Validation and Invalidation: Advising Interactions as Contexts for Understanding Nontraditional Student Experiences in Higher Education



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Nontraditional students, typically defined as students over the age of 24 years old, comprise almost 40% of all college students; often, they possess intersecting social identities, such as being first generation college students, parents, and/or community college transfer students. While advisors are important resources in facilitating nontraditional student success, advising interactions by nature are interpersonal and accordingly are susceptible to social identity threats. Drawn from two New England women’s colleges, participants were 12 nontraditional students, defined in this study as being over the age of 24 or as having children. Qualitative interviews focused on the advising experiences of nontraditional students in higher education, and the nuanced ways in which advisors positively facilitate and support as well as negatively discourage and hinder their success. Positive advising themes included: helped with course selection, considered student needs, provided validation, actively listened, shared personal connections, and provided constructive criticism. In contrast, negative advising themes included: advisors who exhibited indifference, lack of information, low expectations, invalidation, blocking, and microinsults. Beyond these themes, participants described a negative institutional climate for nontraditional students on campus. Implications focus on support for nontraditional student success in higher education.



nontraditional students, advising, microaggressions, stereotype threat, higher education