There is no "one-size-fits-all" description of a college student. However, each student bears a responsibility to understand the diverse terrain that includes their peers. Who are the students you share class with? How have they come to share the college experience with you?
Imagine you live in the ancient city of Athens, Greece. You are a student at Plato’s University of Athens, considered to be the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. The campus sits just outside Athens’s city walls, a mile from
your home. You walk to class and take your seat in the gymnasium, where all classes are held. Gatherings are small – just a handful of fellow students – most are men born and raised in Athens. When your class is finished, you walk back to the city.
Hurry, because your daily work awaits you.
Let's return to the present time. How does your college environment compare to the university in ancient Athens? Where do you live, relative to campus? Do you report to a job before or after class? Who are your fellow students, and where do they live with respect to you and campus? What city or country are they from?
If you indulge these imaginative comparisons, you may find many similarities in the past and present. You may find many differences, too. Perhaps the most striking difference will be the makeup of each student body. Consider the following facts:
These brief statistics point to the scope of university life in the United States and the diversity of the student body. Clearly there is no "one-size-fits-all" description of a college student. However, each student bears a responsibility to understand the diverse terrain of his or her peers. Who are the students you may share class with? How have they come to share the college experience with you?
In this section, we look at several main categories of students and at some of the needs of students in those categories. We also take a brief look at how all students, regardless of background, can make a plan to be successful in college.
Traditional undergraduate students typically enroll in college immediately after graduating from high school, and they attend classes on a continuous full-time basis at least during the fall and spring semesters (or fall, winter, and spring quarters). They complete a bachelor’s degree program in four or five years by the age of twenty-two or twenty-three. Traditional students are also typically financially dependent on others (such as their parents), do not have children, and consider their college career to be their primary responsibility. They may be employed only on a part-time basis, if at all, during the academic year.
Nontraditional students do not enter college in the same calendar year that they finish high school. They typically attend classes part-time due to full-time work obligations. They are more likely to be financially independent, to have children, and/or to be caregivers of sick or elderly family members. Some nontraditional students may not have a high school diploma, or they may have received a general educational development degree (GED).
The following video features several nontraditional students from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Students discuss their status as nontraditional students and how they feel about it. Note that the differences are not just with age but also experience. Click on the “cc” box underneath the video to activate the closed captioning.
International students are those who travel to a country different from their own for the purpose of studying in college. English is likely their second language. Nonnative speakers of English, like international students, come from a different culture, too. For both of these groups, college may pose special challenges. For example, classes may at first, or for a time, pose hardships due to cultural and language barriers.
First-generation students do not have a parent who graduated from college with a baccalaureate degree. College life may be less familiar to them, and the preparation for entering college may not have been stressed as a priority at home. Some time and support may be needed to become accustomed to the college environment. These students may experience a culture shift between school life and home life.
Students with disabilities include those who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders, blindness or low vision, brain injuries, deafness/hard-of-hearing, learning disabilities, medical disabilities, physical disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, and speech and language disabilities. Students with disabilities are legally accorded reasonable accommodations that give them an equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance as students without a disability. Even with these accommodations, however, physical and electronic campus facilities and practices can pose special challenges. Time, energy, and added resources may be needed.
Many students are employed in either a part-time or full-time capacity. Balancing college life with work life may be a challenge. Time management skills and good organization can help. These students typically have two jobs—being a student and an employee. It can be a lot to balance.
While there are many advantages to living on campus, many students choose to live off campus and commute to class. This may be convenient or necessary for students who have a full set of responsibilities in off-campus jobs. It may also suit students who have the option to live at home with parents to avoid room and board fees. Many returning students are commuter students, too, and may come on campus only for classes. At some colleges, like urban and rural schools, commuting to campus may be the only option.
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