The best colleges for a nontraditional student

Embarking on the journey of higher education is a transformative experience, but for nontraditional students, the path can be uniquely challenging. Whether you’re a parent returning to school, a veteran transitioning to civilian life, or someone simply taking a nontraditional route, finding the right college can make all the difference. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the factors that define a nontraditional student, explore the challenges they may face, and highlight some of the best colleges tailored to meet their diverse needs.

Defining Nontraditional Students:

Before we dive into the intricacies of choosing the right college, let’s define what it means to be a nontraditional student. Generally, nontraditional students are those who don’t fit the traditional mold of an 18-year-old high school graduate entering college full-time. This diverse group includes adult learners returning to school after a hiatus, individuals with work or family responsibilities, veterans transitioning to civilian life, and those pursuing a second career.

Challenges Faced by Nontraditional Students:

Nontraditional students often face unique challenges that differ from their more traditional counterparts. Balancing work, family, and academic responsibilities can be daunting. Financial constraints, outdated skills, and a sense of being out of touch with the academic environment are common hurdles. Therefore, selecting a college that understands and addresses these challenges is crucial for nontraditional students to thrive.

Key Considerations When Choosing a College:

  1. Flexibility and Accessibility: Nontraditional students often require flexibility in class schedules to accommodate work or family commitments. Look for colleges that offer evening classes, online courses, and flexible degree programs. Institutions like Arizona State University and Southern New Hampshire University excel in providing a variety of formats to suit diverse student needs.
  2. Support Services: Robust support services can make a significant difference for nontraditional students. Seek colleges with dedicated advisors for adult learners, childcare facilities, and counseling services. The University of Maryland University College is renowned for its comprehensive support network, including career counseling and academic advising tailored to adult learners.
  3. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) Credits: Nontraditional students often bring valuable life experiences that can be translated into academic credits. Colleges that recognize and reward prior learning through PLA credits can significantly shorten the time required to complete a degree. Thomas Edison State University is a pioneer in this area, offering a variety of PLA credit options.
  4. Affordability and Financial Aid: Affordability is a significant concern for many nontraditional students. Look for colleges with reasonable tuition rates and robust financial aid programs. Excelsior College in New York, for example, offers affordable online degree programs and a variety of financial aid options.
  5. Career Services: Nontraditional students often have specific career goals in mind. Colleges with strong career services, internship programs, and industry connections can provide valuable support in helping nontraditional students transition successfully into the workforce. Northeastern University’s co-op programs and career counseling services are exemplary in this regard.


Choosing the right college as a nontraditional student is a crucial step toward a successful academic journey. By considering factors such as flexibility, support services, recognition of prior learning, affordability, and career services, nontraditional students can find institutions that align with their unique needs. As the landscape of higher education continues to evolve, these colleges serve as beacons of inclusivity and understanding, paving the way for nontraditional students to achieve their academic and professional aspirations.

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