9 Struggles Only Non-Traditional College Students Will Understand

1. Needing extreme time management skills

College can be a busy time for everyone, but for non-traditional students it can be especially rough. A lot of us juggle a full-time job around a full class schedule. If you’re anything like me during my fourth-year of college, you can end up being on campus up to thirteen hours a day because you need to squeeze all of your classes into as small of a time crunch as possible to fit your job around it. Even after that, you might have a family to go home to that needs as much attention as your schoolwork. There’s not a lot of time for procrastination when you’re a non-traditional student. 

2. The stress of commuter routes

Living on campus isn’t always an option for everyone. Hopefully you live near campus, or somewhere within a 10-mile radius. If you’re not lucky, you might face a 30 or even 6- mile commute. You probably know about five different ways to get to campus in case a car crash or road construction has the potential to extend your commute from a 30-minute drive to  two-hour one too. If you take public transit, you probably know a comparable amount of bus and subway routes for when your usual transportation comes a minute early and you end up missing it. Campus-dwellers don’t know the struggle, guys. 

3. How to move on with grace 

Traditional college students get a taste of how hard it is to maintain friends after graduating, but non-traditional students might have to deal with this every time a semester ends. When you’re going to a commuter school, or even living off-campus, it can be hard to maintain friendships with the people you see in class after that last final. Suddenly, the person you spent countless hours commiserating and studying with drops out of your life with little to no warning. Off-campus hangouts can be hard because you’re both commuting from different directions, and on-campus hangouts are almost impossible because after this semester your schedules are complete opposites. But the good thing is that you most likely have a solid group of off-campus friends that you can depend on.  

4. The value of coffee 

Thirteen-hour days on campus can lead to impressive amounts of caffeine being consumed in as little time as possible. Who has time to enjoy a cappuccino when you have three mid-terms on the same day and an eight-hour shift afterwards? You learn to anticipate a double-shot dark-roast red-eye from the coffee kiosk like it’s a high-end espresso latte. You might also appreciate the value of cigarettes, which are pretty much the only thing that can calm down caffeine jitters sometimes. 

5. Parking windows

Parking on school campuses is almost always a nightmare, but you’ve probably figured out when a good window is to show up so you’re coming in right as one shift of classes has ended and right before another begins and you can slide right into a sweet second-floor parking spot across the street from your three-hour economics night class. 

6. Group partner anxiety

When you’re a commuter student with a very limited amount of time on campus and you plan a group meeting on Thursday at 7pm because it’s right smack dab between two classes and you won’t be on campus again until the day of the in-class presentation, your group partners better show up. On time. Every. Last. One

7. Graduation envy

Life happens, and a full-time student schedule isn’t always feasible for everyone every single semester. Going down to a part-time (or a no-time) schedule for a couple of semesters while you work or handle family life can postpone your degree, which means watching all of your friends from high school graduate and move on to their post-grad lives before you. The good thing is, their success in this arena can motivate you to push even harder towards getting those last few classes done and finally getting that elusive diploma. 

8. Appreciation for your degree

By the time I graduate, I’ll have worked for six years in pursuit of my undergrad degree. Some people graduate after ten or twenty years of college, or even more. Non-traditional students often face huge obstacles in the path to getting their degree, but once they have it, it feels amazing. 

9. Partying is still important

Of course, if you’re a 36-year-old mother of two working a full-time job while trying to get her BA, your definition of “having fun” might be different than a 21-year-old frat guy’s. The point is, everyone needs to let loose and have fun sometimes. There just has to be room for it in the schedule. TC Mark

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