The 5 Best Colleges for Non-Traditional Students

Updated October 18, 2022 · 3 Min Read

This guide provides information about Lewis-Clark's flexible degree programs, both on campus and on a distance-learning basis. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Non-Traditional Students

In the pursuit of one's higher education degree, determining the best choice of college can be all the more challenging when you are considered a "non-traditional" student. Non-traditional students are those who fall into categories that separate them from the more typical college student; the most common of these non-traditional scenarios may be parents returning to school, adult learners over 25, part-time college students, students balancing college with a full-time job, among other related qualifiers. Non-traditional students may also be drawn to colleges that provide an education in progressive, individualized methods more suited to the independent learner.

The following ranking represents the top 5 colleges for non-traditional students; the schools selected for this ranking provide an academic home for multiple types of non-traditional students seeking a degree.

In determining the order of this ranking, we awarded points based on:

  • Range of non-traditional offerings for students (1-5 points)
  • Range of academic offerings (1-5 points)
  • Flexibility in degree track for students who work full-time or raising a
    family (1-5 points)
  • Accolades and rankings from other respected education publications (1-3 points)
  • An additional point was awarded for noteworthy features that made it a top college for non-traditional students.

In the event of a tie in points, the school with the lower net price appears higher in the ranking

Tuition and enrollment data was sourced from College Navigator.

The following ranked list represents the top 5 colleges for non-traditional students.

Featured Online Schools

Top Non-Traditional Colleges Rankings

#1 – Lewis-Clark State College

Lewiston, Idaho


Points: 22 | Total Enrollment: 3,924 | Net Price: $11,296

Lewis-Clark State College is a supportive higher learning environment, maintaining a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and the lowest tuition rate in Idaho. Lewis-Clark believes sincerely in community service and regularly involves itself in servicing neighboring non-profit efforts. LCSC has a vast range of degree options for non-traditional students, offering numerous programming and scholarships specifically dedicated to this portion of the student body; there is a non-traditional student scholarship designed for adults returning to college after a minimum break of five years. Lewis-Clark College additionally engages in non-traditional student recruitment efforts, showing support and recognition for special circumstances.

#3 (tied)– Portland State University

Portland, Oregon


Points: 21 | Total Enrollment: 26,627 | Net Price: $14,181

Based in one of most dynamic cities in the country, Portland State University accepts non-traditional students of numerous kinds. This school is witnessing a rise in the average student age, currently 26; the non-traditional-aged student can benefit from PSU’s flexible degree programs, both on campus and on a distance-learning basis. Portland State’s urban setting lends to a great deal of diversity among its staff, student body, campus community, and curriculum; PSU’s degree-seekers are represented from over 80 countries. Residents from Oregon may qualify for PSU’s “four years free” award if they fulfill certain eligibility criteria.

#3 (tied) – University of Houston

Houston, Texas


Points: 21 | Total Enrollment: 43,774 | Net Price: $15,571

Based in the heart of Texas, the University of Houston is an award-winning, large academic community that celebrates the variety of the many different applicants seeking degrees. There is a designated organization at this college for non-traditional students, many of whom include adult-learners returning to school or entering higher education for the first time; these students can join the Non-Traditional Student Organization (NTSO) at no cost. NTSO has a wealth of information and guidance for non-traditional students in need of added direction.

#4 – Eckerd College

St. Petersburg, Florida


Points: 20 | Total Enrollment: 2,046 | Net Price: $33,486

Settled along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Eckerd College is included in the selective education guide, 40 Colleges that Change Lives. Eckerd’s student body is respected for its commitment to the community, clocking in over 83,000 hours of volunteer service each year. Eckerd is a college that welcomes non-traditional students, particularly with regard to adult learners who are eager to complete their degree; EC’s “Program for Experienced Learners,” is an evening and weekend course series that provides needed flexibility for adult-learners. Eckerd’s academics are innovative and immersive, sending graduates into the world full-prepared for their chosen careers. Eckerd is celebrated for its mentor-based approach to learning, and students have given glowing feedback on the campus setting, close-knit community, and innovative learning practices.

#6 (tied) – Granite State College

Concord, New Hampshire


Points: 19 | Total Enrollment: 2,141 | Net Price: $13,922

For over 40 years, Granite State College has provided top-notch degree options for non-traditional adult learners, in particular. The majority of Granite’s student body is online, transfer, military, or high school graduates who have chosen to wait for later in life to complete their degree. GSC is known to have progressive practices in valuing student life experiences; qualifying students can earn college credits through non-traditional means such has equivalency testing, experiential learning portfolios, non-credited training programs, and more. Granite’s flexible degree programs have earned consistent praise from current students, alumni, and U.S. News and World Report. Granite State has formed close partnerships with the Lifelong Learning Institute and Community College of New Hampshire, all in an effort to expand academics for non-traditional adult learners.

#6 (tied) – Hampshire College

Amherst, Massachusetts


Points: 19 | Total Enrollment: 1,321 | Net Price: $34,154

Hampshire College is a highly progressive school that boasts being a top producer of Fulbright Scholars in its alumni pool. Part of a five-college consortium, Hampshire College joins Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith College, and UMASS Amherst in providing a unique interdisciplinary degree track. Hampshire is a top college for the non-traditional student, in particular for its outside-the-box curriculum. In addition, Hampshire counts itself among “Colleges that Change Lives,” a group of higher education institutions that show leadership in student-centered learning.

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