How Non-Traditional Students Can Optimize Their College Applications

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  • If you’re a non-traditional student, you may feel a certain apprehension about applying to college.

    When you’ve been out of school for some time, it can be hard to get teachers to write recommendation letters for you.

    If you never took college entrance exams, you may be rusty on some of the material you need for these tests.

    There are, however, certain strategies that can make you more confident and improve your chances of your college applications getting accepted. Here are some helpful tips especially geared to non-traditional students.

    Full-Time, Part-Time or Online? Identify the Best Option

    Most colleges offer the choice between part-time, full-time and/or online classes. As a non-traditional student, it’s especially important to consider the best option for you. If you’re working full-time, it may be best to attend classes part-time at first.

    Online courses are convenient for people with responsibilities such as jobs and families. On the other hand, you may want to focus fully on your education so you can get your degree as soon as possible. Before starting your application, make sure you’ve identified the best option for your needs.

    Focus on Your Non-Academic Experiences

    Colleges today are very accepting of non-traditional students. They understand that you may have been out of school for a long time. They also realize that you’ve probably accumulated a great deal of life experience in the time you’ve been out of school.

    Much of this is helpful to list on your application. Don’t overlook any experiences where you’ve learned valuable skills or displayed leadership qualities. Employment, military service, volunteering or running your own business all help develop qualities that are useful in college.

    Consider Alternative Sources for Recommendation Letters

    Depending on how long you’ve been out of school, you may have difficulty tracking down high school teachers for recommendation letters. Many colleges accept recommendations from other people who are familiar with your accomplishments, such as employers or business colleagues.

    Colleges often make allowances for non-traditional students and loosen the typical requirements. Before you request any recommendation letters, make sure you fully understand the college’s policy.

    Prepare for College Entrance Exams

    Many adults who didn’t attend college directly after high school never took college entrance exams such as ACT or SAT. If you did take these tests at some point, you may not have scored as well as you would have liked. Either way, you can improve your chances of getting into a good college by taking or retaking these exams now.

    Take some time to study and prepare yourself so you do as well as possible. There are some good college preparation services that provide assistance in this area. Focus on any subjects where you need extra help, whether it’s English, mathematics, science, or history. A solid score on college prep exams will bolster your chances of getting into the college of your choice.

    Learn About Support for Non-Traditional Students

    Many colleges and universities have dedicated departments or programs to address the needs of non-traditional students. This can be a valuable resource during the application process as well as when you’re actually enrolled.

    Such a program can provide you with tips for filling out your application and can answer any questions you might have. In some cases, such support services might put you in touch with other non-traditional students or alumni to help you.

    Keep in mind that, while you have certain challenges as a non-traditional student, you also have advantages. Compared to the average applicant, you have a variety of life experiences. Don’t downplay all that you’ve learned outside of academia. This can give you confidence as you apply for college.

    Off-to-College reference:

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