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Did You Know? Non-Traditional Students Are Actually More Common than "Traditional" Students

Jul 16, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

When we think of college students, most people think of the “traditional” variety—the student between the ages of 18 and 22 who enters college directly after graduating high school, usually attends a four-year program, and lives either in on-campus housing or off campus on their own while attending.

This might be the stereotypical impression of what a college student is—but it’s not the full picture. It’s not even the most numerous picture. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 73% of all undergraduate students, as of their 1999-2000 study, could be considered “nontraditional.”

Non-traditional students are less easy to define than the traditional variety. The NCES defines non-traditional students as at least one (if not more than one) of the following:

Someone who delays enrollment. People delay enrollment for all kinds of reasons. Some students take a year off to work, travel, take care of family obligations, or take a break from school. Others take more than a year off due to pregnancy,
work opportunities, or other reasons. According to the NCES,
anyone who doesn’t enter college in the same calendar year
as their high school graduation is a non-traditional student.

Part-time students

Non-Traditional Students

Nontraditional students are a diverse bunch—people who fall into vastly different life categories, and who don’t fit the typical image most people think of when they picture a college student.

The definition of a full-time student is usually someone who takes at least 12 credit hours per semester. Depending on the online college or the agency, there might be a GPA requirement as well. Part-time students take fewer credit-hours per semester, and according to the NCES, they are non-traditional students.

Students with full-time jobs

No matter your age, if you work full-time—at least 35 hours per week—while you’re enrolled, you’re considered a non-traditional student. Students may work full-time while attending school for a variety of reasons—usually due to difficulties paying for college tuition.

Financially-independent students

Some students of traditional college age are defined as independent students for financial aid purposes—meaning their parents’ income and assets are not included in their federal aid assessment. But the requirements are very strict. It’s much easier to be considered financially independent if you’re over 24, in which case you are automatically. Anyone who’s an independent student for financial aid purposes is considered non-traditional.

People with dependents

If you have dependents other than a spouse, you’re automatically a non-traditional student. This usually means children, but it could mean other types of dependents as well, such as a sick or mentally challenged family member who depends on you financially.

Single parents

Single parents
are non-traditional students. You’re considered a single parent whether you’re unmarried, divorced, or separated and caring for children.

People without a high school diploma

If you did not finish high school, or you attained a GED instead of graduating the traditional way, you are considered a nontraditional student. It actually is possible to go to college without having graduated from high school or earned a GED—by taking qualifying tests, qualifying for nontraditional student status with individual schools, and taking the Ability to Benefit test to qualify for federal aid without a high school diploma.

Nontraditional students are a diverse bunch—people who fall into vastly different life categories, and who don’t fit the typical image most people think of when they picture a college student. If you’re a nontraditional student, you’re actually in the minority—most college students don’t fall under the perfect “traditional” category. Chances are, many people you meet throughout your college experience will have delayed college, worked full-time, attended college part-time, or fallen under at least one of the above categories—making today’s college campuses more diverse than most people realize.



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