Author: Jarret Morgan, PharmD Candidate
Editor: Brentsen Wolf, PharmD
Non-traditional students come in many forms, a young parent who stepped away from school to take care of their family, an older adult who lost their career, or someone who didn’t quite figure out what they wanted until they were a bit older. Non-traditional paths may be accompanied by negative emotions, the feeling of being an outcast, a diminished self-perception, or even depression. However, being a non-traditional student doesn’t have to be as frightening as it might seem.
As a non-traditional student myself, I have definitely experienced my fair share of self-doubt. Of course, I had to remember that while my path may be different from others my age, I will get that degree and attain my goals! The realization that you have no control over the past and that you do have control over the present can make all the difference. This might start with formulating the goals rooted in what motivates you. For me, I’m motivated to give others what I didn’t have when I needed it most. Hope.
For those of you who are non-traditional students, you aren’t alone! There are a lot of people that are uncertain of their future, who are forced to step out of school due to unforeseeable circumstances, who have lost their jobs and are looking for stability for their families, or who just couldn't afford tuition or loans. In fact, non-traditional students may be the majority. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the years 1986, 1989, and 1992 showed that between 64.6% and 69.6% of all undergraduate students had a non-traditional characteristic. Aside from the comfort of knowing that many others sit in the same boat as yourself, having de-stressing methods to maintain a clear and keen mind in the pursuit of your goals will help you stay sane and combat the negative emotions that may hover. This may be talking with a family member, meditating, reading a good book, exercising, socializing with friends, attending your church, or whatever brings you back to sanity! I personally enjoy weightlifting, singing in the car, watching YouTube, and running with my fiancé. School can be challenging even if you truly enjoy the experience, but taking time for yourself helps refresh your concentration and motivates you to push your limits.
There's also no shortage of advantages to being a non-traditional student. You likely have more experience with work-life balance, enhanced motivation compared to your peers, and you very likely stand out as someone with more practice. To have gone through adversity and come back to school with a detailed plan for achieving your goals is admirable. For this reason, non-traditional paths inherently highlight your determination and ability to persevere.
At the end of the day, when you’re really trudging through the mud of college, it can be necessary to remind yourself of your goals and the end product. The story you create in the present may decide your future. As a fan of animated movies, I try to remember the words of Master Oogway, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift, that is why it is called the present.”