You’re a 29 year-old mother of a one-year-old who’s thinking about going back to school to become an MRI technician. You might be a little nervous—after all, you’re not exactly the “average” college student.

Or, are you?

Surprisingly enough, only a very small percentage of today’s students—15% to be exact—fall into what we might have historically defined as an average or traditional college student. As per this Atlantic Monthly article (which references a study by the National Center for Education Statistics), this 15% is someone who attends a four-year college and lives on campus (which we’ll assume is roughly shorthand for being approximately 18-22 years old, because who else would be willing to live in a dorm?).

In fact, today nearly half of all undergrads (43%) attend a two-year institution, 37% are enrolled part-time, 32% work full-time and 38% are older than 25—and that last stat is expected to jump to 61% in just five years. Hey, you’re looking more “average” by the minute!

It’s certainly not the first time post-secondary students were of a range of ages—after World War II colleges saw a huge influx of older students as returning soldiers took advantage of the GI bill—but the media continue to focus on an extremely narrow slice when they portray college students.

Most post-secondary schools recognize the changing needs of today’s college students and many offer options that reflect them, both in terms of topic and degree type (certificate programs vs. two- and four-year degrees) and delivery method (completely or partially online, night and weekend-only classes). So, you should have more class and program choices than ever before.

Be sure to go into your program with your eyes wide open. A recent national report, Pathways to Success (thank you Library Journal!) stressed that working full-time, being a single parent and not having a traditional high school degree are all things that could make staying in school more challenging.

Be realistic about these obstacles—but don’t let them stop you!

Things that can help:

Connect with other non-traditional students. In addition to emotional support—they know exactly what you’re going through!—they might also be able to help with practical things like childcare swaps, carpooling and sharing study resources.

Talk to school counselors/advisors. Your school wants you to succeed! Get to know your advisor and actively ask for the help you require—which could include everything from classes that meet your needs and ways to accommodate your schedule to help with remedial work and financial aid such as federal or private student loans.

Brush up on your tech skills. Even if you’re taking face-to-face classes, virtually any class you take will have an online component—and, of course, you’ll need access to a computer and basic computer skills simply to communicate with your teacher and fellow students. If you’ve never used a computer or your skills aren’t where they need to be, talk to your advisor to find how you can get up to speed.

Recognize that you have a lot to offer. If you’re in a classroom with much-younger students, it can be easy to get caught up in and overwhelmed by the obvious differences—age, the younger students’ relative lack of responsibility vs. yours and your rusty study and tech skills. Instead, try to realize that you bring the many benefits of experience and a different perspective on life. Don’t be afraid to reach out to these students. You might just learn something from each other (and it might not be purely academic!).

Please note that the information provided on this website is provided on a general basis and may not apply to your own specific individual needs, goals, financial position, experience, etc. LendKey does not guarantee that the information provided on any third-party website that LendKey offers a hyperlink to is up-to-date and accurate at the time you access it, and LendKey does not guarantee that information provided on such external websites (and this website) is best-suited for your particular circumstances. Therefore, you may want to consult with an expert (financial adviser, school financial aid office, etc.) before making financial decisions that may be discussed on this website.