What Are You, Like 44?!


Why the presence of non-traditional students should be acknowledged and embraced at UCSB

Allison De La Torre

The average age of a student at University of California, Santa Barbara is 21 years old. That means you’ll find a handful that are maybe 19 or 20 and another bunch who are 22 and 23 years old. We all took statistics, so we know there are always a couple of outliers—much younger rookies and older veterans of time. In fact, according to the UCSB Portrait published by our campus’ Office of Budget and Planning, less than 1 percent of undergraduate students here are over the age of 25. Why is it that our incredible campus continues to keep such a qualified age as unrepresented in our undergraduate student population? These are the people we call non-traditional students.

When I first decided to attend UCSB this summer, I remember reading an article from The Princeton Review declaring that this campus was ranked fourth in the nation in regard to having the happiest students. I can now wholeheartedly agree. What’s not to love? We are surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscaping and geographically marvelous land many have ever seen. Near perfect weather, healthy active lifestyles, and intelligent minds; let us not forget that we are attending a premiere research institution, as well.

With all of this in mind, I contest it’d be accurate to say that as one matures, these are exactly the types of things one grows more appreciative of. Once the mid-twenties roll around, alcohol and partying become less interesting and it is more satisfying to be involved in beneficial, productive, and healthy activities. Let me be clear, it’s still nice to work hard and play hard, but it just isn’t so enthralling anymore to be wandering around crowded streets every night looking for a house party. I am not saying that younger students don’t appreciate anything either because that is not the case at all. I would just like to optimistically believe that we grow as individuals over the years and come to feel even more gratitude for our experiences. It would be an unfortunate reality to admit that someone is the same person emotionally and intellectually at 25 years old as when they were 21 years old. Maybe the presence of non-traditional students can increase the positive and happy university atmosphere we all love.

This unification won’t happen, though, if non-traditional students continue to be pushed to the margins of campus. I was at a Super Bowl get-together in February and it was comprised mainly of people around 21 or 22. There were maybe three or four of us who were non-traditional students. At one point, I heard a group of the younger crowd talking about a non-traditional student being 30 years old or so. One girl in the middle of the crowd facetiously and loudly yelled, “how are you going to be like 44 and go here?!” One side of me was almost disgusted and wrinkled my nose with empathy for the guy she was bashing. Subsequently my additional near-decade of extra experience on this earth compared to hers (yes, I said near—not 10 yet!), reminded me that she is indeed barely 21 and might still have some growing up to do. She will get there.

I believe it is the responsibility of this campus to change the subtle discrimination and alienation of non-traditional students. Increasing the percentage of non-traditional students up from 1 percent would be a move in the right direction. Granted, this is only possible if more non-traditional students continue to apply to UCSB, and are accepted. More diversity, more experience, and a happier unified student body could thrust UCSB into that number one spot as the happiest university in the nation. We do have it pretty good.


  1. Thank you for sharing this experience. It is true, the non-traditional student track at UCSB is definitely in the minority. My husband and I worked for the school post graduation while also living in Goleta. Needless to say, the younger residents wondered why we were still there not aware of us being young professionals.

    I now work for a private college in Marin County where we have an undergraduate day program (18-22 year old student) as well as an adult degree completion program (24+ year old student as well as 24 college transfer units).

    We have had students in the latter program complain about younger students with seemingly younger minds in their specifically labeled “evening” courses. Some state the younger 18-22 year old simply does not have the experience to equally contribute, whereas my mother would argue the younger aged student has much to offer.

    My mother currently attends a community college in Berkeley, CA where there is an equal mix of traditional and non-traditional aged students. She feels there is a great deal to learn from one another and believes this difference creates a more engaged learning environment.

    For UCSB, the learning outcomes may be targeting a diverse aged audience; however, I agree the social climate would not appear to hold this same truth.

    There are many non-traditional track experiences that take place in higher education that need a voice.

    I hope there is a movement at UCSB that will connect a voice like yours to the larger community and that admissions will bring in more strong students like yourself.

  2. You’re not considering UCSB’s large population of graduate students, many of whom are in their late 20s and beyond. I spent my graduate school years living in IV, and having a blast

    I was singled out once, near the completion of my PhD, when I took Bill’s Bus home from downtown. A drunk girl behind me began picking at my (admittedly, thinning) hair and asked “How old ARE you?” Awkward.

    But generally everybody was extremely inclusive and friendly. UCSB is an amazing place, and the students definitely help make it that way.