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Navigating Student Services: A Roadmap for Non-Traditional Students

Finishing college as a non-traditional student brings its own set of challenges and opportunities. Whether you’re a working professional, a parent, or someone returning to academia after a hiatus, your path through higher education is unique. Navigating the diverse landscape of student services is crucial for your success. This article serves as a roadmap, guiding you through the array of support services available to help you make the most of your educational journey.

Understanding Your Unique Path

Non-traditional students encompass a wide range of individuals, each with a distinctive story and set of circumstances. You may be an older adult returning to education, a part-time student balancing work and studies, a working professional seeking further qualifications, or a parent juggling family responsibilities. Recognizing and embracing the diversity within this group is the first step toward tailoring your college experience effectively.

Academic Support Services: Your Academic Allies

For many non-traditional students, adapting to academic requirements after a break from formal education can be challenging. That’s where academic support services become your allies. Take advantage of tutoring services, writing centers, and study groups to enhance your understanding and proficiency in coursework. Many institutions also offer online tutorials, understanding the need for flexibility in scheduling study sessions. Don’t hesitate to tap into these resources; they’re designed to empower you on your academic journey.

Amber Smith, the Vice President of Student Experience, Success, and Belonging at the University of Indianapolis explains that “there will be times in your journey when you’re really worried about finding a solution to a problem that you can’t figure out. Find the office that is designed to help you, whether that’s Student Affairs or Financial Aid. At the University of Indianapolis, we have the Terry Center for Campus Connections. Students can literally walk in with any problem and the staff there is trained on resources across campus to be able to help. One place. One stop. One conversation.”

Career Counseling and Development: Aligning Education with Your Goals

As a non-traditional student, your education likely extends beyond the pursuit of knowledge—it’s a pathway to career advancement and development. Engage with career counseling services early on to align your academic pursuits with your professional goals. Workshops, résumé reviews, and networking events can provide invaluable opportunities to connect with potential employers and explore career paths relevant to your experiences and aspirations.

Financial Aid and Scholarships: Navigating the Financial Terrain

Finances are a significant aspect of your educational journey. Navigating the complexities of financial aid, grants, and scholarships can be daunting, but institutions usually have dedicated offices to assist you. Take the time to understand your eligibility, the application processes, and the available funding options. Actively exploring these resources can alleviate financial burdens and make your education more accessible.

Flexible Learning Options: Tailoring Education to Your Schedule

Recognizing the varied schedules of non-traditional students, many institutions now offer flexible learning options. Online courses, evening classes, and weekend programs cater to those who cannot adhere to traditional daytime schedules. Understanding these alternatives empowers you to create a personalized academic plan that aligns with your other commitments. One option offered at Eastern Washington University is for students to start through their Professional and Continuing Education unit, which offers stackable certificates that can lead toward a degree.

Childcare and Family Support: Balancing Academics and Family Life

For non-traditional students who are also parents, the challenge of balancing family responsibilities with academic pursuits is real. Seek out institutions that provide childcare services, family-friendly spaces, and parenting support groups. For example, Eastern Washington University has a childcare center located on its campus in Cheney, WA that is open to students. Creating a supportive environment that acknowledges and addresses the unique challenges faced by student-parents can significantly contribute to your success.

Health and Wellness Resources: Nurturing Your Well-being

Balancing work, family, and academics can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. Institutions often provide health and wellness resources, including counseling services, fitness programs, and mental health workshops. These resources are crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Don’t hesitate to utilize them; taking care of your well-being is a fundamental component of your overall success. 

“At the University of Indianapolis, we understand how difficult it can be to manage your personal well-being and also life’s requirements like jobs, children, and finances,” says Amber Smith from the University of Indianapolis. “That’s why we created Decompress & Engage Spaces (DENS) across campus so you or your laptop can comfortably recharge.” 

Networking Opportunities: Building Your Professional Network

Building a professional network is essential for non-traditional students seeking to advance their careers. Institutions frequently organize networking events, career fairs, and alumni meetups. Actively participate in these opportunities to connect with professionals in your field, gain insights into industry trends, and build relationships that may open doors to future career opportunities.

Choosing the right college is a critical decision for non-traditional students, and the availability of comprehensive support services should be a key consideration in the selection process. Here are some strategies for identifying and evaluating these services when exploring prospective colleges:

1. Research College Websites

Start by thoroughly exploring the official websites of prospective colleges. Most institutions provide detailed information about their student services, including academic support, career counseling, financial aid, and wellness resources. Look for specific programs or initiatives tailored for non-traditional students.

2. Reach Out to Admissions and Student Affairs

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the admissions office and student affairs department. These offices can provide valuable insights into the range of services available for non-traditional students. Ask about the specific support structures in place and whether the college has experience catering to the needs of students with diverse backgrounds and commitments.

Interim Director of Admission at Meredith College Jill Hilliard speaks on the insights an admissions office can provide: “We understand the feelings and questions non-traditional students may have about the application process and how things will progress beyond the admitted stage. We’re here to help answer questions, provide next steps to ensure a seamless transition, and help make those important connections throughout campus.”

3. Attend College Open Houses and Information Sessions

Many colleges organize open houses and information sessions for prospective students. Attend these events to get a firsthand look at the campus environment and engage with representatives from various departments. Use this opportunity to ask questions about the support services available for non-traditional students.

“As a non-traditional student, you provide experiences that add value to the entire campus community,” says Hillard. “And because of that, it is important for colleges to offer programming for you to engage and learn more. Attend informational sessions or open houses to gain perspective, narrow your search, and define what will be the best fit for you based on your goals.”

4. Connect with Current Non-Traditional Students:

Seek out current non-traditional students or alumni from the colleges you’re considering. Online forums, social media groups, or networking events can be excellent platforms to connect with individuals who share similar experiences. Their perspectives can provide valuable insights into how well the institution caters to the needs of non-traditional students.

5. Visit the Campus and Talk to Faculty

If possible, visit the campuses of your top choices. Schedule meetings with faculty members to discuss the academic support systems and available resources. Faculty members often have firsthand knowledge of the support services and can offer guidance on how to navigate academic challenges.

6. Explore Online Reviews and Testimonials

Online reviews and testimonials from current and former students can offer candid perspectives on the support services provided by a college. Pay attention to reviews specifically from non-traditional students who may share their experiences in balancing work, family, and academics.

7. Check Accreditation and Rankings

 Accreditation and college rankings may not directly highlight support services, but they can be indicators of overall institutional quality. Well-established colleges with high rankings often have robust support structures in place. Ensure that the college you choose meets recognized standards of accreditation, and specific program accreditations of interest. For example, Eastern Washington University has specific program accreditations listed for consumers to review.

8. Consider Specialized Programs for Non-Traditional Students

Some colleges offer specialized programs or initiatives designed specifically for non-traditional students. Look for colleges that have established adult learner programs, flexible scheduling options, and targeted resources aimed at supporting the unique needs of non-traditional students.


By incorporating these strategies into your college research process, you can make an informed decision about the institutions that align best with your academic and personal goals as a non-traditional student. Remember that a college that prioritizes comprehensive support services is more likely to foster an environment conducive to your success in higher education.

As a non-traditional student, you bring a wealth of experiences and perspectives to the college environment. Navigating student services effectively will not only enhance your academic journey but also contribute to your overall success. Embrace the unique support services available to you, connect with your peers and mentors, and remember that your journey is distinctive and worthy of celebration. With the right roadmap, your college experience as a non-traditional student can be not just successful but truly transformative.

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