College 

TODAY’S COLLEGE STUDENTS: OLDER, WISER

Watching the news—or dropping your own student off on campus—you might be surprised at who is going to college these days.

A “traditional” student is usually defined as someone between the ages of 18 and 22 and attending college full-time, but a whopping 74 percent of all college students in the U.S. could be considered non-traditional, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

According to the NCES, non- traditional students meet one of seven characteristics:

  • Delayed enrollment in post- secondary education
  • Part-time attendance
  • Full-time employment
  • Financial independence
  • Having dependents other than a spouse
  • Being a single parent

College is hard enough without any of those factors. Add on one, or more, and you’re facing real challenges in terms of time and finances. If you have a family or full-time job, for example, you are unlikely to be able to enroll full-time at a traditional four-year college or university.

POOR GRADES, UNPAID TUITION

Other barriers exist, too. Many former college students dropped out with poor grades or unpaid tuition, which might lead them to believe they cannot get re-admitted.

But college dropouts can re-boot their degree path and find success. Brandi Lambertson started her educational journey shortly after graduating from North Miami High School in 2009, but it took more than a decade for her to meet her goal, with many starts and stops along the way.

“I was a 21st Century Scholar and knew I wanted to go to college, but when I started classes at Ivy Tech in Gary, Indiana, in 2011, I couldn’t afford books and didn’t really know what I was doing,” Lamberton said. “I moved to Kokomo, Indiana, and started taking classes again, but I was homeless and there were times that I had to sleep in my car.”

That same year, her ex-boyfriend killed himself and she “just stopped,” she said. It wasn’t until 2014 that she decided to go back.

I HAD TO APPEAL

“Because of my poor academic record, I had to appeal to get back into Ivy Tech,” Lambertson said. “My advisor, Norma Anderson, was the best. If I was struggling, I would call her. She would just be there to calm me down. Sometimes you just need a little support.”

In 2017, Lambertson graduated from Ivy Tech Community College with an associate degree in business administration and was named the Dean’s Outstanding Student for the School of Business Administration.

Lambertson enrolled at Ball State, determined to build on the success she’d finally found. She was hired on as one of the university’s 21st Century Scholar Support Specialists, tasked with advising her fellow undergraduates who ware participanats in the Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program. Despite being “non- traditional,” she made it a point to get involved on campus and was president of Ball State’s Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

While a GPA is important, there are other components to getting the best educational experience, Lambertson said.

“You are building your future, so it is really important to get involved. Working, volunteering, going to academic conferences are all great opportunities,” she said.

In 2020, she graduated with a double major in Entrepreneurial Management and Marketing and was honored as the outstanding graduate for the Entrepreneurial Management Major.

GOOD ADVICE

“When you are in college, there is a whole world of people on campus who want to help you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them,” Lambertson said.

And if the stress of work, college classes and life are getting you down?

“Take care of yourself, get plenty of exercise, get outside to take a walk when you are feeling stressed,” she said. “It can make a huge difference.”

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