Nontraditional students’ motivations may be similar to those of students who matriculated right after high school, but you’ll also hear some markedly different stories.

Recently, we conducted our Student Engagement Insights survey, which shed light on the motivations, interests, and opinions of today’s students. Over 2,600 nontraditional students (25 years and older) responded. To learn more about what motivates them, we asked: Why did you choose to (re)enroll in college at this time?

Below, we’ve presented ten of the major themes that recurred in their answers. Some of these may seem quite natural or expected… and others might leave you inspired! Read, and consider some of the reasons why they’re motivated to attend your courses.

Ten reasons why nontraditional students enroll (or re-enroll) in college courses

1. They want to enter or transition into a specific field. From social work to IT, nursing to accounting, many of the students stated that they wanted to pursue work in a particular field. College coursework helps them reach that objective.

2. It’s the right time in their lives to do so. For many reasons—family responsibilities, military service, financial constraints, or other priorities—some people do not go straight from high school into college. Many of our respondents stated that they had found that now was the time to build upon their education. Common responses along these lines included: “I have always dreamed of having my college degree; at this life stage, I could concentrate on obtaining a degree,” and “I have raised my children; now it is time for me to take care of my goals.”

3. They’re preparing themselves for today’s job market. Those looking to transition into a new career or field often enroll in college classes to build a skill set that poises them to take hold of pertinent job opportunities. Several students noted that they want to be more “marketable” as employees. On that note, one student wrote that he’s taking courses “because the competition for experienced and skilled workers is in high demand.”

4. They want to learn, and hone, particular skills. Others who are already in their field take college courses to update their skill set—or, they’re ready to take the next big step into self employment: “I am wanting to start my own business and wanted the business management skills to do so.”

5. They want to fulfill their dreams. Who doesn’t admire someone who’s pursuing and and achieving their goals? For many, the ability to attend college was a dream in itself. Others have a specific goal in mind. As one person wrote: “It was time to start working up to my dream career.”

6. They want to finish what they’ve started. Circumstances can sometimes require us to put college to the side for the time being. Many of the students who responded to our survey found themselves in this situation.

7. They’re pursuing an advanced degree. It comes as no surprise that many students over the age of 25 have returned to earn a master’s degree or Ph.D. A degree of this nature can open the doors to advanced positions or expanded opportunities within an individual’s chosen field.

8. They found the right school. For some, the location of the college played a part in their decision. To others, the school’s course offerings or its reputation made their school an ideal choice. And, for many others, the flexibility of taking courses online gave them the final “push” they needed to earn or complete a degree. A representative comment: “I can do it online and continue my current work schedule.”

9. They want to provide for—and inspire—their loved ones. We’ll let some of the responses speak for themselves:

  • “I enrolled to further my education. I want to be able to give my kids what they want versus what they need!”
  • “I am wanting to better myself for my children and their future.”
  • “I want to better my future for my son and myself. I look forward to having a career that I absolutely love.”
  • “I want to better our life. I want to be an example for our kids. I quit school and always wanted to go back. Thanks to the support of my wonderful husband and kids it has been made possible.”
  • “I want to increase my opportunities. I’d love to be able to start my own business & work from home so that I can take care of my daughter.”

10. They simply value and love learning! Several students reported that they “enjoy learning” or that they “love learning.” As one student put it: “I want to always be learning.” We would bet that many of you reading this post can relate… we know we can!


How do you reach out to the nontraditional students in your classes? What have you observed of their motivations? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.