2019 Hawai‘i College Guide
(Sponsored) Your guide to navigating the admissions process, financial aid applications, preparing for college, avoiding the Freshman 15, building a network and more. Plus, get an insider perspective on studying abroad.
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Tips for Nontraditional Students
You’ve got this! Don’t be intimidated. Yet, considerations for nontraditional students are different from those entering colleges or universities right out of high school. Let’s tackle some of the issues.
By Kathryn Drury Wagner
photos: courtesy of hawai‘i pacific university, thinkstock
The definition of nontraditional students is broad, and actually varies from school to school. It might indicate ages 25 and up, or ages 30 and up, or have other factors attached, such as marital status, military service or whether someone has previously entered and left undergrad programs. And, anyway, “It’s a bit of misnomer,” says Thomas Kaplan, vice president for academic affairs at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “It’s at odds with the idea of lifelong learning. We’re looking to ways to open the doorway wider between traditional and nontraditional status.”
Overall, people are taking longer to graduate, and a rise in nontraditional students is part of this trend. After all, life happens. “People might struggle when they are 19 and come back when they are 25,” says Kaplan. Other students are working professionals who also have to juggle family responsibilities, whether elder care or child care.
Finding the Right Fit—and Balance
Some nontraditional students lack confidence, concerned, perhaps, that they struggled earlier in their academic journey. Others worry that technology has changed too much, or that they will be stigmatized due to their age. Remember that you have things to offer, too. “You have greater self-discipline, perspective and drive,” says Kaplan. “Going to school isn’t an idle decision, so know that you can do this.”
However, be realistic. “We talk a lot about tradeoffs,” says Kaplan. “Time, money and stress. Overall fulfillment.” He warns against rushing through school. After all, traditional students can cut down on extracurricular pursuits, but, for adults, life is less malleable. You can stop going to a club, but kids and a job? Not so much. “Think about what constraints you have with money and with time, ensuring that school does not become so heavy a burden that it is no longer sustainable,” he says.
When looking at programs, don’t forget to also assess the tools and resources that will be there to support your academic and career success, whether skills coaching, leadership programs or networking opportunities.
There’s a stereotype that nontraditional students only use online programs, but there are a multitude of options, including in-person and online classes, and expanded programs, including hybrids of on-campus and off-campus classes. Of course, “Fully online education can provide working professionals and nontraditional students with a more flexible schedule by allowing them to drive the times in which they are online,” says Vincent Del Casino Jr., vice president for Academic Initiatives and Student Success at the University of Arizona. “We see it in so many industries, where an on-demand model has taken hold and I think higher ed is certainly trending in that direction,” he says.
Think Outside the Degree
It’s not just about getting a bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. “We’ve seen that there’s a need for things like Applied Science degrees and certificate programs,” says Del Casino. “If you’re a working professional and you’re looking to increase your marketability in the workplace, you may not need to get a full MBA,” he says, but could take advantage of other programs. He cites a University of Arizona Coding Bootcamp that teaches the essentials of web development as an example, or Adobe Creative Cloud Fast Track. “There are a lot of options.”
When it comes to the final decision, nontraditional and traditional students are exactly the same: It’s all about finding the best fit for you.