Making It Work In A Traditional College Setting. The “Non-traditional” College Student’s Survival Guide For Success
Through our Academia division at Research Grace, we have been lucky enough to work with wonderful students from various backgrounds. And one thing I've noticed about non-traditional college students is that they tend to feel the need to explain why they are a non-traditional student. While we look forward to learning more about our clients whenever they are willing to share, we recognize the need to explain certain things as a possible result of insecurity to some degree. And that feeling of insecurity is not something we want to encourage. Instead, we want to offer support by showing everyone that they are accomplishing something amazing, regardless of their personal situation. So, hopefully, our tips will do the same for you!
1. Consider what truly makes a student non-traditional. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a non-traditional college student is typically referred to as someone who is older than the “typical” age of a student in any given grade. For example, freshman over the age of 19, sophomores over the age of 20, juniors over the age of 21, and any student over the age of 22 is considered to be a non-traditional student.
Other non-traditional criteria as defined by the NCES includes students who:
- Are financially independent
- Have enrolled part-time
- Are single parents
- Have dependents
- Obtained a GED or certificate of completion
- Are employed full-time
With the criteria in mind, it is safe to say that more students than you've probably realized are considered non-traditional. There are probably many who don't even realize that they too are non-traditional. The point is for you to recognize that you are far from alone and probably have an ally seated right next to you!
2. Forget the label. Whether traditional or non-traditional, remember that just like everyone else, you are simply a student. The goal is to not separate yourself from others. Regardless of your situation, you will have the same expectations from professors and the same graduation requirements as every other student. So, why bother viewing yourself as different? You will only diminish your confidence, making you believe you cannot perform in the same manner as your “traditional” classmates. Losing your confidence can mean losing all the hard work you put in to get in the seat you're in today.
Know that every single student has experienced some obstacle. And, just because they may be younger or don’t have children doesn’t mean their life is any easier. Remember, you are all, just students!
3. Seek support. If you have the support of family and friends, that is absolutely wonderful. But, whether you do or not, seeking support from someone and providing support to someone in your shoes can bring both sides a long way. Don't be afraid to speak with your professors, adviser, or department chair to explain your situation and ask if they are aware of other students with similar circumstances.
4. Take advantage of resources. Don’t forget those resources are there to help you succeed. Whether you need a little tutoring or just need someone to talk to, take advantage of what the school has to offer. You won't regret it!
5. Create your very own workspace. Not everyone has the free space at home to create an office, but there are still so many ways you can create a dedicated workspace. Having a dedicated spot for studying, writing papers, and everything in-between can help you stay focused. Whenever possible, you'll want your environment to be conducive to learning. Even if options are super limited and the only spot you have is on top of your bed … that’s okay. You can get a little lap desk or bed desk, set everything up just as you like, grab a cup of tea, glass of wine, a jar of pickle juice, or whatever works!
6. Don’t be afraid to connect. You may understandably think it will be difficult to connect with your traditional classmates, but know that everyone shares that concern and the thought does not discriminate. When it’s time to partner up or work in teams, don’t be nervous and try to connect. If your team is meeting to work on a project, try bringing a snack for everyone. Listen well and engage, making an effort to relate to any part of the conversation.
7. Enjoy the experience. You are in college after all! Even if you aren’t someone who will attend parties or meet up with classmates at a bar, there is still plenty to do. Become a tutor, show up for guest speakers in the auditorium, volunteer to help set up for an event … anything that will keep you active at your school. That’s right, it’s your school too!
Congrats & Good Luck!