Non-Traditional Students

Many of the issues discussed in this section of TΦ101 are most appropriate for so called “traditional-aged” students, who are entering college right out of high school, hoping to move through college in four years. Of course, more and college students are “non-traditional” students, who are older, attending school part-time, and who are combining work and family responsibilities with college study. They also bring different attitudes and work styles to the classroom.  Some suggestions for teaching them effectively:


  • Avoid stereotyping older students. Older students can be more nervous and frightened than traditional aged students. Be especially careful, for example, about issues of sexual and romantic relationships with older students, who may be more intimidated by academic power relationships than younger students.

  • Remember that many returning students are coming from a period of transition (such as divorce, losing a job, or returning from military status), and may be experiencing related stresses.

  • Create formats where older and younger students can learn from each other, but using group work that allows both groups to work together.

  • Remember that older students often have more external pressures and challenges from work and family responsibilities, and cannot necessarily attend lectures or work in groups outside the usual class times, or may have to miss classes because of other responsibilities.

  • Younger students sometimes respond well to a deductive approach, that starts with a concept and then works toward applications. Older students may profit by starting with examples and working back to concepts. Or, in general, varying methodologies can help appeal to a diverse student population.

  • Respect individual privacy. Older students may be willing to share their life stories (including their veteran status) but that should be up to them, not up to you. The point is that you need to encourage and take advantage of the rich experience of older students, without violating their personal boundaries. At the same time, you should be familiar with student services that may be helpful to older students (such as support for veterans). 



Davis, Barbara Gross, Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009, section 7 (85).  As usual Davis has a wise perspective, also based in the research.



Author: John Immerwahr
Updated: 15 Dec. 2015 (E. Tarver)