The Non-Traditional Path to College

Not everyone will start their college career straight out of high school; some do not finish high school or get their GEDs, while others have had to postpone college in order to work, take care of family, or deal with an illness. The one thing this diverse group has in common is that they all have the opportunity to attend college. The tips provided below are the extra steps non-traditional students can take during the application process.

Students Who Have Earned Their GED

  • Call the colleges you’re interested in to make sure they accept applicant’s with a GED. Most colleges do, although some may not.
  • Research the requirements for each college you are applying to. Some may require you to:

Read this inspirational story about one student who started out getting her GED at a community college and worked her way up to a Ph.D.

Students who have not received a GED or HS diploma

Even if you don’t have a GED or high school diploma, college is still an option. Use the tips below to find the right school for you:

  • Research colleges or online schools and then call and ask about your options. (Colleges often have departments dedicated to help non-traditional students).
  • Research community colleges or technical schools as they often have programs specifically designed for people who do not meet the GED/high school diploma requirement.

For more information about applying to colleges when you have not received a GED or high school diploma click here.

Students who have postponed college

Non-traditional students who have a high school diploma and postponed going to college for one reason or another should follow the same steps for the college application process as high school students. Below are some helpful tips:

  • Begin with classes you will enjoy and can easily succeed in.
  • Take online classes as they are more flexible and will save you a commute.
  • Map out a schedule for completing your degree.
  • Being a part time student may be a good option for many who have hectic lifestyles.
  • Make sure your class schedule can accommodate your work schedule.
  • Make sure you fill out your FAFSA form as it can help you with financial aid even though you may be older.

Glenda’s story about her non-traditional path to college shows how tenacity, positive thinking, and good planning helped her reach her goals and set a great example for her children.


Steps to Success for Non-Traditional Students

Financial Aid Checklist for Adult Students

Returning to school

Maybe you had to leave college due to stress or other health reasons, deciding to go back is a big decision. (If this sounds like you, read this excellent article about going back to college after an absence.) The decisions you make in terms of course load, your goals in terms of what degree you want, and the type of college that is the right fit for you are important to your future success as a student. The tips and resources below are meant to provide you with information about what options are available to you and the steps you have to take once you have made these decisions.

Listen to Sam’s story about her own self-care strategies following a health-related absence from school.

Your options

Before going back to college you should research your options on what can make school more manageable for you. Some options include:

  • Enrolling as a part-time student.
  • Community College.
  • Online College.
  • Night Classes.
  • Technical or Vocational school.
  • Using financial aid or loans to reduce the amount you need to work while in school.

Going to college as a part time student can help you determine how well you can handle your course load. To further help you decide if enrolling as a part time student is the right option for you read this article.

To learn more about the benefits of some of the above options click here.

Technical or vocational colleges are schools that bypass the requirement for general education classes and focus on giving you the skills you need to earn a certificate of completion or an associate’s degree in a specific field. This may be a good option for you if you are interested in getting into a career quickly. To learn more about technical or vocational colleges click here. To search a database of technical or vocational training programs in Massachusetts, click here.

Check out these tips on returning to college after taking time off.

Tips for returning students

  • Most colleges allow former students who have left to come back without reapplying.
  • Ask your school if they have an academic forgiveness program which allows your bad grades to be erased so that you can start school with a clean slate.
  • Fill out a FAFSA form and apply for scholarships. To learn more about financial aid options for returning students click here.
  • If you are thinking about starting a program at a new college, check whether your previous credits are transferable. To learn more about transferring credits click here.

Watch the video below to hear one student’s tips for going back to school after an extended time away.

To make sure you remember everything you have to do to go back to school, read this helpful checklist.

A great resource for students going back to college is

“Did you go to college right out of high school? If not, how did you end up going to college?”

Use the comments below to answer!