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The Rise of Nontraditional Nursing Students

Many sources define a nontraditional student as an adult 25 or older who is going to college for the first time or returning to college for a second degree. However, nontraditional nursing students are a more complex category.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, any of the following characteristics classifies a student as nontraditional:

  • Attending school part time.
  • Being a single caregiver.
  • Being employed full time.
  • Being “independent” (for financial aid purposes).
  • Delaying college enrollment after high school.
  • Having one or more dependents.
  • Not having a traditional high school diploma.

In fact, according to the Department of Education, in the 2011–2012 academic year, about 74 percent of all undergraduates had at least one nontraditional characteristic. This is also true for online BSN programs.

Career Changers

One type of nontraditional nursing student is a working professional looking for a career change. A number of factors draw people to nursing as a second career. Some people are looking for a way to help others, and they may feel a calling to nursing. Some seek the intellectual challenge. Some see nursing as a flexible, good-paying career with many employment options.

Second-career students have real-world experience that will help them succeed in a nursing career. These people often already have a college degree and may seek nursing programs that accept some of their previous academic credits.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “The typical second-degree nursing student is motivated, older, and has higher academic expectations than traditional entry-level nursing students. Accelerated students excel in class and are eager to gain clinical experiences. Faculty find them to be excellent learners who are not afraid to challenge their instructors.”

Online Education

For nontraditional nursing students with personal or professional responsibilities, a BSN online is a flexible and convenient option. Students can choose from a variety of programs and study on a schedule that fits their lives.

Choosing an online nursing program requires careful consideration. Factors prospective nursing students need to consider include the following:

  • Is the program accredited? Does the program have a good reputation?
  • How much credit is available for previous college coursework?
  • What are the course formats — pre-recorded learning modules, streaming lectures, online textbooks, etc. — and how can students communicate with instructors?
  • How much technical support does the program provide?
  • How long can you take to complete the program? Is the curriculum on a fixed schedule or can students work through it at their own pace?
  • Does the program offer classes in your area of interest?
  • What is the program’s graduation rate and NCLEX pass rate?
  • What are the clinical requirements?
  • What are the costs and payment options?

If you are one of the increasing numbers of nontraditional nursing students, know that you are not alone; many of your classmates are also nontraditional students. Let your life experience propel you to excel in your new nursing career.

Learn about the UTA online BSN program.


Accelerated Nursing Programs. (n.d.). American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Childers, L. (2015, October 26). How to Choose a Nursing School: From Traditional to Online and Accelerated Programs. Minority Nurse

Swiech, P. (2012, April 27). Older school: Nursing programs drawing students over age 40. Pantagraph

Demographic and Enrollment Characteristics of Nontraditional Undergraduates: 2011–12. (2015, September). National Center of Education Statistics

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