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How to Apply to College as a Nontraditional Student A longer, more complete description.
News & Stories: Featured Items
How to Apply to College as a Nontraditional Student
August 19, 2022


How to Apply to College as a Nontraditional Student


When you think of the typical college student, you probably picture a fresh-faced freshman just out of high school strolling along an idyllic campus. That may have once been the case, but it isn’t anymore. In fact, in 2019,
less than 45 percent of high school graduates went directly onto four-year colleges and less than half of the students who started as freshmen at four-year institutions are able to complete their degree in four years. So, if you don’t exactly match that old-fashioned idea of a college student, you’re hardly alone. 

What Is a Nontraditional Student?

Nontraditional can refer to anyone who doesn’t follow a linear path from high school to college to graduation in four years. The National Center for Education Statistics considers several criteria when labeling someone nontraditional:

  • Age: If you are older than 24 years when you enroll, you’re nontraditional.
  • High School Graduation Status: If you received a GED instead of a typical high school diploma, you’re nontraditional.
  • Delayed Enrollment: If you enroll in college one or more years after graduating high school or only attend part-time, you’re nontraditional.
  • Full-Time Work: If you work full-time and need to fit college around your job, you’re nontraditional.
  • Family Status: If you already have children, are a single parent, or have declared yourself financially independent from your parents, you’re nontraditional.


The Application Process as a Nontraditional Student

Straight out of high school, you could rely on your school guidance counselor, family, and peers to help you decide which college you might attend. Whether it’s been years since you attended high school or you acquired some college credits but had to stop, your adult education should begin with an assessment of programs and universities. Ask yourself why you want to attend college and find a school that fits your needs.

Selecting a College

To narrow your focus in choosing a school, consider your long-term goals. Often, adults go to college because they discover the lack of a degree is a roadblock to career advancement. If you want to become a nurse, you should attend a nursing school. However, if you desire a degree to acquire a leadership position, your choice of institution and major should be more broadly focused. 

Online Learning as a Nontraditional Student

Online learning offers convenience and flexibility for working adults. Additionally, because your virtual classroom can pull from a wider pool of students, you may have a more diverse student body. Today’s online learning platforms are intuitive and user-friendly. Even on-campus courses use them. You can get the same quality degree from an online program that you would from an in-person setting.

Transcripts to Apply to College

You will need a high school diploma or GED to move on to higher education. Contact your school’s record management department or high school registrar and request your transcripts. There is usually a nominal fee for each official transcript you order.

You’ll also need to order transcripts from your previous college if you have college credits. You can either contact the institution directly or use a service like Parchment to request your transcripts online. 

Paying for College as a Nontraditional Student

Cost should be a consideration from the outset. Mom and dad likely are not footing the bill for your college education so before you enroll in a school, be sure your choice is one you can afford. Find out if your employer offers tuition reimbursement and which schools have the most affordable costs-per-credit. Some universities even offer credit for prior learning, taking into consideration your life experience in volunteer organizations, in the military, or even in your current job. This option not only values your practical learning but could offset the cost of your overall tuition and get you that degree in a quicker time frame.

Financial aid may also be available to you. Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid . Even if you’re reluctant to take out loans or believe your income is too high to qualify for grants and scholarships, FAFSA is an important first step to determining what might be available for you. It is also used by institutions and organizations that distribute scholarships. And there are thousands of scholarships available for higher education. Search the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search to find some that may match your needs and qualifications.

College Application for Nontraditional Students

Whether your future school uses the Common App or has its own application process, you can expect some standard components when you apply to college. You will need to complete an application, pay the application fee, provide transcripts, submit essays and supplemental materials—and meet all deadlines. You may also need to provide proof of citizenship or submit a student visa. And for on-campus programs, you will need to submit immunization records.

Claremont Lincoln University (CLU) offers a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership degree completion program that is a great match for nontraditional students who have their associate’s degree or 60 undergraduate transfer credits. It’s affordable, online, and designed for future leaders. CLU also offers master’s degrees that are unique in their mission and format. Each of them is dedicated to the Claremont Core® which provides a proprietary leadership framework with an ethical and socially conscious approach to career success.

For more information, please contact Leslee Patterson at lpatterson@claremontlincoln.edu.