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Non-Traditional College Student Statistics

Posted Wednesday, Sep 16, 2020 by Altierus

Are you a recent high school graduate? Are you financially dependent on your parents? Are you single, without children or other caring responsibilities? If you answered “no” to any of those questions, that means you’re what the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) calls a “non-traditional” college student. The NCES defines non-traditional college students as students who have any of the following characteristics:

  • You’re financially independent from your parents
  • You have a child or other dependent
  • You’re a single caregiver
  • You lack a traditional high school diploma
  • You delayed enrolling in college by more than one year
  • You’re a part-time student
  • You’re in full-time employment

If you’re considering going back to college and you fit one of those categories (or more than one), you may be concerned about whether college is a good idea. Don’t be. The truth is that non-traditional students are much more common today than you might think. Here are some statistics about students like you that should help you feel less worried about taking the leap into college education.


The NCES reports that 7.4 million of the 19.9 million students who were attending college in the fall of 2019 were over the age of 25.[i] That’s 37% of all students—more than one in three.

In fact, older students are the majority at some types of colleges. In 2017, 62% of students at two-year private non-profit schools (like Altierus Career College) were over the age of 25.[ii]

Financial Independence

A 2018 analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that a slim majority of college students—51.3%—were financially independent from their parents. The IWPR paper was looking at data from the 2011-2012 academic year, which was the most recent set of statistics regarding financial independence then available. They also found that:

  • 55% of financially independent students were women, compared to 46.3% of men
  • 55% of financially independent students were people of color, compared to 49% of white students
  • The median age of financially independent students was 29 years old[iii]

Student Parents

In 2019, the IWPR also looked into what percentage of college students were parents. They found that 22% of undergraduates were parents during the 2015-2016 academic year. The majority of student parents (70%) were mothers, and 53% had children under the age of five.

Interestingly, students who were parents seemed to have higher GPAs than students who weren’t. The IWPR analysis found that 33% of parents had a GPA of 3.50 or better, compared to 29% for students overall.[iv]


Nowadays, many college students work. The NCES reports that 43% of full-time undergraduates and 81% of part-time undergraduates had jobs in 2018. Full-time students were more likely to have part-time jobs, while 71% of part-time students worked 20 hours or more per week.[v]

High School Completion

If you took the General Educational Development Test (GED®)[vi], a high school-equivalency test used in 40 states, you may be worried about your college preparedness. There was concern about how effective GED® courses were in preparing students for college. In 2014, the GED® was redesigned.

2018 data from the GED® Testing Service suggests that GED® graduates are doing better in college than they have been in the past. The 2018 data shows that 35% of students who passed the GED® between 2014-2017 enrolled in college within a year.[vii] That’s a significantly lower enrollment rate compared to the 66.7% of high school graduates who enrolled in 2017.[viii]

However, 90% of GED® graduates who passed the new test persisted in college—that is, stayed enrolled in college after finishing their first year. Prior to the redesign of the test, only 29% of GED® graduates persisted in college.[ix] More significantly, GED® graduates who passed the new test are persisting in college at higher rates than traditional high school graduates. Only 74% of high school students who enrolled in college in 2017 persisted in 2018.[x]

Choose the Right School

Being a non-traditional student is more common than you probably thought. Going to college as a non-traditional student at a traditional college can be difficult, however. Make sure you choose a college that understands your needs.

 At Altierus Career College, we’re proactive about supporting non-traditional students. We offer:

  • Class schedules that combine in-person learning with online coursework, so you don’t have to be on campus every day
  • Training programs that you can complete in as few as eight months, which can help you enter the job market faster
  • Tutoring services and other advice, such as help finding transportation to class and other resources
  • All-inclusive tuition that covers important supplies, licensing or certification exam fees (if applicable) and an iPad you can keep after you graduate

See how you can take the non-traditional route to success. Explore our programs today!

[i] https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372#College_enrollment

[ii] https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_csb.asp, figure 3

[iii] https://iwpr.org/media/press-hits/financially-independent-students-new-majority-college/

[iv] https://iwpr.org/iwpr-issues/student-parent-success-initiative/parents-in-college-by-the-numbers/

[v] https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_ssa.pdf

[vi] https://ged.com/blog/what-is-a-ged

[vii] https://ged.com/insession/martys-corner_march2019/

[viii] https://educationdata.org/high-school-graduates-who-go-to-college/

[ix] https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/high_school_and_beyond/2018/02/GED_more_taking_but_fewer_passing_equivalency_exam_after_redesign.html

[x] https://nscresearchcenter.org/snapshotreport35-first-year-persistence-and-retention/

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