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Going Back to School: Options for Non-Traditional Students

By Sophie Walton

Obtaining your college degree is not as difficult as you may believe. Community colleges, online colleges, and night classes are all options which can make getting your college degree affordable and convenient.

More people are deciding to return to college to complete or obtain a college degree to enhance their employment opportunities. Non-traditional college students have several options to choose from when returning to college that make it easier for them. These choices each have certain advantages for non-traditional students to help them achieve their goals and complete their college education. Beyond traditional four-year universities, students might consider community college, online college, or night college, depending on their particular needs.

Community Colleges

Community colleges typically have special departments that are targeted toward the non-traditional student. These special programs help returning students by providing assistance with financial aid, working with four-year institutions to transfer credits and planning a class schedule that works with the student's lifestyle. Advantages of community colleges that benefit non-traditional students are:


One of the best features of community colleges for non-traditional students is flexibility -- day and evening classes, online classes and weekend classes offer non-traditional students the flexibility they need to return to school. I have attended all of these classes and understand that each type of class has its own dynamic of student, which offered me a new perspective on subjects from the different types of class discussions.

Lower Tuition

Tuition at community colleges is typically lower than that of a traditional four-year institution, and many states offer special grants for non-traditional students returning to school, making community colleges an affordable alternative.


Convenient locations within communities offer non-traditional students the ability to pursue their educations when attending a four-year institution would be practically impossible. Many community colleges have satellite campuses to make it even more convenient for the non-traditional student.

Assistance When Transferring

Community colleges offer assistance in transferring credits to four-year universities. Some even have agreements with four-year universities in which classes have already been approved for transfer for specific programs.

Small Classes

Smaller classes offer students more one-on-one time with professors as well as the opportunity to build connections with others in their chosen field of study.

Online Colleges

Online colleges are extremely popular with non-traditional students. Individual students returning to school often have full-time jobs and families, making it difficult to attend school in a traditional classroom setting. Online colleges can be a good fit for these students, offering:


Online colleges probably offer the most flexibility for non-traditional students returning to school because the student can attend class 24 hours a day, seven days a week by simply logging onto a computer from anywhere.

Lower Tuition than Traditional Colleges

The tuition for online college is typically lower and many offer financing options that are not available at traditional and community colleges.

Lower Stress Environment

Online classes can be less intimidating for non-traditional students since you are not in front of a large group of people, but rather in the comfort of your home. Class participation in discussions may be easier for you. As a result, students may find themselves interacting more with professors and other students.

Build Technology Skills

Online colleges teach non-traditional students important technology that will be useful in just about any field of study.

Faster Completion of Degree

Many online colleges offer degrees in a shorter amount of time than a traditional college, which may be important to non-traditional students. Because classes are more individualized, students can work at their own pace and complete their degree in less time online.

Night Colleges

Some colleges offer degrees with classes solely held at night. These colleges are good for non-traditional students who work during the day, but are able to attend school after work in the evenings. In addition to the benefit of all classes being held in the evenings, night college has these benefits as well:

Small Class Sizes & Potential for Stronger Relationships

Night college classes are usually small, thereby offering students the ability to interact with the professor and each other. Students and professors tend to form closer relationships because they see each other every evening.

Highly Focused, Motivated Classmates

Typically, non-traditional students attending night college are very motivated -- they work full-time during the day and may have a family. These students must be focused, organized and driven to excel in college. The result is a classroom where students are prepared and focused on learning.

Going back to school is a great first step. Finding the right type of school can be a major factor in whether you complete your journey toward a degree.

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