If wanting to end up in a specific graduate program at one university, but having had failures along early paths, like college dropouts, mediocre to good GPA and GRE, having become an adult/unconventional student, how can one still end up in the specific program of dreams? Would it help to collect experiences in neighbouring fields if the direct, focused approach fails? When should one just give up the dream of getting into a specific program, or even the whole field of studies?
Let's take scientific, non-engineering astronomy as example. If wanting to be admitted to a Master's and/or PhD program at a specific R1 level university, how would it be seen if having a thorough vocational industry education in optics manufacturing, an internship in electronics, astronomy as a hobby with serious nightly observing programs and submitted results, a half finished college degree in physics and a full degree in geology? Does a patchwork such as in this example have any advantage if having the bad luck of not having been able to succeed in first college attempts and thus being 10 to 15 years older than a typical college student?