Plan Your College Education
Have a plan before you start the ball rolling. What will be you educational path? At most colleges you can remain an undeclared major while you complete your core courses (e.g. Math, English, Science, etc.). However, you need to take full responsibility in shaping your educational path.
Every class you take needs to get you one step closer to your degree. Decide what you want to do for a career, and then decide what degree will help you be the most successful in that career.
Community College or University
If you plan to attend a community college and earn a certificate or associate’s degree your application process will be quite simple. For most community colleges all you need to do is submit an application and complete some basic placement testing. The application usually consists of basic personal information. The testing is usually English, Reading, and Mathematics. These tests are taken separately, usually on campus in a testing center, and will determine where in the respective class hierarchy you can begin. For example, if you do well on your math placement test you may be able to skip over the remedial courses and go straight into a higher math course (e.g. algebra, calculus, etc.). It is basically all about starting you at a level you can function in and grow from there. Once you have applied and completed your testing you are ready to see an adviser and register for your first semester. At most community colleges you can go through the process and be ready to register for classes over the course of a few days.
Now, if you plan to earn a Bachelor’s degree at a university the application process may be a bit more involved…
Decide Where To Attend
Once you have chosen your career path and the most helpful degree, start looking at college catalogs and review university degree programs. Even if the program has the same title, it may be different from college to college. Take the time to look at the sequence of courses you will be taking and the number of credits you will be earning for each program.
Research Admission Requirements
If you have completed some courses at a community college you can apply as a transfer student and should research admissions requirements for transfer students. This will usually involve a minimum grade point average (GPA) of your existing college work and maybe some placement testing for core classes you have not completed.
If you have no college experience whatsoever you will need to apply as an incoming freshman student. You will need to take the ACT or the SAT test. Most universities will have a minimum high school GPA requirement and a minimum ACT or SAT requirement. If your GPA and test scores fall within the minimum requirements of the university you plan to attend then you have a chance at acceptance. At this point you should make a list of a few colleges you would like to attend that you have a chance for acceptance.
Additionally, as a non-traditional student, some universities have special admissions requirements in place. You should research your college to see if they have criteria in place specifically for non-traditional student application. Some universities that have thought about non-traditional student applications and have removed obstacles in the admissions process and replaced them with more practical requirements for these types of students (such as considering work experience).
Fill Out Applications
As part of the admissions process, you’ll be required to fill out some basic application paperwork consisting of mostly personal information. Follow all of the instructions and submit applications to all of your colleges. As a side note, it is extremely important to thoroughly and accurately complete your application. Most college acceptance boards do not have the time to spend with applications that are not completed correctly. If you do not spend the time and pay attention to detail when completing your applications do not be surprised if you do not receive an acceptance letter (even if it was a college you were sure you would get into). Application fees will range from $35 to over $100 depending on the college.
Gather Additional Materials
In addition to the basic application other additional materials may be required (and possibly some optional). These additional materials may include items like a portfolio of personal work or a supplemental essay. For the optional additional materials be sure to carefully consider whether their inclusion will help or hurt your application.
For many colleges you will also have to write an admissions essay when applying to college. Sometimes the college will provide topics to choose from and other times it will be up to you to decide what to write about.
Some colleges also require college recommendation letters. These usually can come from teachers who are familiar with your work. However, if you are a non-traditional student well out of high school and have not taken any community college courses then recommendations may come from church leaders, community service organizers, or employers.
Wait For A Decision
It will usually be a minimum of six weeks to hear back on university applications. Once you have received a decision for all of your applications decide where to attend and go.
***NOTE: Just about every college, community and university alike, have websites. It is highly likely that you can accomplish this whole process online. It is highly recommended that you seek out college websites and research the schools you plan to apply. However, for the non-traditional student, if the college website does not have information specifically geared towards students of your nature and you feel that the traditional application avenues are difficult to navigate call the office of the registrar for that college and get more information.
Photo by Paul Stainthorp
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Photo by University of the Fraser Valley