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Applying to college as an older student
This page is for people who are notably older (at least 2-3 years) than the typical college applicant, have finished high school (or obtained equivalent certification) but have been out of formal schooling environments for a few years.
Should you go to college at all?
In general, going to college is advised for smart and intellectually curious people because it is a mainstream option, and it's advisable to stay mainstream until you have demonstrated success doing unusual stuff.
Recall of generic reasons to go to college
- Human capital (you learn valuable stuff).
- Signaling to potential employers and others that you have the relevant abilities or acquired the relevant knowledge.
- Consumption: The college experience is rewarding.
- Networking: You get to network with other people.
How your situation differs
- The very fact that you didn't go to college straight out of high school could be indicative of problems. The details depend on the reason you didn't go to college. If the constraints were purely financial or circumstantial, and the situation has changed since then, there is not much to worry about. On the other hand, if the constraints were based on behavioral problems or academic difficulties, you should consider whether things have changed since then.
- You've spent several years not studying, so you may be more out of touch with good study habits.
- Since you are older and have a different profile and history compared to many of the other students in college, you will have a difficult time connecting with other people.
- Your greater age and maturity, and the fact that you are more likely to be paying your own way than relying on parents, could make you take the college experience more seriously than most students do, and therefore derive more value.
- Your greater age may also make you less likely to accept the strictures of school. It's often been found that older people who return to college have trouble adjusting to the rigid behavioral norms of the classroom.