Applying to college as a nontraditional student can seem so overwhelming. Applying for college, in general, can be overwhelming, but what do you do when you no longer have your high school transcripts or haven’t taken your ACTs or SATs in years? One of the craziest things about college is how, at 18, we have to sign up for debt and pick out something we want to do for the rest of our lives. And while some might be lucky enough to know what that calling might be, some aren’t so lucky. So instead of wasting money your first few years figuring out the rest of your life, you decided to get a job and skip college for the time being. But now, after a bit of life experience, you do know what you want to study. So how do you go about applying to college? Is it the same as before when you were in high school? What does being a nontraditional student even entail? 

What is a Nontraditional Student

There are a bunch of different factors in determining if you are a traditional or nontraditional student. Traditional students go to college right after high school. They also are full-time students and live on campus. So if you are part-time, live off-campus, or even being over 25 can make you a nontraditional student. The definition varies from school to school, but that’s the gist of it. 

Challenges for Nontraditional Students

Balancing life, work, and school

Life is a balancing act but throwing in something as stressful as school is asking for trouble. There are weeks where it can feel like you have zero time for yourself. Even if you plan out everything perfectly, you’re left exhausted. And if you decide to go back to school, your very little personal time is about to nonexistent. Time management and learning what things are essential and what aren’t will be the key to your success. If you want to read more on achieving balance in life, read Tips to Help You Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance.

Financial Aid for Nontraditional Students

The biggest deterrent for going to college is money. I could go on a huge rant about how college is so expensive, and it makes no sense other than greed, but I won’t. You already know how dumb the price tag is. You don’t need me reminding you. I will say that there are a few financial aid perks for going back to school after turning 25. Finaid does a great job of breaking it down.


It’s so easy to feel like you are behind in life. We come up with these plans for our lives when we are 17 and 18 that are naive at best. Yeah, some people graduate in 4 years and marry the person they met freshman year, but life isn’t a race. There is no finish line, and there is no winner. Going back to school or going to college for the first time as someone who isn’t the average college freshman age can be a shot to your confidence. But remind yourself that all that matters is that you are there to achieve your goals. Age doesn’t matter, and the fact that you decided to go should speak to your confidence.

Tips to Consider

There are a few things to consider when applying as a nontraditional student. You have other responsibilities. And while college will be a new big priority in your life, it won’t be your only one. 

  1. Flexibility – Pick programs that can be flexible with your schedule. Think about taking night classes or weekend classes, or maybe you’d rather rip it off like a bandaid. Consider taking accelerated courses. Your life might be hell for a few weeks, but it will be over sooner. 
  2. Online Programs – Online programs are one of the greatest benefits of living in the computer era. It takes a different kind of discipline than normal classes to stay on top of online classes, but it always helps you be more flexible with your time. 
  3. Affordability – There is no need to go to the best college anymore. All employers care about is that you have a degree and have real-world skills to back it up. Find a program that fits within your financial ability. 

Whether it’s your first time going to college or you’re going back after a few years away, you should be proud of yourself. Going back to school is a big step filled with challenges, but it can also be fulfilling. I hope it all works out for you, and you can go on to achieve all your dreams and goals. 

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