3 Tips For Surviving College As A Non-Traditional Student

The decision to enroll in college is exciting, albeit nerve-wracking. It can be especially stressful for those of us who, for one reason or another, weren’t able to attend college right after high school. Life gets crazy, and higher education is expensive!

With that being said, being a bit of a late bloomer in college can present some unique challenges. However, the reward of continuing your education is well worth it, and years from now, you’ll thank yourself for having the courage to begin your higher education journey.

Here are some tips to get you feeling confident and ready to take on this new, exciting chapter in life:

Flaunt Your Strengths

Staring at all those blank applications for your desired universities can be incredibly daunting. You might feel lost in all the paperwork, jargon, and even the expectations for prospective  students. It’s also probably been a while since you last thought about things like the SATs, ACTs, GMATs, and all those other stressful tests. The entire college application process is enough to make your head spin.

It’s most important to not be discouraged, though! While you may feel as though you’re unable to compete on an academic level, your work and life experience could be the thing that puts you ahead, whether in front of other freshman or in competition for graduate school. For example, according to Syracuse University, in reference to GMAT waivers and getting your MBA, many non-academic experiences can be applied to enrollment applications. These other factors include:

  • Professional and/or military experience
  • Leadership ability and potential
  • Accomplishments and coursework that demonstrate problem-solving and quantitative ability
  • Logic and critical-thinking skills
  • People skills

Being away from school for a few years can leave you feeling a bit rusty and perhaps even intimidated by the prospect of becoming a student again. However, it’s important to give yourself credit where credit is due. You likely possess a variety of skills that many universities are looking for. Selling yourself doesn’t always involve high SAT scores.


It’s no secret that college is expensive. As a late bloomer, it can be tricky to find the funds to help cover school costs. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be getting a full-ride football or softball scholarship. You also may not qualify for certain grants and scholarships for non-traditional students. However, not all hope is lost, as there are some financial benefits of waiting until your late twenties or early thirties to start school.

For example, FAFSA allows you to apply for aid as an independent after the age of 24 — meaning your financial aid is based on your income, not your parents’. This loophole can allot you more money to pay for tuition, books, and housing, depending on your current income.

It’s also worth noting that interest rates can differ significantly when you file with FAFSA as an independent versus as a dependent. Your student loans from the federal government can fall under two categories: subsidized or unsubsidized.

Subsidized essentially means that the government will cover the interest on your loan while you’re still in school, while unsubsidized loans don’t receive that same support and accrue interest (that you’re expected to pay back) while you’re enrolled. Generally, if you make above a certain amount of money each year, your loans are unsubsidized. Knowing the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans is key and can make a huge difference in terms of what you pay back once you’ve graduated.

It’s also worth considering a co-signer when it comes to your student loans. Depending on your age and income, you may or may not need one. Granted, there are pros and cons to not having one and the decision will ultimately come down to your own credit and financial situation, but even as a late bloomer it’s worth considering adding on a co-signer.

As Fiscal Tiger explains, “With no cosigner, there is no one to help you out with your student loans when times get rough. Missing payments will only force you to have to pay additional fees and interest. If you miss too many loan payments and no one is there to pick up the slack, you can end up defaulting on your student loans. Defaulting on private student loans is especially bad, since you won’t have tools like student loan rehab to help you recover.”

While this isn’t meant to scare you by any means, you should always consider your options and weigh the risks. Ultimately, avoiding financial hardships post-school should be the goal of any graduate.

Pat Yourself on the Back

Starting school as a late 20 or early 30-something-year-old can be particularly stressful, and it’s hard to know where to begin the process. However, as stressful as this whole path can be, you should be extremely proud of yourself. Starting a new journey to better yourself, your mind, and your life is certainly commendable, and it’s important to acknowledge all your hard work and determination.

While you might feel caught between two worlds as a college “late bloomer,” you have what it takes to become a successful student and make new friends along the way. Consider your options, your experiences, your skills, and your drive to better yourself and further your life goals. It’ll take some planning, plenty of organization, and of course, a lot of dedication but remember that no matter your age, you have what it takes to begin your educational goals and dreams. Good luck!

Featured Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash.



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