Are you a non-traditional student? While there is no single definition for a non-traditional student in college, for the most part, non-traditional students fit one or more of the following categories: delayed college enrollment; part-time status; works full-time while enrolled in school; considered financially independent for financial aid purposes; has dependents other than a spouse; is a single parent; or may not have a high school diploma, but completed with a GED or other completion certificate.
Most colleges and universities have programs geared specifically towards the non-traditional student, and they want to help you succeed.
- Once you've narrowed down your college choices, schedule an on-campus visit. Contact the school to arrange an on-campus tour and visit.
- Find out what the school and campus have to offer to non-traditional students. Many colleges now offer programs specifically for non-traditional students with options for both full-time and part-time study.
- Explore the entire campus.
- Take a look at the surrounding neighborhoods, check out parking availability, visit different buildings on campus, and talk to students wherever you go on campus. Really get a feel for campus life.
- If you plan to purchase a meal plan, eat a meal in the campus dining hall. This will give you an idea about the quality of food as well as the atmosphere, as you'll be able to observe and talk with students.
- Arrange through the admissions office prior to your visit to attend at least one class in the discipline you are interested in for a major.
- Find out about graduation requirements, class sizes, etc.
- Arrange a meeting with a professor in your field of study before you arrive on campus. Ask for a college catalog and have a list of questions for the professor. Make sure the professor understands any concerns or questions you have about being a non-traditional student.
- If you're visiting multiple campuses, be sure to take lots of pictures and keep notes.
- Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA calculates how much a student is expected to contribute, how much federal aid a student qualifies for, or how much a student family is estimated to contribute. All federal scholarships, grants, and loans require it, as do many scholarships, both public and private.
- Apply for state scholarships through the Arkansas Division of Higher Education beginning on October 1. The YOUniversal Application applies you for each of the state aid applications.
- Search for scholarships, grants, and loans that apply to non-traditional students to get the most financial aid. Many of the resources traditional students use do not have age requirements so apply for these as well.
- Consider other financial resources that are available only to non-traditional students. These include: tax credits for lifelong learning, tuition reimbursement programs offered by employers, and low interest home equity loans. Research city, county or state "retraining" programs that cover many non-traditional students, or ask community or professional organizations if they have resources for non-traditional students, or if they might be willing to help you in other ways such as with daycare or the costs of textbooks.
Listed below are some online resources for non-traditional students. Just remember to be creative when looking for resources and don't be afraid to ask for help!
College for Adults
College for Adults has a step-by-step guide to the process of finding financial aid, choosing a school, tax credits available for education, and uncovering community resources. College for Adults is a project of the National College Transition Network.
Back to College
Back to College has links to information about admissions, financial aid, career planning, credit options, and degree programs. The "Frequently Asked Question" section is a good starting place on this site.