Nontraditional Student Steps to Success

Follow these tips to succeed in college as a nontraditional student

You've researched your options, applied to colleges, applied for financial aid, and gained acceptance. Classes begin soon. Congratulations!

Before you start your new academic venture, take some time to think how you can be a successful student even as you continue your "normal" life. As a nontraditional student, you have the benefit of more maturity and greater life experience than young students. But you also face challenges many younger students don't.

STEP 1. SET ASIDE ENOUGH TIME TO STUDY

You probably face many demands on your time—like family, work, community responsibilities, and personal interests. Balancing these demands with the time needed for classes and studying won’t be easy. But if education is important to you, you’ll find a balance that works for you and your family. And you’ll be glad you did.

STEP 2. PLAN CAREFULLY

Planning will help you to find that balance among the competing demands on your time. So make every minute of your day count. Think ahead to try to avoid rushing to finish a research paper and study for a big test at the same time you’re racing toward a deadline on a work project or volunteer responsibility. Good planning gives you more time for everything that needs to be done.

STEP 3. PREPARE YOURSELF

Start off strong! Sometimes adults find success difficult to achieve at first. But with preparation and hard work, you can excel at anything. You may have to:

  • Refresh or redevelop your study skills
  • Learn word-processing and basic computer skills
  • Relearn test-taking strategies
  • Learn how to use electronic library resources
  • Increase your comfort in participating in group discussions

STEP 4. PREPARE YOUR FAMILY

Life for everyone in your family will change when you go to college. Just as you may be concerned about the change, expect others in your family to be concerned, too. Each member of your family may have to take on new responsibilities (including some things you used to do). But this can be positive: Assuming new responsibilities can help everyone grow!

To help meet your study needs, you may want to:

  • Set aside a private place that will be your space for studying.
  • Put your study time on the family calendar. You should plan to spend about 2 hours at home for every 1 hour in class.
  • Ask your family to agree not to disturb you when you're studying so you can focus on your work.

STEP 5. SET UP A SUPPORT SYSTEM AT THE SCHOOL

Remember, you’re not in this alone! Your advisor, your instructors, and other staff at your college or training program are there to help you.

Follow these tips to set up your support system:

  • Make an appointment with your advisor to talk about your goals and plans.
  • Get to know other staff at the school in the finance office, the library, and other departments. Ask about the resources available to you and how to access them.
  • Introduce yourself to each instructor after the first class and share your goals for the class.
  • Go to class early or stick around after to talk with your instructor about the class and about any related research the instructor may be doing.
  • Visit your instructor during office hours to follow up on questions you have and to get more information on topics you're interested in.
  • Look for ways to get involved in the school and connect with more people.

STEP 6. FOLLOW GOOD STUDY HABITS

Creating—and following—good study habits is the key to succeeding in college:

  • Read the syllabus for each of your classes right away. Make sure you understand what's expected — and ask your instructors about anything that's unclear.
  • Make it a priority to go to every class — and sit up front so you have fewer distractions.
  • Take good notes in class. And when you get home, take some time to look them over and rewrite key points to help you remember them.
  • Form a study group with your fellow students. It's helpful to have others to ask questions of and help you stay motivated.
  • Stay on top of your studies so you don't have to cram for tests at the last minute.

STEP 7. FIND WAYS TO STAY FOCUSED AND MANAGE STRESS

Going back to college can be stressful. And, it can be tough to keep your mind on school when you have other important responsibilities like work or family. Try these healthy ways to manage stress and stay focused:

  • Stop for 30 seconds and focus on your breathing.
  • Don't demand too much of yourself. Ask for help.
  • Exercise each day to boost energy and improve your mood.
  • If you feel pressured to say "yes" to every invitation or request for help, try saying "no." Then schedule time for yourself instead.
  • Talk with a friend about your frustrations so they don't build up.
  • Remove everything from your to-do list that is not essential.
  • Skip late-night TV and get to sleep earlier. You'll be rested and better equipped to cope with stress.