Back-to-School Advice for Nontraditional Students

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - EducationWhile back-to-school promotions and advertisements are often geared at young high school graduates headed off to the dorms, the truth is, higher education is no longer only a young person’s game. In fact, roughly 40 percent of America’s college students are non-traditional students embarking on college later in life, according to the U.S. Department of Education. “Today’s students are mid-level workers looking to change or further their careers, former members of the military looking to enter the private work force and single parents wanting to do better for their families,” said Terri Hines, president of Everest College in Burr Ridge. Just in time for fall registration at many Chicagoland schools, Hines offers these tips for nontraditional students to ease the transition back to school and to get the most out of their education.

Seek financial help
Money is an issue for almost everyone going back to school – especially for nontraditional students who are often supporting families and juggling other financial obligations, Hines said. However, keep in mind that scholarships are not just for young students. Many organizations such as AARP, NAACP and local community organizations offer various scholarships to older students, working mothers and nontraditional students of all kinds. Also, Hines suggests asking schools about the kind of financial aid they offer, as well as any work-study opportunities.

Choose the Program for You
Nontraditional students have very specific reasons for wanting to go back to school, and they should evaluate potential programs based on their own set of priorities and criteria, Hines said. “Programs that appeal to a traditional student may be too lengthy or broad for the needs of nontraditional students,” said Hines. “College is not one-size-fits-all, so find the program that works best for you.”

For many students, the most important factor is the ability to train in career fields with high growth, rather that studying a broad variety of subjects. Everest College, for example, offers programs in several in-demand fields including medical assistant, pharmacy technician and dental assistant training. Programs are short-term, allowing most students to complete their studies in as little as nine months.

Manage Your Time
For full-time college students, going to school is their job – but many nontraditional students don’t have that luxury. If you’re balancing a full-time job, plus a relationship or children, adding school to an already busy schedule will require careful time management, Hines said. Before the start of the week, sit down and plan out your schedule, blocking off specific time dedicated to homework and study. When something comes up during those hours, stay strong, politely decline, and keep your date to study.

Create a Support System
“On that first day of class, don’t let concerns about your age or background prevent you from reaching out and making new friends with your classmates, Hines said. “Almost every student, both traditional and nontraditional, has some of the same worries that you do.” Fellow classmates can create wonderful support networks for each other – from arranging study groups to providing encouragement – and even fun – through the stresses of college life.

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