The Non-Traditional Student: The serious vs. the carefree

Ashley Haberman

A group of friends representing the state of Wisconsin with their costumes in the annual Tour de Fat in the city of Fort Collins.
A group of friends representing the state of Wisconsin with their costumes in the annual Tour de Fat in the city of Fort Collins (Photo Courtesy of the Collegian Archive)

One thing that I have found to be a consistent factor at University is that the life of a non-traditional student can be much more serious than that of the traditional student.

The National Center for Education Statistics defines non-traditional students as meeting one of seven characteristics: delayed enrollment into post secondary education, attends college part-time, works full time, is financially independent for financial aid purposes, has dependents other than a spouse, is a single parent or does not have a high school diploma.


Looking at these seven distinguishing factors, the life of the non-traditional student is full of much more than classes, homework, and parties, and there are evident reasons why.

In one of my ethnic studies classes, I sit next to Mary, a seventy-two-year-old retired theatre teacher who sits in on the classes for fun. Besides Mary, I am the oldest student there. The rest of the class is mostly compiled of traditional twenty-one and under students. Whispered jokes, talking, and a constant need for repeated information have so far been consistent trends of class interruption.

“Honey, you are ready for the Master’s program,” Mary said to me, honestly understanding that my want to learn was being taking for granted by others. In my opinion, it’s the lack of freedom and experience outside of school that causes this less-than-serious atmosphere in the classroom.

Leaving high school at seventeen to pursue a more carefree side of life, I received my G.E.D at eighteen and have no regrets. I am a firm believer in taking the time to explore the world and to find yourself outside of school. It’s hard to know who you are or what you want to do with the rest of your life when you’re young and finally free from the rules of parental authority. It’s important to be granted this freedom in order to be able to approach school and life in a more serious manner, which is why it should be a more accepted lifestyle option after high school. There is no better time than the early twenties for this less serious mindset.

I give experiencing life and exploring the world before starting college a lot of credit for my current dedication and love for school. At the same time, in no way do I look down upon the less serious approach that some students have; it’s their right as young adults. However, starting a school career too soon can be damaging to the college experience for some, especially if they haven’t explored the rest of the world first. This inexperience makes the gap between the traditional and non-traditional much harder to bridge.

Collegian writer Ashley Haberman can be reached at