Skip to content

Non Traditional Student Essays For Going Into Education

Posted by Ryan Hickey+ on Tue, Nov 25, 2014

If you’re planning to return to college as a non-traditional student, you likely have a lot of concerns about the process. Read on for the answers to 11 of the most common questions from a college admissions expert:

[Already have some college credit? Learn how to receive your degree faster through ‘Open College.’]

1. Am I at a disadvantage with admissions counselors by being five, 10, 20 or more years older than the average student?

Absolutely not.Non-traditional students are a vibrant part of the college environment, and schools will view you as being able to offer a meaningful contribution to the classroom. Your experience, maturity, and real-world know-how can bring insight and depth to discussions.

2. How can I explain “gap” periods on my resume?

Honestly.The biggest mistake that non-traditional students make in explaining gaps is either over – or under – explaining them. If you took time away from school and/or work to raise a family, care for loved ones, travel or recover from an illness, simply state so clearly and succinctly. After that, quickly move on to your current goals for your education and career.

[Adults needs scholarships too! Search our database for scholarships aimed at adults returning to college.]

3. What are the most significant ways that the application process differs for adult students?

Insignificantly.For better or worse, you’ll need to go through the same basic process as traditional students. Expect to submit an application, essays, letters of recommendation and — if required — an interview.

4. Admissions essay topic questions are often geared toward graduating high school students. How can I make them work for me?

Get creative.Depending on the prompt, it may be a matter of answering the question you wish you had been asked instead of the one you were actually asked. As long as you stay parallel with the general topic and answer with meaning, your essays are going to work to your advantage.

[Visit our database of online degrees and professional certificates at]

5. Are there any advantages that admissions counselors see in adult students? How can I emphasize these skills and traits?

Yes, many!As stated above, colleges want non-traditional students in the classroom. Having only people who are fresh out of high school in a class doesn’t make for the best representation of the real world. Focus on your stronger organization skills, clarity in your goals, and ability to draw from a broad range of personal and professional experiences in order to achieve success in your degree program.

6. What can I do if I suspect age discrimination?

Report it immediately.Contact the office of the school’s president or chancellor. If you do not feel that you are being heard or taken seriously, contact a larger governing body, such as the system of colleges (often for state schools) or the regional accrediting agency. All of this information should be readily available on the school’s website.

[Read more tips for adults returning to college.]

7. How can I possibly include my years of experience on just one page of a resume? Should I use multiple pages or pare it down?

Pare it down.Unless the school asks for a CV (very rare), admissions officers want to read about your most significant experiencesas they relate to your desire to attend college. Highlight the experiences that have shaped your skills and mindset to make you a better student.

8. As an older returning student, will I be required to take standardized tests? If so, how can I ensure success?

Depends on the school.Some schools are very strict about standardized tests while others do not require scores for students who were born before a certain date. If you do need to take a standardized test, reach out to secure the resources that you need. You can find other non-traditional students online to be your study partners, and don’t forget the numerous resources at your local library.

[Learn how to document your experiences for college credit.]

9. How can an older student juggle the challenges of applying to college with family responsibilities?

Make a plan.Work with your partner and children (if they’re old enough) so that they can know when you’ll be studying and when you are available. Be open and share this experience with your loved ones, including the opportunity to be a role model as someone who is taking action to make a brighter future for yourself and your family.

10. What are some financial aid options available for older students?

There are more than you might think.Aside from the federal options available to almost all students, there might be grants or scholarships available to you from places that you may not have imagined. Research professional organizations, local groups, and any specific demographic to which you belong (e.g. disabled, immigrant/child of immigrants or current/former military) to see if they offer grants or scholarships.

[Take some free online college-level courses to get ready for school.]

11. Are online courses a good option for adult students? What are the challenges of choosing this route?

They are — but know the reality.The biggest challenge that students of online courses have, regardless of age, is realizing that online courses can actually be more difficult and work-intensive than classroom courses. Don’t expect to “squeeze in” a class in between work and home life. If you make time for your online courses, they can be an exciting and fulfilling education option.

What questions about returning to school as an adult student would you like answered by an expert?

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor ofPeterson’s&EssayEdgeand is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

Posted by Diane Thomas+ on Tue, Aug 4, 2015

Choosing to attend college as an adult student can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. Even for those who love learning, the thought of being graded, remembering how to write a proper essay, or taking exams can bring back anxieties you haven’t felt in years. But even if your study skills are a little rusty, don’t forget that you’ve had more years of work and life experience to get to know yourself—your strengths and weaknesses—than students of traditional college age, and it is precisely these insights that will help you steer a course to success.

[Find scholarships for adults to help fund your college career!]

If the thought of going back to school gives you butterflies, build up your confidence with these 7 tips for adult learners:

1. Research resources for adult students.

The first decision you’ll have to make is where to attend college. If there are community, private, or public colleges close enough for you to enroll, research what resources they offer to help nontraditional students earn their degrees—full-time versus part-time curriculums, night classes, technology support services, online coursework, and a place to meet with other nontraditional students are all helpful resources for adults in college. A quick and easy way to get started is to visit a school’s website and search with the keyword “nontraditional student.”

[Use free online courses to earn a bachelor’s degree.]

2. Test drive some online classes.

If the degree program you’re interested in isn’t available at a nearby college, or if you prefer not to travel, an online degree program is something you can look into. Many colleges offer full online programs or blended degree programs that allow you to do much of the coursework online at your convenience along with scheduled in-class time to meet with your professor and fellow students. If you don’t feel confident you can learn without being physically in a classroom at all times, try signing up for free online college-level courses to test out how well you like the format before investing in a full online degree.

Free online college courses, also called MOOCs (massive open online courses), are taught by professors from top-tier colleges and universities. Most do not result in college credit, but a few do, and more are expected to be approved by credit recommendation services in the future. Hundreds of these courses in every subject area are available through If you find after trying some that you prefer to attend a physical campus, you can still use free online courses to brush up on your college skills before you start a degree program.

[Learn how to get college credit for life experience.]

3. Know your learning style.

Educators have pinpointed three main learning styles that students excel in to different degrees—visual, auditory, and tactile (also called kinesthetic). The degree to which you learn best in any of these styles will determine the study methods that will help you be successful.

  • Visual learners, for instance, should sit at the front of a classroom so they won’t be distracted by things going on around them. They will also benefit from using study tools like highlighters and diagrams.
  • Auditory learners can find soothing music helpful to their study process, and they memorize their material best by explaining it out loud to others.
  • Tactile learners must do things in order to learn—clicking on a computer screen, using sticky notes, and taking exercise breaks are all helpful tools for this kind of learner.

Online quizzes can help you determine what kind of learner you are, and point you to a number of study tips and strategies for each learning style.

4. Brush up on your writing skills.

You know there’s a lot of writing to be done in college, but you may have forgotten some of the formal rules to use when formatting papers from essays to dissertations. The best practice for writing is, of course, writing, so why not shake out the cobwebs with free online college-writing courses? Kaplan University Open Learning offers College Composition I and II to help get you started. Taking these courses is also a good introduction to Kaplan University’s instructional methods in case you’re considering an online college degree.

[Find out how to list online classes on your résumé.]

5. Practice your critical thinking skills.

Do you remember what it’s like to analyze information, debate opinions, or convince someone of a legitimate point of view? Are you sure even have a legitimate point of view? College is about learning how to think independently, rationally, and reasonably. If you need to brush up on your critical thinking skills, there are free online courses for that as well. Try Logic and Critical Thinking, a self-paced course from the free online education site

6. Learn more about college research.

If you need a primer on scientific research methods for your major, Saylor also offers a free, two-part  Research Methods class that covers the research methods typically used in social science courses. If you need to learn the most effective way to present your research once it’s done, Udemy—another online course provider—offers a low-cost online class on How to Write an Effective Research Paper. This course has received top reviews and includes a free research paper template for your future use.

Of course, today most research involves using computers (even if you go to the library, the old card catalogs have become computer databases), so adult students must learn how to properly cite digital material in their research papers, something we never had to do as students before. Check out your school’s library web page for helpful resources in this area. Many college library websites also list librarian phone numbers and email information so you can ask them questions directly if that’s your preference.

7. Let your experience shine!

Whether you choose to go back to school online or in person, remember that you have a lot to bring to the table. Brush up on your skills and have confidence that you will adapt quickly. From the very beginning of your studies, share your thoughts and experiences with students of all ages through classroom discussions and virtual chat rooms and get involved in campus activities.

After a 20-year career as a firefighter, Camille Theriaque went back to school at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. “It is so enriching to be able to meet people of various ages and experiences and to connect with young people,” she shares about her college experience. “You hear in the news that we’re doomed, that the next generation is not stepping up,” she explains, but one thing she’s learned is that young people are interested in what’s going on in the world. “We can impart our wisdom to them in so many ways that they’re not getting from the news and from social media,” she says.

And she has a message to send other adults thinking about going to college—”Do it!”