Skip to Main Content
Idaho State University home

Going Back to School as a Non-Traditional Student

September 4, 2020

Making the decision to go to college later on in life or deciding to go back after taking a break can be an intimidating decision, but it doesn’t have to be. Deciding to go back or to start college later on in life is more common than you think. It has been reported by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), that 73 percent of students fall into the category of being nontraditional (Davis, 2019). Being a nontraditional student is often defined as someone who is at the age of 25 or older and/or goes to school part-time while holding a full-time job (Davis, 2019) or has children. Many students are in need of a break after high school in order to figure out what they want to do in life. It’s important to know that everyone is on their own path and that you should do what fits you best no matter what others may say or think. Going back as a nontraditional student can come with many benefits such as being more financially stable and in a better position of paying off student loans, gained more life and work experience to be confident in what degree you want to pursue, and if you’re married, you’re no longer dependent on your parents’ tax returns to apply for financial aid.

To find out more about what it is like going back to school as a nontraditional student, we interviewed Ryan Woodward who graduated from Idaho State University College of Business in May of 2020 with his Bachelor of Business Administration in Management.


  • What made you decide to go back to school? Was it an easy or difficult choice?


I did not know what I wanted to do when I first started college, so when I took a break it was a good thing.  I worked to support my wife and kids, and through my job I found what I was good at and what I found interesting, people management.  I advanced through different positions at work, but quickly realized I would need a degree to earn the opportunities I wanted to pursue, so deciding to go back to school was an easy decision for me.


  • What did you expect it to be like to go back to school?


I only spent one semester as a traditional student, so I knew what to expect while attending school in the nontraditional manner that I did.  I knew I would have to make sacrifices to fit classes into my life, so I didn’t spend much time at school unless I had to be there.


  • When you went back, was it the way you expected or was it different? In what ways was it different?


I would say that school was what I expected, I had a good feel for how to succeed in the course work, and with my job experience I knew how to navigate and manage my interpersonal relationships.


  • What were some of the good and bad experiences that you had?


Like most college students, I would say my worst experiences had to do with group work and team members that did not try or were unable to complete their portion of the work.  At the same time, I have had some of my best experiences in group and teamwork in the higher-level classes and believe I have built relationships that will carry on past the graduating from ISU.  It was a lot of fun when I was able to work with fellow students that were passionate about performing well.


  • How did you get back into the groove and manage a home-and work-life with school?


No sleep, plain and simple for me.  I have worked full-time the entire time I have been in school to support my wife and four kids, so I had to give something up.  I found that if I organized my time, I could accomplish a lot on just three or four hours of sleep.  I have performed well in my job duties and have kept good grades throughout school.  I might pay for the lack of sleep on the backend, but it has been worth it so far.


  • What are some of your tips and things to know if you’re returning to school/a non-traditional student?


I would say that anyone that is going to take a non-traditional path needs to have a plan and how and when they are going to work on school.  There is too much going on, and often team members rely on your contributions, so having specific times laid out to work on your schoolwork is a must.  I would also say that having a rough idea of when you want to graduate is helpful because then you don’t have to cram in a bunch of classes near the end to fulfill all the requirements before you run out of time…  I learned that one the hard way.

The experience of going back to school as a nontraditional student is different for everyone, but Ryan’s answers reveal that accepting sacrifices, finding a balance, and setting up a schedule for when to study helped him be successful. Ultimately it is very much achievable to find a balance between school, work, and home life. The most important thing is that you figure out a balance that works for you and helps you achieve the goals that you set for yourself. Stay focused on your own goals and don’t compare them to anyone else’s.


Works Cited

Davis, Carly. Going Back to College as a Non-Traditional Student. 12 Mar. 2019,