Can I Attend a Top College if I’m a Nontraditional Student?
When you picture the “typical” rising college freshman, you’re probably thinking about an 18-year-old recent high school graduate. While it’s true that many matriculating students do fit that mold, it’s also becoming increasingly common for people of all different ages and backgrounds to start their higher education careers at their own pace. We at CollegeVine think that’s fantastic! If you’re thinking about attending college as a nontraditional student, read on to learn about programs and other support systems available to you.
Who is a nontraditional student?
A nontraditional student is someone who doesn’t match the above picture of a “traditional” incoming college student — that is, a young person who’s just finished high school in the previous year or two — in a significant way, whether through having different life experiences, current realities, or needs. Often, these students are significantly older than the typical college student (age 23 or older) and may have taken time away from school or had to delay college for a period of time.
Many nontraditional students may be individuals who have had experiences that differ from other incoming college students, including military veterans, missionaries, and students who have had to delay college because of financial or health concerns. The definition might also include students who are married and have children at any age. If you’re not sure whether you fall into the category of a nontraditional student, check with individual colleges to see how they define this category.
The Benefits of Specialized Programs/Options for Nontraditional Students
If a college offers special programs or options for nontraditional students, it means that it is an institution open to accepting students outside the mold — sometimes so much so that it actively seeks them out.
Individual programs vary, but often, they offer part-time schedules and flexibility for students who have other responsibilities. They may also help you find housing that’s more appropriate for your situation rather than a traditional dorm. Often, they offer specialized financial aid and financial advising as well.
In terms of applying, these programs may be more flexible with their requirements. For instance, they may accept professional recommendations in the place of academic recommendations if the latter are no longer up-to-date.
Many of these college programs also offer special events and communities to bring together students with special circumstances to help them feel more included and gain a greater sense of community.
Top Programs for Nontraditional Students
- At Brown University’s Resumed Undergraduate Education (RUE) Program, students enjoy the same opportunities as other Brown students. One aspect of undergraduate life at Brown that might be especially appealing to nontraditional students is the university’s open curriculum. Program participants usually pursue 3–4 courses per semester, and may submit requests to take fewer credits.
- Columbia University School of General Studies is specifically intended for nontraditional students; in fact, the average age of students is 27. Students are fully integrated into the undergraduate curriculum. The school offers several unique programs, including a joint bachelor’s degree program between City University of Hong Kong and Columbia University.
- The Eli Whitney Students Program (EWSP) at Yale enrolls a small number of nontraditional students who have interrupted or delayed their education for at least five years. Students may enroll full-time or part-time and earn a bachelor of arts or science from Yale College.
- Tufts University’s Resumed Education for Adult Learning (R.E.A.L.) Program admits students who are at least 24 and have taken at least two courses at a two- or four-year institution within the last five years. The program boasts a number of special features, including a first-semester credit-bearing seminar that addresses the issues of attending college as an adult.
- Specifically intended for transfer and adult students, the NYU School of Professional Studies Paul McGhee Division offers flexible schedules and support services, including an ambassador program that connects current students with incoming nontraditional students and potential credits for life experiences.
- Vassar College, Wesleyan University, and Dartmouth College host military veteran students through the POSSE Veterans Program. Students attend college in a cohort of 10 veterans and receive support and mentoring throughout their time on campus. The program intends to expand to include 12 top colleges and universities over the next five years.
What to Do Next in Your Educational Path
In addition the the programs we’ve described, many top colleges may be willing to make special accommodations for nontraditional students on a case-by-case basis. If you’re wondering if a college you hope to attend is one of them, contact an admissions representative and ask.
Be sure to discuss your particular circumstances, and ask what they can offer, how to apply, and what requirements you’ll need to meet. Also ask how your cost and financial aid might differ from those of a traditional student, and if there are scholarships available for nontraditional students.
If you are a military veteran, be sure to specify your status when you talk to an admissions representative, because you will likely have more financial aid options and other accommodations available to you.
Looking for help navigating the road to college? Check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Our mentors drive significant personal and professional development for students. Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As mentees learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills. The ultimate goal is for college admissions to just be the next step in a series of long-term successes.
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