Strategies For Non-Traditional Students Part I
By Laura DiFiore
What is a Non-Traditional Student?
Every school has its own definition of what a
"non-traditional" student is, but generally a non-traditional student
Okay, I'm a Non-Traditional
Student. Now what?
- An older student, usually over the age of 24 or 25.
- A student who
previously has attended college and is returning to college after a few years
- A student who graduated from high school and went directly into the
work force and is now attending college for the first time. The
non-traditional student is the fastest growing segment of the student
population. According to U.S. Census Bureau reports (October, 1996) 6.2 million
college students in the United States (40.9%!) - were 25 years of age or
Most definitely, the adult/re-entry, non-traditional student is not
alone in our colleges and universities.
1. Find A School, Determine Your
If you have not already chosen a school to attend, before you
start looking for scholarships, grants, loans, and other financial aid, find a
school that offers the degree program you want, and find out how much it is
going to cost.
It is crucial to choose an accredited college or
university. Ask your school's admission office if they are accredited. Most
scholarships, state, and federal aid will not allow you to use awards at schools
that are not already accredited.
It is a usually a good idea to look
primarily at public colleges and universities, at least at first. They usually –
not always - have lower costs and better resources for adult students than the
private or technical colleges.
Consider attending a community college. I
am a huge fan of community colleges. I admit I'm biased - I've attended six
community colleges over the years and I've never regretted the
Here are some tips to keep in mind when deciding on a college:
2. File A FAFSA. Do This
- Community colleges often have good to outstanding resources for
non-traditional students. They also often have partnership programs with local
employers. And, you can't beat the low-cost-to-high-value ratio!
- Consider attending part-time, especially for your first semester back after
several years out of school. Attending part-time is cheaper than attending
full-time. However your eligibility for scholarships will be significantly
diminished and your eligibility for state and federal aid will be greatly
reduced. But, attending part-time will give you a very good opportunity to
determine if returning to school is what you really want to do before you commit
a large amount of your time and money to it. The number one cause of failure
when returning to school after a few years break is taking on too much. Many
people decide to return to school and go back full-time, just to find themselves
overwhelmed with the demands of their job, family, and full-time school.
- College has changed a lot since you were last in school. And if you never
went to college right after high school, you are going to be in for quite a
shock. From my own experience, I strongly suggest that if you have been out of
school for more than five years that you take only one or two classes your first
semester. Don't set yourself up for potential failure from overloading yourself
with work, family and school: Take it slow and easy, and give yourself time to
re-learn how to study and what it is like to be in a classroom. It can be quite
a culture shock!
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a
form that almost all schools require you fill out. This form can be filled out
online and is also available for free at all accredited schools' financial aid
Your financial aid office should be able to help you fill out
the form if you find it confusing. Do not pay to have someone fill it out or
file it! Especially never pay a fee to send the form to the government. It is
FREE to get this form and file it.
Why should I fill out the FAFSA?
3. Check With Your City,
County and State About Available Programs.
- The majority of aid for all students comes through the federal government in
the form of loans, grants, or work-study. Aid available through the government
is not restricted by your age.
- Even if the federal government determines you are not eligible for aid, your
school most likely will require you to file the FAFSA. Most schools use the
information provided on the FAFSA to determine what aid they will offer you from
their own funds.
- Even if you think you earn too much money, you should file the FAFSA.
Financial aid is determined using a rather complicated formula that takes into
account things such as how many children you have, savings, and other assets.
Fill out the FAFSA and let the financial aid office determine if you are
eligible. Don't assume you are not eligible.
- The FAFSA form is especially important to if you are a non-traditional
student, since more of your aid, if any, is going to come from the government
than from private scholarship sources.
- If you have a defaulted on a student loan before, you are out of luck. You
are not eligible for any forms of federal or state aid, and most schools will
not provide you with funding from their own scholarship funds. But you should
STILL file a FAFSA as your financial aid office may require it in order to get
help you with other needs, such as helping you with scholarship applications or
working with your student loan lender. But if you have a defaulted student loan,
the best thing you can do may be to consider delaying going back to school for
another year or so and pay off the loan. Or get it back into "repayment" status
(instead of "defaulted" status).
Ask your city, county or
state government about "retraining" programs, especially if you have recently
been laid-off or downsized out of your job. Most retraining programs are
designed to be used only to update your skills or for certificate or two year
programs, but they are usually flexible and sometimes can be used to achieve a
Are you over 60 years of age? Ask about free tuition!
Most community colleges and many state colleges and universities offer free
tuition to residents who are senior citizens. You will still have to pay for
related fees and books, but free tuition is a huge benefit.