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Non-traditional Students: How Different Types of Students Thrive Online

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Imagining yourself as a student in an online classroom isn’t always easy to do—especially if you’re new to the learning environment and don’t know what to expect. But just because it's hard to imagine, doesn’t mean you won't find success there!

The online classroom hosts students from diverse backgrounds with a variety of goals, and each offers different qualities to add to your online student community. Here’s an overview of some of the classmates you’ll likely encounter in your online courses, and the unique strengths that can help them—and you—succeed!


Experienced Professionals

These students, for one reason or another, decided to put off further education after high school and instead, jumped right into their careers. Now, years later, they’ve developed a clear vision for their future and just need a degree to help standout to potential employers and open new opportunities. They're hard workers, and because they have spent time in the workforce (which can sometimes transfer into college credit for prior learning), they're able to effectively connect what they learn in the classroom to what they do on-the-job.

Community College Graduates

There are many non-traditional students who begin their education with an associate degree, diploma, or certificate from their local community college. Now, however, they want to advance their education even further with an online degree. Their biggest advantage is their community college coursework, which is often highly transferable to four-year colleges, transfer credits, or fast track programs.

Reentering the Workforce

It’s not uncommon for someone to take a break from the workforce, whether to raise children or pursue personal goals. As they prepare for reentry, however, they may choose to pursue an online degree to gain a competitive edge on the job market. The biggest advantage of these students is foresight. If they know ahead of time when they would like to reenter the workforce, they can set that as a goal and work with an advisor to break down their education and career plan to align with this date. For example, a stay-at-home parent may decide that they'd like to have a degree by the time their youngest child finishes kindergarten. This goal can be mapped out with academic and career advisors so the parent can make progress toward a college degree and be ready to hit the job market when their kids are enrolled in full-day school.

Career Changers

Some non-traditional students may already have a degree and a full resume in a particular field. But now they’re realizing it isn’t the path for them. These students choose to pursue online courses for career change, as an affordable and efficient way to bridge the gap between their current skill set and a new field. Their biggest strength in the online classroom is their experience, which prepares them for the academic rigor of an online degree and makes them capable of connecting class lessons with real-life applications.

Servicemembers and Veterans

A number of non-traditional students are servicemembers and veterans who decide to pursue an education to grow their careers in the military, or help support a transition to the civilian workforce. These students have military education benefits from the Department of Defense and/or Department of Veterans Affairs, which can make flexible education options like online degrees even more affordable. In the online classroom, they also make good use of the discipline learned in the military, which helps them stay on top of deadlines and coursework.

Get Started!

If you’re thinking about pursuing an online degree, download our guide, which offers advice and support for finishing your college degree!

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