Older students need a support system in college

campus editor

Being a non-traditional student can be challenging.

Non-traditional students either have a large gap between when they either graduated high school or they attended college many years ago and have decided to go back to school to complete their degree or get a new degree to further their career. These students are usually much older than students who come straight out of high school. 

For me, the decision to return to school was difficult. I have a 20-year gap between my first time in college and now. Older students often face challenges and obstacles during their return to school. Many are usually working and raising a family simultaneously, balancing that and school can be difficult. 

Financially, returning to school can be stressful, especially if you come from a single-parent household or only one spouse works. Many want to finish school as quickly and efficiently as possible to make the best use of their money.  

These students should be looking at financial aid options and scholarships, and if they have a career, some companies have educational benefits to help employees return to college to bring the skills they learned back to their jobs. 

Time is also another factor. Many students like me also work part-time or full-time, have a family, and have a full course load. Sometimes, challenging isn’t enough to describe the juggling that gets me into the classroom or the level of fatigue because I had to stay up after the kid went to bed so I could do assignments. 

Multitasking all the hats a non-traditional student wears in an eight-hour day can be challenging. It’s usually a 12- or more-hour day. There is a lot of guilt about the time spent away from home, especially since kids grow up so fast. Making a flexible class schedule with the help of an adviser or taking some online classes so you’re not going back and forth to campus can be a game changer for older students. 

One of the first things I realized was that my time management skills had to change significantly. That included learning my learning style, which can be broken up into 3 types: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, or a combination of them. It’s not always easy or perfect, and there are many times I have to email instructors about deadlines or ask for help on topics, but it’s part of the process. 

Non-traditional students also face an isolation factor. Only a few, if any, events, or clubs on campus help facilitate building community with people who are also dealing with the same issues. Making new friends on campus is one of the best parts of college. If you don’t have people to socialize with, the experience can be very lonely.  

Finding a support system is significant. You may need to find someone to do school pick-ups for your kids, help make meals, or hire someone to do a deep cleaning of your house. Getting your partner or spouse on board with the return to education plan will help you navigate all of that, as you will have conversations with your kids to make sure they understand there will be some changes. Still, if everyone works together, then things will go more smoothly.  

Returning to school isn’t all negative. The skills and topics I’m learning in school positively impact my life, and I’m looking forward to using these skills in my career. It also gives me self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment, knowing that even though it’s been decades since I was in school, I can reach my goals.