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Advice to Non-Traditional Students


Believe it or not, 75% of all undergraduate students have at least one of the characteristics that are considered nontraditional.  What is a nontraditional student? According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) there are seven characteristics that are common to nontraditional students.

To be considered a nontraditional undergraduate, you: 1. Do not immediately continue your education after you graduate from high school 2. Attend college only part time 3. Work full time (35 hours or more per week) 4. Are financially independent 5. Have children or dependents other than your spouse 6. Are a single parent 7. Have a GED, not a high school diploma

Currently, I am a senior at Sam Houston State University, and I’ll be graduating in December 2019.  I have been a nontraditional student off and on since 1985.  I was attending college full-time on September 11, 2001 when Islamic Terrorists hijacked airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon killing almost 3000 people. I quit school then to serve my country, and now I am finally finishing what I began in the 80s.  I have learned a few things over the last three decades about being a nontraditional student.

The first lesson I have learned is that it is important not to quit on yourself or your goals.  Sometimes your education can be interrupted by life, but don’t let interruptions defeat your dreams. 

The second lesson I have learned is don’t be afraid to ask people for help.  There is no shame in that and bringing people along with your educational journey is not only easier but more fulfilling.

The third lesson I have learned is that it is very important to set apart the time necessary to study and to do homework assignments.  Have enough humility to not overcommit your time or to put your studies off in order to do things that aren’t necessary.

The fourth lesson I have learned is that it is almost impossible to work full time, go to school full time, and raise a family without dropping some of the balls you are juggling.  Try to either work part time, to take smaller class loads, or to get financial help so you don’t have to work full time. 

The fifth lesson is to make sure to schedule time for relaxation or fun, not to the point of excess, but if you don’t reward yourself for all your hard work, you’ll become resentful.  If you become resentful of your sacrifice you might just quit.

Don’t be afraid to tell your boss at work that you are taking classes or to ask for their assistance with your schedule.  Most employers are supportive of students who are working to improve themselves.

By the same token don’t be afraid to tell your professors if life or work causes problems with your classes or assignments.  Tell your professors immediately what happened, and they will usually work with you to help you succeed. 

If you have time, join a campus club or organization.  It is always good to have a network of friends to help you for many reasons.  Going to school with a job and family is hard, it is a heavy load to carry alone, so don’t be afraid to share the load with your family, your work, and your friends.

Finally take classes for a career not for a job.  If you love what you are learning and are excited about your future it makes the whole experience better and could make all the difference between success and failure.

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