Not every student follows a linear path from high school to college to a permanent career. For individuals who gained life experience outside of the classroom – by having families, starting temporary jobs, traveling or starting “forever jobs” only to realize that they didn’t want to do that kind of work forever – a formal education can still be the key to a better life. Increasingly, these nontraditional students are considering online degree programs.

What Exactly Is a Nontraditional Student, Anyway?

Generally speaking, nontraditional students have more life experience, and often more responsibilities, than the cliché of students in their late teens and early twenties who are more interested in partying than learning. A primary factor that commonly places students in the nontraditional category is age (25 years old or older).

Nontraditional students vary in education level, family situations, career situations and intended enrollment. Some nontraditional students have already earned college degree and pursued a career with that degree, only to find that they wanted a career switch that necessitated a different educational background. Others may not have even graduated high school and may have to obtain a GED before they can enroll in classes. Many nontraditional students have families of their own to provide for, and some are single parents. Nontraditional students may work full-time or part-time, or they may be going back to school after having lost a job. Some want to attend school on a part-time basis, while others want to be full-time students.

Online Learning for Nontraditional Students

Flexibility is one of the biggest pros of getting an online college degree, and it’s a leading reason that online learning works well for nontraditional students. Because students with family obligations can do all of their coursework from the comfort of their own home, finding childcare is no longer an issue. While working students have to worry about work schedules clashing with their course schedules, asynchronous online classes remove this concern. Students can complete their coursework as their schedule allows, as long as they turn in their work by the appropriate deadlines. Because online programs exist at every imaginable level of education – from GED programs to doctoral degree programs – aspiring students can start at the degree level that works for them and move up as needed.

Another benefit to online degree programs is that students interact with their peers in different ways than they might in traditional on-campus degree programs. Instead of feeling awkward about the age gap, as many nontraditional students might, they have more of a chance to highlight the life experiences they bring to the virtual classroom.

Online degree programs are an excellent choice for many nontraditional students, which may in part explain their success. Nontraditional students now outnumber traditional students. More than 71 percent of college students don’t fall into the stereotype of the fresh out of high school student, according to U.S. News & World Report, which means students are increasingly looking for flexible learning options.