Nontraditional Student FAQ


Many nontraditional students have a lot of questions and concerns before thinking about going back to college or starting college for the first time. First, let’s start by defining what is a nontraditional student:

A nontraditional student is a student who is older than “traditional” students. For various reasons, the student didn’t go the traditional route, right into college after high school. Perhaps the student was a stay-at-home parent; served in the military for several years; or simply got a job right after high school. Whatever the reasons, it’s not too late to start now, although the nontraditional-student square peg doesn’t always fit perfectly into the college circle.

I’ve (the Editor) compiled a list of questions that are asked often of me, so you can better understand what the going-back-to-college experience is like. Let’s get started!


* Is going back to college challenging for nontraditional students?

It can be for some students, but not for others. Whenever I tell people I went back to college a few years ago, they say, “That must be exciting.” I immediately correct them, saying, “No. It’s challenging.” Some challenges that many nontraditional students face are socialization amongst their “traditional” classmates; revisiting coursework materials that a mature age student hasn’t seen in years; and juggling home responsibilities while penning homework assignments, such as reading, exercises, or preparing for a solo or group class presentation. The workload can be massive. So potential nontraditional students must make a serious commitment. Going back to college is not to be taken lightly because the experience will have a huge impact on a mature age student’s life and the lives of their family members.


* What is it like socializing with people who are 10 or more years younger than you in college?

Before I went back to college at the age of 32, I hadn’t had any friends who were 10 years younger than me. My immediate circle of friends consisted of my husband (who’s two years older than me); my good friend of 15 years (who’s one month older than me), and weekly phone calls to my mother (I won’t tell you her age!). The circumstances of me having friends 10 years younger than me never presented itself–’til I went back to college.

More important than age, though, I think life transitions–different stages in life–were more evident between my classmates and I. My first semester, for example, I had made a “friend” who was about 24 years old. We became lab partners then we started going to lunch and other various places. After a while, she wanted to “hang out” more often, but I had home responsibilities to take care of, like cooking, cleaning my house and spending quality time with my husband, which I value. One day, she lashed out at me because I had other responsibilities outside of us hanging out. Needless to say, our friendship ended. I then decided that I was going to concentrate less on making friends and focus on my studies.


* Were you afraid to learn anything new as a nontraditional student?

My brain had been academically dormant for about 13 years. I knew I could read and comprehend; I knew I could string a sentence or two together, decently; but I had night terrors about taking college algebra–rightfully so–because I had to take it twice to fully understand the rules and concepts of what college algebra was about.

On the flip side as a nontraditional student, my mind was mature enough to handle new, incoming information. This surprised me. I then became aware that reading newspapers, magazines and watching documentary shows on television had an impact on the information I had absorbed.


* Is going back to college as a nontraditional student tough on your home life?

Going back to college was tough on my home life because my husband and I weren’t fully aware of the financial stress and “reorganization” of my home responsibilities. Oftentimes, tuition, books and other college-related expenses weren’t calculated into the bottom line, which added an element of surprise to our budgeting.

Also, because I was so involved with college, I had started to slack on my chores like cooking, cleaning, and one of my favorites, washing dishes! My homework was oftentimes massive. Eventually, my husband and I came up with a different solution where he would take on some of my duties. P.S. I now have a dishwasher.


* Did the professors treat you differently because of your age?

For the most part, college professors didn’t treat me differently, though most of them assumed I was 25 years of age because I oftentimes wore jeans and t-shirts to class (there was no reason to wear couture garments to class!). Then occasionally, they’d say something like, “Back in the day, before computers, information was gathered in different ways. But many of you probably don’t remember that.” Then I’d raise my hand, “Professor, I remember that.”

With that said, by my second year of college, I theorized that college wasn’t designed for older students because older students think too much, and are able to apply logic and reason to what they’re learning. Not only that, mature age students have acquired knowledge via other sources like newspapers, magazines and the Internet. Some professors aren’t prepared to answer questions that are beyond the scope of the course materials.


* Did you do internships?

I did do internships, but I feared age discrimination and the potential pondering of, ‘What is this 30-something-year-old lady doing in my office for an internship interview?’ Luckily, no potential employer has asked me that, except for one, which you can read about here: age discrimination in a job interview?

After I got the internships, I did have a few curious employees asking about my age. I simply told them, “A woman never tells her age.” And that was the end of that, although I did reveal my age to a woman at one of my internships; I felt safe to do so because she was about to retire and she had revealed to me that she was about to become a pastor at her own church!–and she didn’t want anyone else to know. So we became blood sisters.

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