Advantages of a Non-Traditional Student

Posted by on July 5th, 2016

As an adult educator, many of your students are considered non-traditional. Seven characteristics are identified by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) as making a student non-traditional: delayed enrollment into post-secondary education; attends college part-time; works full time; is financially independent for financial aid purposes; has dependents other than a spouse; is a single parent; or does not have a high school diploma.

These categories are based on a previous study by NCES. Additional sources list other characteristics in the definition of an adult learner, including commuter, distance-learning participants, adult learners (over 25) and veterans. Some of your students may even fit under more than one category.

The result of a changing learner demographic is a changing response to learners’ needs, making high school equivalency (HSE), continuing education and college more attainable. Just as the learners and access have changed, the attitude towards them have changed. More than ever, others are recognizing the positive advantages of being a non-traditional student:



Non-traditional students sometimes display a greater ability to focus than others. They are used to focusing on other tasks and details in other areas of their lives and this ability to focus carries over into their learning. Non-traditional students also have the ability to prioritize very well because they are used to prioritizing other responsibilities.



Non-traditional students have the advantage of knowing and understanding the real world. Therefore, they are more clear when it comes to goal setting. They understand the potential outcomes and make informed choices regarding their goals. Non-traditional students know and keep the end goal in mind.


Life Experience

Adult learners bring a wide range of previous knowledge and prior experience with them. Knowing how the world works and the impact of various occurrences allows them to comprehend material and relate it to real life better than younger students.


Maturity & Confidence

Maturity and confidence often accompany non-traditional learners in the classroom. This means they are more likely to interact with their instructors than some of their peers.



Non-traditional learners are motivated differently. They often have a lot more riding on their success than others. This motivation can range from increased work and salary options to more flexibility to engage with family.


Active Participation

Non-traditional learners are more likely to be active participants in the classroom. They are less likely to fear teacher and peer criticism.


At one point, non-traditional learners seemed to be a significant minority. With the current definition of non-traditional students being so broad, more people fall into this category. The rise in non-traditional student participation in educational programs has provided significant evidence of the advantages of being non-traditional. The benefits can be seen in many areas from motivation, to active participation, to goal setting and more. As an instructor, you have the ability to capitalize on these advantages as you work to further student success.

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