Community college offers a wonderful alternative to traditional four-year colleges and universities in many ways. Not only are community college degrees generally much more affordable, but the programs themselves are also very flexible. Many community colleges offer online classes, which are particularly beneficial for non-traditional students, including parents and students who work full-time jobs. Keep reading to learn more about non-traditional students in community colleges and tips for success.
What is a Non-Traditional Student?
College students come in various packages, but most students fall into the same categories regarding age and lifestyle. However, there are some major differences among the student body when it comes to community colleges versus four-year colleges and universities. Community colleges tend to attract more “non-traditional” students, but what does that mean? According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), seven characteristics are commonly seen in students who qualify as “non-traditional” – here they are:
- I didn’t go to college right after graduating from high school
- Attending college part-time instead of full-time
- Working a full-time job while in school
- Being financially independent of parents and family
- Having children or other dependents
- Being a single parent
- Having a GED rather than a high school diploma
Of course, not all non-traditional students fit all these criteria, but you only need one to be grouped in this category. However, you may be surprised to learn how common non-traditional students are at the undergraduate level as a whole – it is close to 75% of all undergraduate students fall into at least one or more of the categories listed above. Among those non-traditional students, the most common characteristic is part-time attendance, followed by having a full-time job and then delayed enrollment (waiting after graduating college).
Common Challenges Facing Non-Traditional Students
It is becoming increasingly common for high school graduates to delay their college entry. Many students choose instead to get some work experience before they settle on a major, and others need to work for a while to pay for a degree. No matter what it is that makes you a non-traditional student, there are certain challenges you are likely to face during your time at community college – here are some of the most common:
- Becoming a first-generation student
- Balancing financial obligations
- Learning to use modern technology
- Finding the time to work and study
- Balancing family commitments
- Having the self-confidence to be successful
Though it is certainly not always the case, many nontraditional students are also first-generation students – the first member of their family to attend college. While this is certainly an admirable achievement, it comes with challenges, particularly concerning the application process. If you are the first in your family to apply to college, you may have to figure out the process independently. The school may provide resources, such as admissions counseling, but it’s up to you to know how to find these resources and utilize them effectively. You’ll also have to figure out how to balance the financial obligations of paying for tuition, fees, and books while paying your rent, buying groceries, and paying utility bills.
Another challenge many non-traditional students face – particularly those who wait a decade or more to attend college – is learning to use modern technology. Many community college classes have an online component or may require students to do online research for papers and projects. If you don’t understand computer technology, or if you don’t have access to a computer at home, you may have trouble. Most schools have computer labs where you can access a computer, use the internet, and print things, but these resources are sometimes limited, so you may be unable to rely on them completely. If you can’t afford a computer, however, you may not have any other option.
Many non-traditional students attend classes part-time or at night because they work full-time. It is also often the case that these students rely on a full-time job to make a living. In cases like this, balancing work commitments with finding the time to attend classes, do homework, and study can be difficult. Even attending classes part-time can be a major time commitment, and you may also have trouble working your class schedule around your work schedule. This is one of the main reasons many non-traditional students prefer online classes – they offer greater flexibility, and you don’t always have to travel to the school to attend class.
In addition to balancing their financial and work commitments, many nontraditional students also have families to take care of. If you have children or other dependents, you may not have much time to spend in class or a lot of money to pay for tuition. If you are a single parent, this becomes even more challenging because you don’t have a spouse to share the burden with you. Many community colleges offer resources for non-traditional students, including child care, but it doesn’t always come for free and may not be available in all schools.
The final challenge on the list is having the self-confidence to be successful. For many non-traditional students, attending college is a lifelong dream, and they have worked hard to make it a reality. Unfortunately, it is also fairly common for non-traditional students to lack the kind of support system that many traditional students have. This makes it even more important to have confidence in yourself and your abilities – that is the only way you will succeed.
Tips for Achieving Success in Community College
Every student’s experience in community college is shaped by his or her life experience up to that point. Many non-traditional students face certain challenges when they enter community college, but they also benefit from some real-life experience. If you can put that experience to work for your benefit, you can be quite successful in community college. For example, if you work a full-time job, you have already learned important skills like responsibility, discipline, and time management. These skills will help you balance your work, school, and personal life. You may also already have a firm grip on your finances, knowing exactly how much you can afford to spend on tuition, fees, books, and other supplies while also meeting your financial obligations. Many non-traditional students are caregivers or parents, so they know how to juggle a dozen things simultaneously without letting any balls hit the ground. It takes many traditional students four full years of college to learn this.
In this video, Edwin Guzman offers some tips on success in college.
Entering community college as a non-traditional student is by no means easy – there are many challenges you will face daily. But you also bring some unique and important skills and experience, so don’t forget! By becoming aware of the top challenges facing non-traditional students in community college students before you start classes, you can prepare yourself to face those challenges head-on, improving your chances for success. Good luck!
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