business hours as well as parking or convenient access to public transportation. Some schools offer commuter lounges with common rooms, lockers and even showers and sleep facilities.

Specialized student services center. New student services centers can find you the assistance you need, offering everything from tutoring specialists to discounted child-care centers.

A "nontraditional" students’ association or informal student groups. Want a voice on campus? Look for the appropriate student organization at your school. These groups can play an integral part in your educational career, giving you advice, keeping you up to date on relevant tax laws and acting as your advocate with the college administration.

Take time for research when looking for a school that meets your needs. The time you invest in checking out your college will be repaid in your future satisfaction.