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How to Find Your Career Path as a Non-Traditional Student

Deciding to attend college after taking a different route in life presents a unique set of both challenges and opportunities. Whether you’re seeking to enhance your current career, switch professions, or explore new passions, this guide is here to empower you every step of the way. As a non-traditional student, you bring a wealth of life experiences, skills, and perspectives that enrich the college campus and learning environment. Your decision to return to college reflects a remarkable commitment to lifelong learning and a desire to unlock new horizons of success and fulfillment.

Navigating the intricacies of finding the right career may seem daunting, but we can help. In this article, we will delve into some insights and actionable strategies to help you identify and pursue a career that aligns with your passions, strengths, and aspirations. From understanding your unique skill set to exploring potential career opportunities and leveraging the resources available to you, our aim is to equip you with the tools and confidence needed to carve out a rewarding and purposeful professional journey.

Self-Reflection and Assessment:

Take the time to engage in self-reflection and assessment. Consider your interests, values, skills, and strengths. Reflect on your previous work experience, education, and personal achievements. Identify patterns or themes that emerge, as they can provide valuable insights into potential career paths that align with your passions and abilities. Embrace the opportunity to rediscover your goals and aspirations.
Jacqueline Patron, Director of Admissions, Professional & Graduate Studies at Albertus Magnus College, encourages anyone who is considering a change. “Remember, you’re not alone in this.  More and more people are returning to the classroom. Perhaps they need an academic boost to get a promotion. Others simply want to make a change. At Albertus Magnus College, 52-percent of our students are non-traditional, so you’re in great company,”

Research and Exploration:

The job market is vast and ever-evolving, and you might be surprised to learn about all the possible career paths that are out there. Use such resources as job boards, industry reports, and professional networks to learn about different fields, job roles, and market trends. Attend career fairs, informational interviews, and networking events to connect with professionals in your areas of interest and gain firsthand insights. Be open to discovering new possibilities and expanding your horizons.

“One way to do some research is to simply have a conversation over a cup of coffee or tea,” Patron suggested.  “You’d be surprised how people open-up and share their experiences.”

Leverage Previous Work and Life Experience:

Your previous work and life experience are invaluable assets as a non-traditional student. While traditional college students generally lack life experience, you already have an idea of how to tackle difficult issues both in life and on the job. Nathan Leakway, a junior Professional Writing major at York College of Pennsylvania, found that the skills he learned working in kitchens in his twenties helped prepare him to enter higher education as a non-traditional student. “I was able to hone my time management skills working in restaurants,” says Leakway. “That high-pressure environment was a daily testing ground for my ability to stay on task and to work well with others under difficult circumstances,” he says. “It’s been such a relief to find that these skills are more than relevant to my academic work.”

Identify the transferable skills you have developed, such as leadership, problem-solving, communication, or project management. Consider how these skills can be applied to different industries or job roles. Connect the dots between your past experiences and the skills sought after in your desired career path. Emphasize your unique perspective and abilities.

Pursue Further Education or Training:

Returning to college as a non-traditional student often involves pursuing further education or training. Evaluate the educational requirements of your desired career path and determine if additional degrees, certifications, or vocational programs are necessary or beneficial. Explore flexible learning options, such as part-time or online programs, that can accommodate your personal and professional responsibilities. Choose a program that aligns with your career goals and provides the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve them.

“We’ve been ahead of the curve on this one,” says Patron. “Albertus is a pioneer in online learning, and we’re constantly striving to embrace innovative ways for students to learn that works best with their busy personal and professional lives.”

Seek Mentorship and Guidance: 

As you navigate the college journey, seek mentorship and guidance from professionals in your desired fields. Connect with individuals who have achieved success and have experiences relevant to your goals. They can provide valuable insights, guidance, and support. Join professional associations or alumni networks to expand your network and access mentorship opportunities. Surround yourself with a supportive community that understands and values your unique journey.

Cal State Fullerton alumna Tin Luong-Uhl ’23 (B.S. mechanical engineering) moved to the United States from Vietnam when she was 22 years old to pursue higher education. Supported by her faculty mentors, Luong-Uhl achieved her goal of a college degree and said she is proud of the engineer she has become. 

“I always wanted to be a successful woman. I want to be a model for my kids when they grow up,” says Luong-Uhl. “By earning a college degree, I can support my family to the best of my ability and my children will have better lives than me. My dream of becoming an engineer is my proudest achievement.” 
Read more of Luong-Uhl’s story here.

Reach Across the Age Gap:

Nathan Leakway also shares his perspective on the topic of the age gap: 

Differences in age can be intimidating, even alienating, but just as mentorship from those who have already achieved success in your field can provide guidance and support, so too can relationships formed with younger students. Reach out to traditional students, work with them and learn from their experiences and worldviews. After all, you will be entering your chosen field along with them upon graduation, and relationships formed in college can be relationships that last a lifetime. Do not let differences in age or experience prevent you from experiencing one of the primary benefits of attending college.

Embrace Continuous Learning:

In today’s rapidly evolving world, continuous learning is essential. Embrace a growth mindset and commit to lifelong learning. Stay updated on industry trends, advancements, and emerging technologies. Engage in professional development opportunities, such as workshops, webinars, or online courses, to stay relevant and enhance your skills. Embracing continuous learning will empower you to adapt to changing career landscapes and seize new opportunities.

Let’s not forget that you can also add stackable certifications and micro-credentials to further prepare yourself with employer-desired skills. Take the Albertus Career eXcelerator program for example, which is designed to make you more marketable in a highly competitive job market.  Free to Albertus graduates, courses are taught by industry experts from corporations such as Goodwill, Google, IBM, Intuit, Meta, Salesforce, SAP, and Tally.

“Albertus graduates are consistently recognized for their lifelong learning skills and achievements—as you can see by their contributions to their workplaces and to their communities,” says Patron.

Patience and Persistence:

Finding your career path as a non-traditional student is a journey that requires patience and persistence. Recognize that setbacks and challenges are part of the process. Stay focused on your goals and adapt your approach as needed. Celebrate small victories along the way, and use setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. Remember, each step you take brings you closer to discovering a fulfilling and successful career.

Choose the Right Degree Completion Program:

When selecting a degree completion program, consider factors such as program flexibility, reputation, faculty expertise, and support services. Look for programs that cater specifically to non-traditional students, offering resources and accommodations to meet your unique needs. Reach out to admissions counselors and faculty members to learn more about the program and discuss how it aligns with your career aspirations.

Remember, as a non-traditional student, you possess a wealth of skills, experiences, and resilience that can contribute to your success. Approach your journey with confidence and embrace the possibilities that lie ahead. With the right mindset and strategic approach, you are well on your way to a brighter future.

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