“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” This quote, attributed to inventor Alexander Graham Bell, is valid for anyone going to college. If you’re going back to school as a non-traditional student, then preparation is even more critical. Even though non-traditional students are not the exception, many colleges still focus on the needs of the “traditional” student. But with some preparation, you can find academic success as a non-traditional student with these tips.
For many adults, going back to college is the best decision they made. Completing an unfinished degree or enrolling as an older undergraduate can shape a new career path. For many non-traditional students, a degree opens new job opportunities and can help secure financial stability.
How can you ensure your learning experience results in a resounding success? This article has eight top tips on how to be a successful non-traditional student.
But first, let’s look at the benefits you bring to the classroom.
Why Non-Traditional Students Are Successful in College
Adult learners have many advantages over their younger counterparts. These advantages can be the basis for your success, even though you aren’t enrolling in college straight after high school. Why can you stand out in the classroom?
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), non-traditional students are classed as the following:
- Entering college over the age of 25
- Financially independent from parents
- May have family responsibilities
- Usually, work full-time or part-time
Very often, non-traditional students are mature and motivated. After all, you’re giving up a lot to go back to school despite having other responsibilities. Also, you can put learning into the context of real-life experiences. And your experiences give you a unique perspective, leading to richer discussions in the classroom.
Related reading: How non-traditional students can find scholarships.
8 Tips for Success as a Non-Traditional Student
Let’s look at eight ways you can be successful when enrolling in college as a non-traditional student.
1. Set realistic expectations
The best way to prepare for success is to have realistic expectations. As a non-traditional student, you probably already have a lot going on in life. That means there is only so much you can cram into one day. Because of that, you may only be able to take one class. However, it’s best to excel at one than fail in two.
Remember that you studying as a non-traditional student is an educational experience. You will find out a lot about yourself and may uncover weaknesses you never knew you had. So, be realistic about the challenges you will face.
2. Remember your long-term goals
Successful non-traditional students always focus on their long-term goals. In many cases, you might take longer to graduate than a “traditional” student. That is why you should always take the long view of your education and take one class at a time to meet your goal. Your goal is to graduate with a degree that enables you to improve your family’s situation.
3. Create a workable study schedule
Success as a non-traditional student comes from balancing your time, energies, and responsibilities. Having a set study schedule can help keep your focus on what you’re trying to achieve. Try to set aside a block of time every day for study. This way, you avoid having to cram in everything at the last minute to finish projects.
4. Develop a support network
Your academic achievements will be easier if you get support from the people closest to you. If you have a family and work full-time, there may be times when coursework interferes with your regular schedule. So, it’s good to get family members and your employer on board to support your efforts. It is also vital to keep communication open with your support network if any scheduling conflicts crop up.
6. Get up to speed on using technology
Another top tip for academic success is to learn how to use the latest technology. Most degree courses for non-traditional students require some online learning. You may need to invest in a faster broadband connection and learn how to use the college’s software.
Even if you’re used to using the internet, you may need to get up to speed quickly on networking and using social media. Check with your younger classmates to see what apps, websites, hardware, and college resources they are using. The steep learning curve to embrace technology will also benefit you when looking for a job or connecting with your kids.
7. Learn the secrets of time management
Time management skills will help you succeed in your education without sacrificing what’s important to you. Even taking one class requires managing your time if you’ve got a family and working 40 hours per week.
Here are a few helpful tips on managing your time to be a successful non-traditional student:
- Involve your kids with your homework projects, or help them with theirs
- Schedule regular study periods in your calendar
- Break up projects into smaller, “bite-size” tasks
- Ensure you have enough time for rest, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep
8. Connect with your educators
As a non-traditional student, it’s crucial to communicate with your professors if you want to succeed. In many cases, you may have more in common with your instructors than the younger students. However, due to your other responsibilities, it may not always be easy to make office hours.
As a start, get to know their names and introduce yourself. You should also find out their office hours and put it in your schedule to go once a month. Also, you could take some time before or after class to ask any course-related questions you have.
Find Success with these tips as a Non-Traditional Student
Your success as a non-traditional student depends on how well you prepare for attending college. Adult learners face challenges studying for degrees. After all, balancing school, work, and family is not easy. However, keeping realistic expectations, sticking to a manageable schedule, and developing a support network will make college more manageable and boost your success.