Applying to college is not a one-size-fits-all-experience… and when you don’t fit the mold of the traditional 18-year-old college student, that’s a good thing. Whether you’re in your 20s or you’re approaching centenarian status, chances are that traditional college admissions policies and procedures don’t apply to you. Before you get started on your back-to-school journey, check out our cheat sheet of top nontraditional student application to-knows.

1. You can apply on a roll…
If you haven’t had the luxury of planning your college applications for years, you’ll be happy to learn that many programs for nontraditional students accept applications up to and even after the semester start date. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of rolling admissions policies or even “one-stop” admissions events that allow you to apply and enroll on the same day.

2. Entrance exams may be extinct.
Many colleges do not require adult students to take traditional entrance exams like the SAT or ACT, says Shawn O’Riley, executive director of University College at Adelphi University. “Those exams are meant for high school students and don’t always reflect adults’ academic ability after they have been away from school for a long time.” Some adult degree programs measure college preparedness through computer-adaptive college placement tests (e.g., COMPASS by ACT; ACCUPLACER by the College Board) that are geared specifically toward nontraditional students.

3. You can get $$$ from Uncle Sam.
Even if you’re going back to school less than half time, you may still qualify for a Pell Grant or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or for the Federal Work Study or Federal Perkins Loan programs. You may also be able to benefit from employer tuition assistance if you’re working full time. Tip: If you’re married or over 24 years old, parental income won’t be a factor on your FAFSA.

4. Start dates may be flexible.
“Adult degree programs often offer schedules that better fit an adult student’s lifestyle,” says O’Riley. Nontraditional students at Adelphi who are unable to enroll in August can take advantage of the university’s late-start semester, which begins in October. Community colleges across the country offer similar kinds of late-start courses.

5. The Ivies are not out of reach.
Take the Eli Whitney Students Program at Yale, for example. Eli Whitney (i.e., nontraditional) students have virtually the same opportunities as all other undergrads at Yale but, unlike other Yalies, nontraditional students can choose to school part time. And Columbia University’s School of General Studies is designed specifically for nontraditional students seeking a rigorous Ivy League degree full or part time.

6. You can get credit for what you already know.
Plenty of schools that cater to adult students offer prior learning assessment programs that award college credit for what students have learned outside the classroom, whether through corporate training, work experience, civic activity, or independent study. “[Prior learning assessment] allows students to reduce the overall cost of their degree program and accelerate their degree completion,” says O’Riley. In addition, your school may have special policies in place to assist nontraditional students in transferring previously earned college credit.

7. You might be more traditional than you think.
Colleges and universities may differ in their definition of what constitutes a “nontraditional student,” though most require that you be out of high school or college for at least five years to apply for nontraditional student admission. The University of Utah considers “nontraditional students” those who have been out of high school seven years or more and have no previous college experience. Some schools, like Trinity University in Texas, recommend that nontraditional students apply after completing at least two semesters of full-time studies at another college. Make sure you meet the specific “nontraditional” definition before applying to a particular school.

Enjoy your academic adventure!

–Robyn Tellefsen

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