Deciding to go back to school after you've been away from it is one of the hardest educational choices a person can make. Years of life experience, a long time spent away from the halls of academia, and the perfectly normal fear that things have changed drastically since you were last lectured to by a professor all add up to a real sense of nervousness and uncertainty. And as if that wasn't bad enough, there is that same old barrier of the admissions process standing between you and your academic goals.
In high school, though it may not have been easy, applying to a college or university was at least consistent with everything else you had been doing. Academics, after all, were your full-time job: You woke up in the morning, went to school, and pursued a goal whose ends were predominantly educational. So even though applying to college may have been frustrating and time-consuming, at least the essays and tests involved were familiar. But applying to go back to school forces you to engage in the sort of work that you may not have done since you were 18 years old.
Or does it?
Like many endeavors that are pursued later in life, this process is fraught not only with difficulties but with misperceptions, as well. And the truth is that, though it may at times challenge and frustrate you, applying to an adult- or continuing-education program does not need to be as intimidating as it might initially seem.
One of the most feared aspects of applying for undergraduate admission during the final year of high school is the SAT. This is the exam that determines the fate of millions of college-hopefuls every year, and as a result of the supreme importance placed upon it, an entire cottage industry has sprung up around it, including private tutoring services and large test-prep corporations like Kaplan and Princeton Review.
The question, then, is this: If high-school students, who have spent the past dozen or so years of their lives in an academic environment, get so worked up over preparing for the SAT, then what is a prospective student to do who has been away from the rigors of education for a number of years, and for whom focused, expedient studying for a test on material that he or she learned years earlier may prove elusive? The answer, in the majority of cases is this: Nothing.
Most adult-education or continuing-education programs do not require applicants to take a determining test like the SAT in order to apply to the program. Whether this is because the administrators of these programs know that the results may ultimately prove inaccurate, or because the kinds of skills that are taught in a continuing-education program are not accurately measured by such examinations, the fact that they are not generally necessary comes as a great relief to most prospective students.
If, however, a test like the SAT is required, it may be a good idea to enroll in a program that specifically caters to adult students who have been away from the material for a number of years. But even if standardized tests are part of the admissions process, the results of them are generally not as important as they are for ordinary undergraduate admissions.
The majority of continuing-education programs do, however, require applicants to write an essay. Remember, most of the people who are applying to a continuing-education program have not been in an academic environment for quite some time. They have, however, amassed a great deal of so-called "real world experience." And whether that experience has been in the workforce or in the home - whether the prospective student has been toiling away at a job in the corporate world or raising children and running a household - the variety and depth of experience amassed over that period of time is likely significant.
The essay, therefore, is an excellent opportunity for prospective adult-education students to show who they really are, what they are capable of, and how their own unique life experience can and will contribute to their success as a student. Rather than looking at the essay as a burden, it should be considered an excellent opportunity to show off who you really are and what you are capable of.
Some schools also allow adult-education applicants to send video clips of performances they have done or portfolios of notable projects they have completed over the years. And though this may seem a bit nonsensical, the purpose of it is clear: Continuing- and adult-education admission committees want to know who you are as a whole person. Transcripts from a high school you graduated years ago can only tell the admissions committee so much. Video clips or portfolios - as well as a personal essay - may well be the school's best chance to understand who you really are.
Numbers and specifics, however, do matter. And virtually all programs will want to see a high school transcript or GED test scores as part of their admissions requirements. Unlike high-school applicants, however, the admissions committee will not likely look as closely at the specific grades. They realize, after all, that just because you earned a poor grade in junior-year chemistry, you won't necessarily be doomed to the same fate as an adult student. Generally, the admissions committee will look at your record holistically. In other words, as long as you were in reasonably good standing, you should not have a problem.
You may, however, have other transcripts. Just because you're applying to an adult-education program, your academic life did not necessarily end with high-school graduation. A curriculum vitae may also give evidence of continuing-education credits for jobs you have held. Maybe you took classes at your local community college. Whatever experience you have had, note it on your CV. The admissions committee is trying to get an idea of who you are, what you have done, and what you would like to accomplish. The more help you can give them in seeing those things, the better off you'll be.
The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) awards college credit at more than 2,900 U.S. colleges and universities for demonstrating achievement in a subject by means of a computer-based exam. By earning a satisfactory score, you can earn the same amount of credit as a student who successfully completed the same course at that school. Prospective students enrolling in accelerated degree programs are usually encouraged to take the CLEP test.
CLEP policies vary widely from school to school - for example, some colleges may limit the total amount of credit you can earn through CLEP exams, or some may grant exemption from a course, but give no credit toward a degree, etc.- so before registering for a CLEP exam, be sure to check with your school to determine which exams are accepted and how much credit they will give you. If you are earning an accelerated degree online, be sure to dicuss this matter with your advisor or enrollment counselor.
Gaining admission to an adult-education program is not nearly as difficult as it is for prospective undergraduates. This is not, however, a reflection of the value of such a program. It is, rather, an indication of how seriously universities take their role as institutions of education for all who wish to pursue continued academic enrichment.
Depending on the program itself and the nature of the work associated with it, it may benefit a prospective student to enroll in a non-credit course before applying to a full adult-education program. By doing this, he or she will be able to better gauge the work itself and how well they will be able to complete the program.
The most important thing to remember when applying to an adult- or continuing-education program is this: If your goal is to pursue the education you feel you may have missed, let nothing stop you. Do not look at the application process as an obstacle; rather, consider it an opportunity to take stock of who you are, what you have done, and everything you wish to accomplish. Consider applying to an adult- or continuing-education program the first step toward the rest of your life.
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