Old Dogs, New Tricks

A blog for non-traditional students

Who Is a Non-traditional Student?

Before we go any further, let’s figure out what this rather pejorative term means.

 Non-traditional student – A student who is either returning to college or starting college at an age older than typical freshmen. – from the UC human resources department in a list of idioms for new hires (http://www.uc.edu/hr/new_hires/idioms.html)

 Non-traditional students – Students who are older than the typical undergraduate college student (usually aged 18-25) and had interrupted their studies earlier in life OR students of traditional age but attending colleges or programs that provide unconventional scheduling to allow for other responsibilities and pursuits concurrent with attaining a degree (example give include Olympians and professional athletes). – from the Wikipedia entry for non-traditional student (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/non-traditional_student)

– see also mature student, adult learner (also used on the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences explanation of options available to non-traditional students)


My own personal definition of non-traditional student is slightly less precise and a bit less diplomatic:  I generally think of us as the “old farts.”  I know that the age range for non-traditional students is pretty vast and that a 50-year-old undergrad would probably consider me (at the tender age of 33) as a young pup.  Nevertheless, those of us who fall outside the “typical” mold of college students are lumped together like some sort of weird sub-species.

 What unites us is the fact that we all bring to our classrooms something more than just 13 years of book learning.  We’ve got what most people refer to as “life experiences” under our belts.  While the book learning stuff is important for a university setting, a few encounters with the “real world” often proves to be much more critical to a successful undergraduate career.  For those of us who come to college after starting families, we understand what it means to be responsible in a way few high school seniors do.  Others have returned to complete their degrees after spending time in the work force where the importance of deadlines is hammered home much more effectively than any amount of term papers might be able to.

 Still, sometimes this surfeit of “experience” comes with downsides.  Our classmates (and even some professors) expect more from us than other “traditional” students, because we are more “mature” and “should know better.”  (A quick look at my credit history would put this myth to rest rather quickly.)

 And the heaviest burden non-traditional students bring to their college experiences is the additional responsibilities inherent in taking care of yourself.  Alright, I confess that I live with my parents (and son) while I’m completing my degree, so maybe I don’t seem all that different from the youngsters who are here on Mom and Dad’s dime.  But I have my own issues that complicate being a (successful) undergraduate; I’m a (newly) single mother, trying to juggle my son’s soccer schedule and growing piles of homework with the papers, books and lectures from my 18-credit-hour courseload.

 Regardless of the differences between us, non-traditional students do have common interest and I hope to address some of those things that are vitally important to our community.  From the recent changes made by the university that may adversely affect us (loss of dependent coverage in our student health insurance) to the culture shock of learning alongside people who weren’t even born when we graduated from high school, I’ll examine issues from the unique persepective as a mature learner and try to represent the interests of non-traditional students in general.

 *** Danielle Frink, resident old fart

January 10, 2009 - Posted by | Student Life

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