There are many times when I am asked by a non-traditional student, “Is there really anything for me to get involved in on campus?” My answer has always been a resounding, “YES!” It’s very normal for adult students to walk onto a college campus and feel like a minority, surrounded by 18-22 year olds and a plethora of things geared towards the stereotypical college student; however, statistics show that this feeling should not be the case at all. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, adult learners (students over the age of 23 or 24) are expected to increase on college campuses through the year 2026. Evolllution states that almost “50 percent of all post-secondary students in the United States are over the age of 24” (Cucchiara, 2013). Advising offices are incorporating more holistic advising practices, and merging academic and career advising into one unit because: a) non-traditional students who already work need a more integrated type of advising, and b) traditional-aged students’ needs are mirroring the needs and wants of non-traditional-aged students. In other words, the needs of adult learners is becoming the norm for all learners and those needs are steadily increasing.
Clubs, Organizations, Associations, Oh My!
One need for all students is campus engagement. As a non-traditional student, it is crucial that you find campus clubs and organizations to get involved in (when you can). Getting involved allows you to have a voice on campus and help decide the direction in which your campus will move. If you don’t think you have anything to offer, start with the standard areas in which to look:
- Departmental clubs and organizations;
- Opportunities to volunteer on campus (i.e. Campus Service Days);
- Student Government Associations;
- Adult Student or Commuter Student Groups;
- Adult Student Appreciation Week (or Commuter Student Week);
- Religious and Interfaith Clubs; or
- Create one!
Students are often surprised when I suggest that they start a club if there’s an interest not represented on campus. It happens all the time and if there’s something of interest to you, other people are more than likely interested as well. Take a look at your college catalog to learn the process of starting a club and get going! Is there an Adult Student Association? If not, start one. It’s already known that getting involved on campus helps students stay connected to academic life. It’s simply harder to leave one’s educational pursuits when you’re socially, as well as academically, involved. Being socially involved gets you acclimated to campus culture easier and helps you connect with other adult students. It’s a win-win.
Does your school have clubs/organizations geared towards non-traditional students?
If you have not yet chosen a school to attend, put this question on your interview list (yes, you should be interviewing and assessing schools. It’s you time, your money, and your learning). It’s important to know what activities are available to you, when they are offered, and how many students are involved. It may seem trivial, but a campus organization with only five members could mean that only two members attend events consistently. This is very telling about whether or not this organization could serve you (or whether you’d be able to be actively involved in it). Is there an honor society for adult students on campus? Once you’ve chosen a school, and you know that it does have organizations geared towards your interests (or if you’re already at a school with great organizations), choose one to get involved in.
While it’s important to focus on academics and one’s career (or career transition), be sure to get involved in campus organizations. This is simply part of the school becoming a part of your village that will help you succeed in college. This will make it easier for you to learn campus culture, make friends, and grow a supportive network as you progress academically.
*Take a look at ideas for National Non-traditional Student Week 2019.
Keep moving forward!