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How to Get Involved on Campus as a Non-Traditional Student

Nathan Wilgeroth / Abound: Finish College »

A strong support network and active participation are crucial to your success throughout college. When you get involved on campus and feel that you have a clear role in your community, you will be able to stay excited about your coursework and feel valued as a team member. However, if you’re a non-traditional student (that is, anyone who isn’t a full-time student under 25 who lives on campus), getting involved might feel far out of reach. After all, many of your classes might be online, you probably commute home off campus instead of in a dorm, and your peers might be in different age groups and with different life circumstances. 

It’s easy to feel disconnected from others as a non-traditional student, but the truth is that you’re definitely not alone; nearly half of all college students fall outside of the traditional 18-24, straight-out-of-high-school range. And while getting involved may not appear to have a clear path for you, it is definitely not impossible. Here are a few ways to stay connected to your campus community!

What Are Some Ways to Get Involved? 

  • Join a Club
    For many traditional undergrads, clubs and student organizations are the most direct sources for new connections. If you’re attending college as a part-time and/or adult learner, however, this option might not feel immediately available. But don’t worry! The participation requirements for most student organizations at most schools are simply to be undergraduates at the university. Look around for clubs you might be interested in! You could find academic-based organizations, affinity groups, service opportunities, or clubs based on any niche interest. Ask around to see how you can take part in such a community-building experience.
  • Join an Intramural Sports Team
    Similar to other student organizations, intramural sports teams are great outlets for connection. What’s more, athletics can help you blow off some steam during a busy year of work and school. Check in with the leaders of any teams you might be interested in to see what your options are and how you can participate. 
  • Do an Internship or a Research Assistantship
    Depending on your program discipline, a hands-on learning experience like an internship might already be required. If it’s not, consider doing one anyway; you’ll cultivate a professional relationship with your faculty supervisor and thoroughly develop both your academic and professional network, all while boosting your résumé. 
  • Go to Campus Events
    As hubs of critical thought and intellectual exploration, college campuses are always hosting events to promote students and faculty interaction. Guest lectures, roundtable events, and career fairs will encourage you to stay curious while being surrounded by others who share your interests. Keep your eyes peeled for different events around campus—even departments outside of your particular area of study will welcome you to sit in and participate.

How Can You Balance Your Other Obligations?

In most cases, non-traditional students naturally have more conflicting priorities outside of school that might keep them from getting involved on campus. With proper time management, however, you might be able to find a way to engage more deeply. 

  • Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
    If you can’t manage any extracurricular activities without sacrifice, then don’t do it! Ultimately, your academic and professional success is more important than a club. Overcommitting can easily cause burnout, so don’t stretch yourself so thin that all your priorities suffer.
  • Establish a Routine
    Following a routine is a great way to manage time successfully. When something is part of your daily/weekly rhythm, you will get used to the way you spend your time and energy on it. This consistency will keep you from taking up extra brain space as you plan out your work, school, and personal schedule. Figure out what time you can spare throughout the week for a club or organization and work it into your routine.
  • Get Help When You Need It
    We’re not meant to do everything entirely on our own. Just as you probably have friends and family who you would be happy to support, others are sure to have your back, too! There is no shame in asking for some help, whether you strategize with an advisor, ask a professor for an extension or some extra information, or even get someone you know to help take care of your kids or run some errands. With a bit of help, you can succeed as a student, employee, and family even as you take on some new activities.

Support & Resources for Adult/Non-Traditional Students

There are plenty of resources that you can access to help ensure your success. Check out the following organizations to support your journey.

10,000 Degrees

This national nonprofit works to improve and encourage educational access for all women, including those who fall into the nontraditional category.

The Adult Higher Education Alliance

AHEA encourages collaboration and partnership between individuals and institutions who want to support and advance services available to adults enrolled in higher education.

Adult Student Aid Checklist

The U.S. Department of Education provides this checklist to ensure adult students don’t miss out on available funding.

Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society

This organization recognizes the special achievements of adults who accomplish academic excellence while facing competing interests of home and work.

The Council for Adult & Experiential Learning

CAEL works tirelessly to break down barriers and make it easy for students – no matter their age – to get the education and training they need to thrive.

Nontraditional Student Association

Though not available on every campus, newly enrolled learners should check to see if their campus has a similar association where they can find community and support from individuals with similar experiences.

Nontraditional Student Childcare Grants

Many colleges, including Southern Utah University, offer discounted part- or full-time childcare for adult learners who need these services while in school.

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