Good Study Habits Can Be Learned

Dear Nontraditional Student: Good Study Habits Can Be Learned.
Sincerely, Your College Degree

By Beth Dumbauld

If you are considering going back to college after an absence, you aren’t alone. Almost 75% of undergraduates are in some way “nontraditional” students.1 These students, like you, are unique. They bring their own story to their college journey.

The background from which these nontraditional students come from is varied. In terms of classification purposes, a nontraditional student is one who has any of the following characteristics:

  • Delays enrollment. In other words, doesn’t enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year he/she finished from high school.
  • Attends part time for at least part of the academic year;
  • Works full time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled;
  • Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid;
  • Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others);
  • Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents); or
  • Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school).2

The driving force behind a return to college is also deeply personal. Some are motivated by the fact that college graduates, over the course of their work life, on average, earn nearly $650,000 more than high school graduates.3 Others may be keeping a promise they made to themselves, before life happened, to return and earn that degree. Others still may be looking to go into a new field or preserve job security in their current one, perhaps a field which now requires a college degree for promotion.

Despite the varied reasons nontraditional students go back to college, once enrolled, they have a shared experience. All students, no matter their background or motivation, have to take classes, study, pass tests and complete projects in order to receive course credit, and ultimately, a college degree. In other words, every student may be different, and their reasons for going back to school may be different, but what is not different is their classification as a student. And as a student, there is a need to study with purpose, and, for those with commitments outside of school such as a job or family, efficiently.

Perhaps you are a prospective nontraditional student -- but you are hesitant to take that first step back to college. Perhaps you fear your investment in time and money will be diminished by an inability to study effectively. Or maybe your past educational experience has left you wary of the rigid system in which you have to perform. Set your fears aside and begin the journey back to college with an open mind towards college “millennial-style.”

Good Study Habits Can Be Learned

The truth is that not every student who starts college finishes their degree. Approximately 57 percent of first-time students who sought a bachelor’s degree and enrolled at a 4-year institution full time in fall 2002 completed a bachelor’s degree at that institution within 6 years.4 You, however, can be one of those who finishes their degree according to plan.

For those who don’t graduate, poor study skills and time management issues quite often pose significant roadblocks to educational success. Don’t let these roadblocks get in your way. Rusty study skills can be polished off. Time management skills can be improved. No matter your age, as long as you are willing to look at yourself constructively and are committed to the path of higher education, you can bring your study and time management skills up to speed. You can become a college graduate.

As long as you are motivated and committed to being the best student you can be, willing to acknowledge and schedule in the new demands on your time, and are self-aware enough to know, and improve upon, your academic strengths and weaknesses -- you can stay the course, and earn your degree.

1 National Center for Education Statistics, The Condition of Education, Closer Look 2002a, Nontraditional Undergraduates, 2002 (latest year statistics are provided)

2 Ibid

3 Pew Research Center, Is College Worth It?: College Presidents, Public Assess, Value, Quality and Mission of Higher Education, May 2011

4 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). The Condition of Education 2011 (NCES 2011-033), Indicator 23.

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