Some helpful tips for going back to school as a working adult (non-traditional student), including how to pick a school and aiming your course load at your dream job.

Howdy, future non-traditional student!

Your backstory and mine could be completely different. That’s okay, Circumstances are circumstantial. I can’t say I have any terrific reasons for finishing school as late as I did. But it allowed my life to unfold in a very natural way, and now I wear the late bloomer label with pride. I didn’t finish college when I was ‘supposed to’, but I sure finished it when I was ready to.

Life experiences are a pay it forward endeavor. We’ve both made it this far, so let me run a few non-traditional back-to-school tips past you and then you take it from there.


Perhaps you already have a job/career you’re apathetic about. Why spend money and time that you don’t have on an uninspiring education too?

More and more accredited universities are offering the opportunity to wholly construct your schooling with a ‘mentor’. Schools see the value in providing the student with the option to build their education based on what they want to be doing when they graduate. And professors, being the intellectuals they are, savor the freedom to recommend texts, thesis, etc., that they know will be of greatest benefit to the individual student.

The link below is one of many lists that talk about some of these schools. These are the kinds of schools that offer remote (at home) studies. Oftentimes studies that aren’t dependent on being in the classroom. and in that way the 21st Century is a beautiful thing. My beloved alma mater is #43, Empire State College, which is the non-traditional wing of the State University of New York (SUNY).

50 Unique Colleges Every Non-Traditional Student Should Consider

The ability to shape my curriculum in a way befitting my desired career was integral to me choosing Empire State College. It was the first time that I got the education I needed., not just the status-quo, ‘here it is, graduate and get out’. When you start your ‘potential schools’ pile, give consideration to whether or not they let the student be involved in developing the coursework. It’s more common than you might imagine.

Please do continue your own research as well. “Top non-traditional colleges” is as good a search term as any.


Per data from Intuit and Yahoo! Finance, 40% of us will be working for ourselves come 2020. Telecommuting, flexible work schedules, and companies moving away from over-priced office space means that it’s time to turn your TV den into a productivity palace.

Outperforming the competition won’t be just for the interview process anymore. Selling won’t be just for salespeople. The death of the steno pool should serve as an alarm to each of us: go acquire a sharply-defined skill set!

This is not to take anything away from a broad range of knowledge. But listing ‘proficient negotiator’ on your résumé is superior to just being  ‘a strong interpersonal communicator’.  There’s a lot of ominous talk about a bachelors degree not being what it once was. None of us wants to go to school for the rest of our lives though. Pinpoint what you want to be.

And why not learn from the best? Many professors at non-traditional schools are moonlighting from their day job, which is oftentimes at the most prestigious universities in your field of interest. Websites like have come a long way in promoting informative reviews of teachers nationwide.

Moms love when sons make them proud.

Moms love when sons make them proud. Sons cry tears of joy.


Obviously a lot goes into taking on another full-time job, which is exactly what college as an adult amounts to. But take heed in three things you’ve got going for you that starry-eyed eighteen-year-olds don’t:

  • you know what you want to be when you grow up
  • you’ve experienced the good and the bad and what it takes to maintain the former
  • you’re a master multi-tasker
  • and you know what it takes to survive without a safety net

Take it from a non-traditional alumni who violently shook off the stone of underachievement. If you made it this far, you’re ready to go back.

Let’s keep the conversation going! Fire some back-to-school questions at us that YOU want answered in the comment field below. 

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Charlie Monte Verde

Charlie Monte Verde

As COA founder, Charlie cultivates original American art forms. Charlie was raised in Upstate New York before moving to Chicago, and honed his writing skills in Mrs. Bonar’s AP English class before he was bumped down to the regular English class.
Charlie Monte Verde

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