"Is there going to be anyone else like me in class?
Or am I going to be the only person my age?"
A new advisee, likely in her thirties, asked me those questions while we were figuring out her Fall courses schedule. I'm so used to diversity of age and experience in our classrooms that I forget how hard it can be to start school as a "non-trad" (non-traditional student) or come back to college after being away for years. I consistently underestimate this as a professor, probably because I love having non-trad students in class. From my perspective, though some of them struggle to brush up their reading, writing, and academic skills, non-trads have so much more going for them than most students coming straight to college from high school.
So what makes someone a non-trad student? Non-trads are often older than traditional students, but not always. For instance, if you have a baby, you become a non-trad. Non-trads usually have or have had jobs, been paying bills, and maybe raising kids or taking care of adult parents or other loved ones. Non-trads may be veterans or currently in the military. Having a job is not a particularly defining feature for non-trads by itself. At this point, I assume nearly all of our students are working at least part-time, if not more. By the way, google informs me that non-trads are twenty-five years old or older. Not sure why the age line was drawn there.
Are you prepared for a few of my generalizations as to why non-trads students make awesome college students? [These are generalizations. You've been warned.]
1. Non-trad students often have a clearer reason for being in school at this point in their lives. You chose to come to school now, not just because you're "supposed to" or because you weren't sure what else to do. You know what your time is worth and how precious it is. [By the way, lest you think I am slamming folks who come to college right from high school, I'm not. I was one of those students. I was a pretty serious, focused student and got a lot out of undergrad, but I'm sure that I got more out of schooling that I chose when I was older than I did during my undergrad years.]
2. You've got skills! And you may underestimate how they will serve you in school or how important they are, but the skills you have are the very ones that many students coming from high school haven't developed yet. Planning. Prioritizing. Understanding schedules. Clear communication. Better social skills. If you've been a parent or a caretaker, you've been to skill building boot camp. You really know how to prioritize and get stuff done. You know what procrastination gets you, especially when you are juggling lots of different responsibilities. Hopefully this allows you to skip the first term lull where new students think "this is easy", until midterm catches up with them.
3. Non-trad students often know how to advocate for themselves and ask for help when they need it. I regard all college students as adults, but embracing and owning your adulthood allows you to just ask the question. You may feel reticent or nervous about speaking up or asking questions, but you folks are far braver and know what you need to do. I'm very thankful for the students in our classes who call me out when I'm using words they are unfamiliar with or assuming the class is with me when I'm not making myself clear. That student who speaks up is usually making a point or asking a question that at least five other students wanted to ask. Students who speak up and give feedback really are a gift to the class, whether they are traditional or non-traditional students. But I think this is a non-trad strong suit.
4. Your presence alongside your younger straight-out-of-high-school counterparts makes classroom discussions much, much more interesting for all of us. Nothing makes classroom more vibrant than diversity of experience and opinion. And echo chamber of similar experience and agreement doesn't help any of us understand the complexity of the world or improve our communication with people around us.
So, rock on non-trads. You have a lot to share with us in the classroom and a lot to learn from you each other and traditional students too. See you soon!
|Got a student club for non-trads, commuters, and/or students with children?|
|Did you know that the beginning of November is Non-Trad Student Week?|
How should we celebrate that week?