• Addy Woods

Non-Traditional Students are the New Ideal Learners in Higher Education

Updated: Jun 5, 2019

Going back to college can be a daunting task for any adult learner. While attending college right out of high school may seem like a natural transition, starting a degree while juggling a job, family and other responsibilities can seem more of an uphill climb. However, are traditional students really better suited for college than non-traditional students? While many believe that traditional students have a better chance of completing their education and having an easier time overall, this may not be the reality. Realizing the potential of a non-traditional student is the key to developing a better understanding of why non-traditional students are the new ideal learners in higher education.

Obstacles are inevitable when striving for a degree, whether online or on campus. For most traditional students, overcoming those obstacles seem to be harder. High schools cater to students to achieve and have success; however, this is, in turn, causing more failures for them in the long-term. David A. Tomar from The Quad states in his article, “[I] was a traditional student, a recent high school graduate brimming with expectations about what college was supposed to look like. These expectations were formed by a combination of lofty promises from guidance counselors...” When an institution makes it seem easy to succeed, it is no wonder that the realities of higher education and the professional world are so hard on younger students. For non-traditional students, however, this seems to be of no consequence. Most have had the opportunity to be out of high school long enough to grow and have a realistic approach to challenges they may face. Having these realistic expectations, partnered with prepared planning, makes it easier for non-traditional students to succeed over traditional students.

Clearly, skills like leadership are found in many of our non-traditional students. While leadership is often perceived as title and position, non-traditional students have a better understanding of what true leadership is—compassion, hard work, and clear direction. Leaders are created, not born. With this in mind, non-traditional students, with their life experience, understand this and are able to hone their skill to become the leaders and role models of tomorrow.

Homework, tests, pop quizzes, discussions, attendance—these are just a few things students are expected to perform while earning their degree. Does it seem like a tremendous amount of work? It barely scratches the surface. Time management is an essential skill for any college student. One of the main advantages to being a non-traditional student is the ability to efficiently plan, prioritize, and complete all the assignments. Because most non-traditional students have a career, children, spouses, and families to consider, they are well practiced in managing their time.

One major asset non-traditional students have that should not be overlooked is field experience. Non-traditional students normally have held at least one job, often continuing to work while earning their degree. Field experience is a major advantage because it gives hands-on experience that merely taking notes cannot offer. It also provides a frame of reference and more detailed knowledge about a specialized degree than the average student may have. Non-traditional students are better equipped in course selection, and know where their passions lie and how to achieve their professional goals once their degree is earned.

Lastly, and maybe the least obvious of all, non-traditional students on average are much happier and more satisfied overall with their education and degree than the average college student. Tomar states in his article, “While traditional students are struggling with the realities of campus life, nontraditional students are actually thriving.” Students coming out of high school and into college are thrown into an environment that is completely different, or possibly not even the right choice for them. Having high expectations of college can be unrealistic, and can cause problems with a traditional student; however, non-traditional students do not suffer from this. Instead, these students have had the lapse in time to know what they want and how to achieve it. Obtaining a degree through higher education is a choice for them instead of an expectation, and, consequently, they tend to have happier and healthier educations.

With all this in mind, non-traditional students are often better equipped to earn a degree. These skill sets are paramount for any learner, but non-traditional students have advantages than most students going into college right after high school do not have. Despite “tradition,” non-traditional students are paving the way in reaching their goals and earning the degree they’ve always wanted.


Best_Schools. “Why Are Nontraditional Students So Much Happier in College?”,, 24 Jan. 2018,

Addy Woods