What can nontraditional college students expect from going back to school?

Adult learners back at school can expect many opportunities

What can nontraditional college students expect from going back to school?

First graders feel it, high school seniors disguise it, college students ignore it, but nontraditional college students can be consumed by it: fear of failure. One way to overcome that fear, suggests Connie Tyne, executive director of Cooper Wellness Program in Dallas, is to “see yourself as successful as soon as you start, instead of when you realize a goal.” 

Once nontraditional students move past the paralyzing effect of fear, what should they expect from going back to school? Expect some pleasant surprises and several interesting new choices. 

Expect innovative options
Many colleges offer flexible programs and on-going support geared toward adults who are already juggling family, work and personal responsibilities. 

According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, students 25 years old and older make up more than 40 percent of the students enrolled in colleges and universities in the United States. To accommodate this growing segment of adult learners, universities are offering nontraditional, time-saving options, such as distance learning, accelerated degrees and creative credit. The prevalence of adult students indicates many are taking advantage of these programs and balancing busy lifestyles with successful college experiences. 

Expect easy access
There is no yellow brick road, but a simple click of the mouse can get you started. To start your back-to-school success story, to find a better career and build your self-confidence, start with the Internet. 

Pick classes that will complement your skills set, and choose programs that will help you reach goals. Knowing what to expect in the classroom is always important, but if you’re a nontraditional student, having a clear understanding is absolutely essential. Master the learning curve by using information to alleviate your fears and take control of your college experience.

Expect the ability to mix and match
Expect programs tailored toward adult learners. “Many colleges realize your lifestyle is not that of a typical traditional college student. Many offer night and weekend classes as well as distance-learning opportunities,” says CariAnne Behr, project/team coordinator of Mapping Your Future, Inc. 

Look for programs that maximize your time (and money) and that will increase your earning potential after completion.

“If an adult wants to know if a college offers nontraditional services, call the admissions office and ask the percentage of nontraditional students on campus. If they don’t know the answer, that should send up red flags. Match your needs to the institution. Choose the educational situation that’s right for you,” says Gabe DeGabriele, executive director of the Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education (ANTSHE).

“Major factors for nontraditional students are flexibility and small class size. A large classroom filled with traditional students can be very intimidating,” observes Chris Cohen, director of admissions at Texas Wesleyan University in Ft. Worth. 

Look for smaller classes with lower student-to-professor ratios. Choose programs that help you move into a comfort zone. “Many adult learners desire an interactive format instead of a traditional lecture environment,” says Dave Malley, admissions counselor of FOCUS Degree Completion Program at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. 

Expect time-saving features
Many colleges are also adopting special features to complement innovative programs, such as extended campus library hours and services. FOCUS students can call ahead and request reference materials to be ready for them when they arrive on campus. Online distance learning and cost-saving CLEP and DANTES tests, which allow you to test out of certain subjects, are other time-saving features you’ll find.

Expect perks
In addition to innovative nontraditional programs, many colleges also offer adult learners opportunities to enhance their previous learning experiences. There may be cultural enrichment additions, opportunities to explore courses in different areas or the option to mix online and on-campus courses. Some colleges also offer tuition discounts or flexible payment plans to nontraditional students. 

Expect long-term career opportunities
Updated technological and professional skills enhance your career path and create many exciting new opportunities. These skills also help alleviate concerns about global marketplaces, outsourcing, mergers and acquisitions. If you lose one opportunity, you can take advantage of another one; education can provide a safety net against an ever-changing job market.

“American workers must continually improve their skills to adapt to a dynamic global economy,” observes Tim Kane, an economist at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. “The good news is that American workers remain the most productive because they stay at the cutting edge in terms of new skills,”  

Pat Stevens went back to college when her baby was 4 months old to finish her bachelor’s degree in English while her husband, Richard, a professional football player for the Philadelphia Eagles, played Mr. Mom in the off season. After earning her English degree, she completed her teaching certification and took postgraduate classes in writing, publishing and culinary arts.


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