How to deal with being a Non-Traditional Student

By on August 27, 2014

Welcome, Non-Traditional Students!

As great as the first week is, one group is noticeably absent from the big welcome. Although non-traditional students are fairly abundant at UAB, few resources are provided to help adult students transition into university life. A non-traditional student is pretty much anyone who does not start college the fall after graduating high school and may also be people who are married and/or have children.

Sometimes the definition even includes part-time students or students who work at a full-time job.That ends up covering a pretty big chunk of the student body!

Being an entering freshman can be a nerve-wracking, intimidating experience for anyone, but for an older student that discomfort may last much longer than the first week. The hardest thing you may have to do is open the door to your first class, but in the long run it will be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done.

From the awkward:

  • Being mistaken for the teacher.

You walk in, and eyes focus on you expectantly. If you are a well-behaved person, just sit down and let it go. If you are feeling mischievous, begin teaching class on a random subject. Just remember that they are all freshmen too, so none of them will speak up about being in the “wrong class.”

  • Not talking to anyone your first day/week/month/semester because you do not want to be a creepy person who has a lot of teenaged acquaintances.

There is really no easy solution for this one. The simple fact is, you are a college student now, and for the foreseeable future, you are going to have a lot of young colleagues. They are just as nervous as you are about meeting new people, so try greeting the quiet person next to you.

  • Crying in your advisor’s office.

Because there are so few resources specific to adult students, you may feel overwhelmed at times. Maybe it is adjusting to homework, maybe it is the anxiety of the school/home life balance, or maybe it is the financial hardship; eventually you will be stressed. Discuss this with your advisor because he/she can help with everything from planning a schedule that works for you to helping you find the resources that are available to all students. Sometimes, by the time you take this step, you are already pretty stressed.

My advisor has assured me that crying in her office is not a rare occurrence, so you probably will not even be the only person that day to fall apart.

To the annoyances:

  • Insisting that the Dining Dollars charge is the worst thing ever.

Even if you are a good cook, even if you have a fully stocked kitchen at home, if you have at least nine hours on campus, you will have a dining charge. The upside is that you have plenty of choices on where to use your Dining Dollars and it is not all greasy cafeteria food. There are even going to be food trucks on campus that accept this as payment, so some of the best food in the area is going to be available.

  • You will be informed of events or services on campus at the last possible moment.

The assumption about students is that we all live on campus and do not work. Although you may be able to find out ahead of time if you put some effort in, many notices will come to you the day of the event.

To the rewards:

  • You may never get a parking ticket.

Parking at UAB is a sport in itself. We are an urban campus, so basically parking decks and lots are operated by UAB and metered street parking is controlled by the City of Birmingham.

The different lots and decks have assigned numbers for who is allowed to park there. Most non-traditionals do not live on campus, so your number is probably 15, meaning you can park in any lot or deck that has that number.

While younger students often park in any available spot, racking up parking tickets, you most likely have more experience with designated parking rules. You may have to park farther away, but UAB is an easy walking campus. We have the Blazer Express bus service, which is free to students.

  • UAB is a great school.

Once you adjust to life as a student, you will find that the students at UAB are generally welcoming and accepting. After a semester or two, students get used to being outside of their small high school worlds, and we all begin to identify ourselves as members of the UAB family.

Participate in student activities, take advantage of resources, make friends, look forward to finally having your degree, and most importantly, even on the worst days, know that you are not alone out here!


Teresa Davis

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