The 25 Best Colleges for Non-Traditional Students

By BCR Staff
December 2017

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 25 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 25 colleges for non-traditional students.

#25 (tied)- Ursuline College

Pepper Pike, Ohio

Website

Points: 11
Total Enrollment: 1,136
Net Price: $16,892Ursuline College

A leading institution for women, Ursuline College designs its academic programming for the faith-based, independent thinker seeking to make a significant impact in the world around them. Ursuline is a decent college for non-traditional students, in particular, those who are returning to school after time away from academia, or older students who require a part-time schedule to balance other life priorities. Currently, 67% of Ursuline's part-time student body is over the age of 24.

#25 (tied) – Peirce College

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Website

Points: 11
Total Enrollment:1,563
Net Price: $8,325Peirce College

Located in the center of Philadelphia, Peirce College is a top choice for non-traditional students who are considered adult-learners. Peirce is one of the earliest providers of comprehensive online degree programs, and students with a full-time career may find advantages in the accelerated evening and weekend coursework; these accelerated course schedules include either two 7-week intensives or one 14-week intensive at a time. Peirce College's connections with the surrounding city lead to ample career opportunities post-graduation.

#23 (tied) – Naropa University

Boulder, Colorado

Website

Points: 12
Total Enrollment: 931
Net Price: $27,482Naropa University

Naropa University is another Colorado-based school on our list, a top college for non-traditional student education. Naropa is a non-profit liberal arts school that provides degrees spanning arts, peace studies, psychology, and education. NU was founded on the tenets of Buddhism, but the school remains nonsectarian in its inclusion. Naropa celebrates the integration of Eastern wisdom and more traditional Western curriculum. Non-traditional students enjoy a small average class size of thirteen, and the freedom for open, contemplative discourse with the class and faculty community.

#23 (tied) – Cedar Crest College

Allentown, Pennsylvania

Website

Points: 12
Total Enrollment: 1,669
Net Price: $19,231Cedar-Crest-College

Cedar College of Allentown, Pennsylvania is a popular choice of school for non-traditional students. Cedar's School of Adult and Graduate Education (SAGE) is a department dedicated to the specific needs of older students; this program is available to adults applying to college for the first time, or seeking to finish their degree after many years away. Cedar Crest College has advisors who work only with non-traditional students, making it a personalized and seamless academic journey. This school has earned consistent high rankings for its value and accommodation for distance-learners.

#23 (tied) – Fresno Pacific University

Fresno, California

Website

Points: 12
Total Enrollment: 3,564
Net Price: $18,245

Fresno Pacific University of California is an excellent education opportunity for many different types of learning and degree-track needs. This school is known to have a generous balance of on-campus, off-site, and online courses for the adult learner requiring a self-designed degree pace; this accommodating structure for learning makes it a great college for non-traditional students looking for a top-notch degree that can balance with full-time work, a family, or other life scenarios.

#20 (tied) – Bennington College

Bennington, Vermont

Website

Points: 13
Total Enrollment: 805
Net Price: $37,087Bennington College

Bennington College is a globally renowned degree-granting institution, widely considered among the academic elite. Bennington has a selective admissions process, maintaining high standards for students looking to design their education. This college is a great option for non-traditional students who want to be challenged in a way that extends beyond typical academics. BC has numerous non-traditional methods in earning a degree, among them the requirement that all students complete an experiential learning program (including internships) that encourage the optimum integration of material.

#20 (tied)- Brandman University

Irvine, California

Website

Points: 13
Total Enrollment: 7,331
Net Price: $28,456Brandman University

Based in the California city of Irvine, Brandman University is a nationally ranked institution by U.S. News and World Report and Military Time; this is due in large part to its flexible degrees for non-traditional students. Brandman has a vibrant campus community, but also extends its course curriculum options to those who can't make it to the classroom. In a recent alumni survey, 92% of respondents have reported they'd recommend Brandman to others.

#18 (tied) – Evergreen State College

Olympia, Washington

Website

Points: 14
Total Enrollment: 4,089
Net Price: $13,367Evergreen State College

Among the more selective options on this ranking, Evergreen State College is a school that fits best with independent-thinking students. U.S. News and World Report has named Evergreen the most innovative college in the West, considering its faculty, student body, campus community, and other key factors held by the college. Evergreen provides a challenging education and a variety of decent degree options for non-traditional students; this academic environment is non-traditional in particular with its hands-on approach to learning and a special focus on individualized education goals.

#18 (tied) – University of Maine at Augusta

Augusta, Maine

Website

Points: 14
Total Enrollment: 4,416
Net Price: $8,627

One of the most affordable colleges on our list, the University of Maine at Augusta is a complex of colleges appropriate for non-traditional students. In addition to the Augusta campus, the university has another in Bangor and 56 University College centers; this comprehensive educational system provides a high level of flexibility for adult degree-seekers with busy lives. UMA's top-notch online degree programs have recently been ranked among the best by U.S. News and World Report.

#15 (tied) – Oberlin College

Oberlin, Ohio

Website

Points: 15
Total Enrollment: 2,912
Net Price: $42,105Oberlin College

The prestigious Oberlin College and Conservatory has a globally renowned music conservatory and rigorous academic programs. Oberlin is firmly committed to diversity in its curriculum, faculty, and student body. This is a top college for non-traditional students due to its belief that each student should design their own degree and life choices beyond graduation. Additionally, Oberlin's non-traditional "Experimental College" program allows students to earn credits for courses spearheaded by their classmates; these courses are an opportunity for Oberlin students to present specialized topics not typical of most college degrees.

#15 (tied) – Antioch College

Yellow Springs, Ohio

Website

Points: 15
Total Enrollment: 223
Net Price: $15,182Antioch College

Antioch College of Ohio has an impressive list of statistics that include a 90% student retention rate, 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and 100% scholar-level instructor faculty. Additionally, every accepted student to the selective college receives an automatic half-tuition scholarship. For those seeking a college for non-traditional students, Antioch has programs not found in a typical academic community. One of these programs is the "Cooperative Education Program," where students spend up to a third of their coursework in full-time work, community service research, and other settings of personal growth.

#15 (tied) – Northeastern Illinois University

Chicago, Illinois

Website

Points: 15
Total Enrollment: 9,538
Net Price: $15,000Northeastern Illinois University

Based in the exciting city of Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University is a large institution popular with students over age 25; currently, over 45% of the student body falls into this category, embracing its long list of offerings for the non-traditional student. NEIU's adult-centered programming places it among the best colleges for non-traditional students; some of these programs include the Weekend Institute for Professional Development, evening courses, online degree programs, and other well-received accommodations.

#12 – State University of New York – Empire State College

Saratoga Springs, New York

Website

Points: 16
Total Enrollment: 11,315
Net Price: $13,733SUNY-Empire-State-College

State University of New York Empire State College is an affordable, top-notch school that accepts non-traditional students with high academic standards. Adult learners in particular benefit from SUNY Empire's renowned distance-learning degrees; these online degree options make it possible to earn a degree without the challenge of getting to class at a specific time and place. SUNY Empire College's adult distance-learners can proceed with their education at their own pace and schedule allowances.

#11 (tied) – Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Website

Points: 17
Total Enrollment: 1,708
Net Price: $31,900Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr College in rural Pennsylvania is a women's school that offers challenging academic degrees on bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Bryn Mawr is a strong choice of college for non-traditional students, in particular, those students over the age of 24; this school's McBride Scholars program is specifically designed for women seeking a higher degree at an age beyond that of the traditional undergraduate student. Bryn Mawr College welcomes independent study initiatives that enhance one's education and place in the world beyond graduation.

#11 (tied) – Colorado College

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Website

Points: 17
Total Enrollment: 2,114
Net Price: $23,812Colorado College

Colorado College is a progressive academic community with a unique educational model for its accepted students. A top college for non-traditional students, CC offers a "block plan" semester series, where students take one course at a time to allow for optimum immersion in the material. This institution values independent, experiential learning that lives beyond the classroom walls. CC's alumni have found remarkable success, as evidenced by their 31 Fulbright fellows, a Nobel prize winner, and fourteen Rhodes scholars. Colorado College is also supportive of gap year students who opt to take time between high school and college for self-exploration.

#11 (tied) – Charter Oak State College

New Britain, Connecticut

Website

Points: 17
Total Enrollment: 1,583
Net Price: $10,029charter-oak-state-college

Following the motto "Degrees without Boundaries," Charter Oak State College is an accredited institution with an entirely online curriculum. This best school for non-traditional students values the prior learning and life experiences adult learners bring to their degree. To this end, college credits can be earned through military training, preliminary testing, or a unique "Portfolio Program" where students can earn credit for a particular course by demonstrating (through non-traditional means) their prior knowledge of the subject matter. Charter Oak has affordable degree options for adult distance-learners, both on undergraduate and graduate levels.

#8 (tied) – Metropolitan College of New York

New York, New York

Website

Points: 18
Total Enrollment: 1,059
Net Price: $20,590Metropolitan College of New York

The Metropolitan College of New York is an opportunity-rich learning community and a wise choice of college for non-traditional student degree-seekers. While MCNY has campuses located both in Manhatten and the Bronx, MCNY also provides the option for students to earn their degree remotely; the majority of this college's student body hold full-time jobs while taking advantage of MCNY flexible degree plans. Metropolitan College is also highly accommodating of older students with life experience and prior learning; each transfer student is assessed individually and considered for a $4,000 Transfer Articulation grant.

#8 (tied)- Brenau University

Gainesville, Georgia

Website

Points: 18
Total Enrollment: 2,899
Net Price: $19,650Brenau University

A Georgia-based college with an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Brenau University is a top choice college for the non-traditional adult student. At Brenau, accepted students can earn an associate's, bachelor's, master's, or even a doctorate through online or on-campus learning. This institution offers an Adult and Graduate Studies program that can be accelerated to accommodate the degree goals of those enrolled. The average age of Brenau's student body is currently 33, making it a particularly appropriate school for those in this age group. Additionally, Brenau University is home to the Center for Lifetime Study, an opportunity for mature adults to continue their cultural and academic education.

#6 (tied) – Hampshire College

Amherst, Massachusetts

Website

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

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.

#6 (tied) – Granite State College

Concord, New Hampshire

Website

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.

#4 – Eckerd College

St. Petersburg, Florida

Website

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.

#3 (tied) – University of Houston

Houston, Texas

Website

Points: 21
Total Enrollment: 43,774
Net Price: $15,571University of Houston

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.

#3 (tied)– Portland State University

Portland, Oregon

Website

Points: 21
Total Enrollment: 26,627
Net Price: $14,181Portland State University

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.

#1 – Lewis-Clark State College

Lewiston, Idaho

Website

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.

The following ranked list represents the top 25 colleges for non-traditional students.