What Defines a Nontraditional College Student?

What Defines a Nontraditional College Student?
  • Opening Intro -

    Not all college students arrive on campus immediately following high school.

    Some students serve in the military, complete their religious training, start a family or hit the workplace before enrolling in college.


Many students attend college part-time, taking classes as their schedules permit. These individuals encompass a broad category of “nontraditional” college students, people that fit at least one of the following definitions.

1. Full-Time Work — Your college considers you nontraditional if you hold down a full-time job while attending college. These individuals may have already launched their careers or they may be working enough hours through one or more jobs to clearly have their work a priority over their schooling. Many full-time workers are also married and may be raising children. Educational advancement is important, but there are other matters that take simply take a priority.

2. Part-Time Attendance — Most colleges consider students nontraditional if they take less than the required 12 or so credits to be considered a full-time student. The reason students may attend college part-time may be due to working, raising a family or balancing other responsibilities. It may also have to do with the cost of college as some people may not have the resources to take more than one or two classes each semester.

3. Military Veterans — Tens of millions of students have taken advantage of the GI Bill, their reward for serving the United States through military service. These days, some students are still serving, taking classes online while they pursue their careers. Others have completed three or more years of military service and are attending college for the very first time.

4. Single Parents — Single parents, overwhelmingly mothers, may seek to attend classes to lift their families up. Its a daunting responsibility for people that have so many responsibilities without another adult to shoulder the burden. Yet, thousands of single parents enroll each semester, hoping to knock out a course or two and improve their career prospects.

5. High School Dropouts — If you dropped out of high school, you cannot attend college, right? Well, that is wrong. Community colleges are where many students go to obtain both a GED and to take their first college classes. These schools set up programs to qualify prospective students for college before admitting them as matriculated students.

6. Dual Enrollment Students — Some college students are enrolled, but are still in high school. Indeed, they are in a dual enrollment program that allows them to complete their high school education while beginning their college education. Such students may graduate high school with a year or two of college under their belts, a low cost education alternative that makes them a nontraditional student.

Finishing College

For nontraditional students, finishing their college education can be enormously challenging. Savvy college administrators have recognized the problems that such students face by responding in ways to ease their burdens. Online classes, financial aid and on-site childcare are among the options available to 21st century nontraditional college students. Those colleges and universities that offer extra guidance along the way can ensure that their graduation rates are higher too.

See AlsoHow to Return to College Years Later


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