The term “non-traditional student” usually refers to people who are not of traditional college age (18-24 years old), people who did not go to college right after high school, people who work full-time, or people who have children, as well as other people who don’t fit the traditional mold of a college student. Most of the time, non-traditional students are “adult learners”–people who are 25 or older and pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. It’s estimated that 40% of the undergraduate population [pdf] in the U.S. is a non-traditional student.
There are a number of obstacles that non-traditional college students might experience. For example, if someone works full-time, they may have difficulty finding time to schedule their classes, especially if most of their classes are offered at a time when they usually work. Parents who are also students may struggle with finding child care for times when they are in class.
While your college may not have an office for adult learners or other non-traditional students, they may have a resource office based on part of your identity (for example, veteran or commuter). Regardless, there are services [pdf] (both on and off campus) that you can and should seek out as a nontraditional student:
- Child care. Your institution may provide on-campus child care or vouchers for child care off campus.
- Health and wellness care. You have several options regarding health and wellness care. If your school has a student health or wellness center, you could seek services there; they may be free, at a discount, or they may take your health insurance. Your institution may provide student health insurance plans at rates that may be cheaper than other plans (if you have dependents, check to see if coverage is available). Depending on your financial situation, you may qualify for public health benefits, such as Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program. Check with your student services office or student health and wellness center for more information.
- Food benefits. Many institutions now offer food pantries for students in need. Depending on your financial situation, you may quality for public food benefits, such as SNAP. Check with your student services office for more information.
- Lactation rooms. If you’re nursing, your institution should provide lactation space for you to use while on campus.
- Financial aid. The financial aid office at your school can tell you what type of financial aid you qualify for, including student loans, grants, scholarships, and more. It’s helpful to explore all of your options before taking out a student loan.
- Academic support services. There may be tutoring, writing, math, or other services available on campus for all students. If you find that you’re having a hard time with your classes, take advantage of the resources available to you. They may have daytime and evening hours to meet your schedule.
- Support from faculty. Let your professors know about any flexibility you may need. It’s not a guarantee that they will make accommodations, but telling them ahead of time about situations that may arise could lead to more flexibility. This is a time when it might be better to ask for permission instead of forgiveness!