Defining "Non-Traditional Students"

Given the minimal activity in this category, this seemed like a good place for me to start my participation in the Programs and

Degrees website.


The single other post, to date, in this category discusses a topic geared specifically to 'older' students. And, certainly, that

is one category of non-traditional student. However, I myself take a much broader perspective on what, indeed, the definition of

'non-traditional' student encompasses. Even, within that category, I would expand 'non-traditional' students to include students

who have delayed their entrance into college by a relatively short time. Perhaps not only by a single year, since it's becoming

increasingly common for students to have what -- at least in Europe -- is known as a 'gap year' before entering college as a

freshman. Those who purposefully plan a gap year, per se, often do not spend that time in a workplace setting, but on activities

such as travel or volunteer activities that may help them more clearly identify their long-term vocational interests. I would

categorize an 'older' 'non-traditional' student as someone who has spent 18 months to five years or more away from college before

entering an undergraduate degree program or vocational training program operated (usually) by an institution that awards

conventional undergraduate degrees. Specifically, in the expanded definition of 'non-traditional' applied to student in the sense

of 'non-traditional' equating to 'older' student, that at least a portion of the 18+ months of intervening time involves time

spent either in a workplace or in raising children -- possibly both.


However, my experience not only in terms of my own educational background but derived from my involvement as a freelance writer

who has written extensively in the area of careers, vocation, and educational topics takes a much more comprehensive view of just

what the term 'non-traditional' student refers to. Given the diverse range of educational options available today, in my

perception the category is at present in a continually expanding state of being, as well.

Indeed, non-traditional student in some categories we can trace back decades and in some instances the non-traditional student

status can begin as early as junior high school.


So, in one sense, we may not be talking about a non-traditional student, we may be talking about a student who is, or in some

sense has, pursued a non-traditional educational path at one or more stages of their education. Arguably, I suppose, when we take

that perspective on it we can say that potentially we can trace any specific individual's status as a 'non-traditional' student

back to pre-school, if in the overall category of 'non-traditional student' background we include homeschooling as a potential

part of the nontraditional student profile.


Getting back to junior high school, however: in some locations junior/middle high school students have the opportunity to enter a

agricultural or vocational school for a portion of their junior/middle and high school level education.

There may now be variations on that, but the vocational school model with which I'm familiar accepts students into the school at

the ninth grade and the high school program runs through the traditional twelfth grade of a regular high school. The entry grade

seems to be based on anticipating the typical student coming into a program to enter from a private, parochial, or preparatory

school, or a middle school that operates only seventh and eighth grades, rather than a "junior high" school that operates seventh,

eighth, and ninth grades. Some students do, as did my oldest brother who pursued this path many years ago, transfer into the

vocational schools or agricultural schools from the eighth grade of traditional junior high schools; but likely more of their

freshman-level enrollees come from schools that run, in one form or another, through the eighth grade.


At this same level, there is a similar non-traditional educational institution. At least where I live, vocational/agricultural

schools are typically county-operated entities. Nowadays, typically these high schools have the same accreditation standing as do

regular public and private high schools: although that wasn't true back in my brother's day. At regional or community levels,

however, students and their families may also have the option of entering a technical or technical/vocational school as opposed to

a traditional public or private high school. These non-traditional learning institutes also go way back. These schools are less

academic curriculum oriented, and more hands-on career oriented training programs. These educational institutions train students

for careers that they can begin pursuing without a post-high school undergraduate degree. Popular careers for this type of school

include such vocations as auto mechanic, carpenter, and medical professions that do not require nursing degrees or medical

training as a physician. For example, technical and vocational schools have programs geared toward entry into certified nursing

assistant or phlebotomist careers. Eventually, many who enter the medical careers that require less training upfront than an

L.P.N. or an R.N. career resume education after spending some years in the assistant-level career and go on to get an L.P.N.,

R.N., or even Nurse Practitioner level degree. Many, however, enjoy the assistant level career and stay in that career for years

or even permanently. (On the 'agricultural' side, the schools prepare their students for careers such as farrier, farmer, etc.)


Participation in such a program as an agricultural, vocational, or technical academic institution's curriculum to my understanding

is regarded by traditional academicians as qualifying the participant as a non-traditional student.


I think, with the newness of this resource for students exploring their college-level, or to some degree even pre-college level,

options who are thinking in terms of non-traditional studentship to clarify for the readers that potentially they have non-

traditional options begin -- when homeschooling is taken into account -- as early as pre-school. And I think it's important to

recognize those options in terms of the undergrad level career-planning aspects as well as the academic (and potentially athletic)

aspects of any specific student's education.


Recognizing the degree to which one's educational background is traditional, non-traditional, or a combination of both in many

cases can serve a student well in defining future vocational goals.


Once we get to the college level, again we encounter a wide range of non-traditional possibilities within a student's educational

options. Nowadays, some of these options can occur within the context of an otherwise traditional academic institution.

Perhaps it's most efficient, at this juncture, rather than to define a non-traditional student to first define what, based on my

research, seems to qualify as traditional in what to me appears to be a concensus among traditional academicians.

Essentially, insofar as I can tell, from the academician's perspective, the following categories of education qualify as



Junior/Middle High and High School level: Accredited public, private, parochial, or prepatory ('prep') schools, in the case of

private and prep schools whether or not operated by a religious-associated administration.

Undergraduate college: An Associate's Degree and-or Bachelor's Degree awarding institution that still is at least primarily a

brick and mortar school -- and even here there's a category some academician's regard as non-traditional. That exeption would

involve the "experiential learning" colleges, which extend the length of time for the degree program for one to two years and

include as a requirement to qualify for the degree that the student spend a portion of the undergraduate time in a work setting

related to a likely degree-related career. The option of some courses online does not in itself disqualify such an institution

from traditional status; but the general consensus seems to require that the curriculums require a high percentage of in-classroom

coursework to continue to qualify as a traditional undergraduate program.


Certain other programs that have significant college-level academic coursework requirements, even if they do not grant the

traditional Associate's or Bachelor's degrees. A non-bacalaureate R.N. degree would exemplify this type of traditional degree.


Anything outside of these limited categories, from my research, seems in the view of an academician to greater or lesser degree

place any student at least partially into the non-traditional student category.


So, for a student learning to assess the career-related aspects of her or his educational background within the context of

assessing career options, it will serve such a student well to understand the elements of his or her curriculum choices as to

aspects even within a student career that overall qualifies as traditional where such elements as 'non-traditional' studentship

may lie. For example, an academically high-performing student in a traditional degree program but who has incorporated

significant amounts of such programs as online coursework, multiple independent study programs, or practicum courses is to greater

or lesser degree a 'non-traditional student.'


This post is quite lengthy; but a quick survey of the site suggested to me that it would have usefulness as students use this

website as a resource in considering their options both in terms of their college 'career' and in terms of their future

professional career and plannning for that career.


With the site kicking off, it seems an opportune time to post what in technical writing is known as an "extended definition"

relating to the term "non-traditional student.'


In conclusion, I'll leave the reader with two more examples of elements of non-traditional studentship:


Incorporation into the student's educational history of foreign exchange study,




Incorporation into the student's educational background of academic credits gained through work-life credit awards.


All these options prove only that in terms of life-long learning, opportunities are not only vastly diverse but readily available

to those attracted to such learning experiences.



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