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After graduating high-school, I did not attend a university and instead decided to enter the work force. Eight years hence, I would like to pursue a university degree but I am not entirely sure which credentials are important for an adult freshman. Are my high-school transcripts still relevant almost a decade after the fact? Do universities consider professional experience in their admissions process (I have 6 years professional experience related to my intended field of study)? Do I have a shot at competitive university even though my academic history is essentially nothing? With sufficient review, I expect I can achieve high standardized testing scores, but I wonder if that will be enough to compensate for such a huge gap in my academic career.

The crux of my question is: how should an adult freshmen prepare before applying to a competitive university?

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    I'm not sure this is on-topic, as this is more of a "college advice" question than an "academic research" question. See our FAQ for more on this. However, seeing how highly it's voted after just a few hours, let's discuss it in meta. – eykanal May 4 '12 at 12:48
  • Depends on which country: In Sweden, this is not uncommon at all. In the US, I heard first-hand from a student expression that it is a bias towards people not following the normal path, with regards to funding and scholarship possibilities. – Per Alexandersson Oct 24 '15 at 14:56
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I would say definitely - it's worth a try. I am studying at a university that usually ends up high in rankings (although it dropped quite a bit now because of student feedback), the oldest person in my course is about 9 years older than the rest of us. He spent around 5 years after school working (he had already worked there during school) and then two years ago took some additional courses at an adults' school and applied here. What should I say, they happily took him and he's constantly getting the best grades in the year.

As you mention that you have professional experience related to the subject, I think you may find it interesting that his years of work were completely unrelated to the subject he is studying now. I think that's a good factor as well.

I think in such a situation I would put much more stress on what I have done since school rather than what I achieved at school. With such a long gap, what happened at school should be practically irrelevant unless you can demonstrate what strengths you have taken from school that you still maintain today. This should go by the same reasons for which certificates such as IELTS or TOEFL are not accepted more than two years after getting them.

Finally I should add that this is a UK university. Procedures in the USA may of course be very different and so may your chances - but in any case it's worth a shot. It can't get much worse than having your application rejected can it?

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Universities take all sorts of information into consideration when they take in undergraduates (or postgradautes). Essays, recommendations, your CV (your experience) all matter. For a mature student, your high school record will normally matter somewhat, but it will almost certainly not be weighted as highly as it would for a person with no other experience or evidence of their quality of work.

Different universities have different strategies and requirements, and you should check into those of the one you are interested in. For example, when I was working in Chicago I took night classes from one of the local universities, I think it was Northwestern although the classes were at Roosevelt. At the time at least, they would let anyone sign up for up to four undergraduate classes, no questions asked. Then after four classes you were called in to consider really registering for your degree, and that was done almost entirely on the basis of your four classes. I actually already had a degree, but I remember being incredibly impressed with the system, it seemed immensely sensible and fair.

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My answer is going to be anecdotal. One of my good friends in university right now is a senior (graduating next semester). He was a professional musician and learnt a trade as an apprentice for many years (I think about 7 years). Then he went to community college for 2 years and transferred to my current university as a sophomore. He has distinguished himself very well and has been an undergraduate research assistant for the last 3 semesters. In fact, now he wants a PhD and is doing all that he can to get into the best school that he can.

Therefore, anecdotally, I can tell you that prepare the best you can ; perhaps by even going to community college (its cheap !) and taking relevant courses and then either applying as a freshman or sophomore to the university you really want to go to. I think that (as others have pointed out), your experiences will serve you in good stead.

PS: This is in context to the USA

  • +1 for "community college for 2 years". This is a good way to prove that you 'have what it takes' to succeed in university, and gives you a transcript more recent than high school. – J. Zimmerman Aug 19 '13 at 14:03
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Ask the university.

I went to college for one year after high school, then enrolled in a different university several years later (which I completed; both in the U.S.). My second university used my high school transcript and test scores from when I was in high school (I had to pay an extra fee to retrieve my old scores), as well as my transcript from my previous year of college (even though only one class actually counted for anything). They did not consider any professional experience.

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It varies from college to college. Some make a point of being "returning student" friendly while others don't. Your best bet is likely to look into the ones you are interested and call up the admissions office. You might be surprised. One of my former colleges made a huge point of being returning student friendly, and it was a great idea because they were often amongst the best students in the class because they knew the importance of hard work and study.

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