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Articles / Applying to College / College Options for 23-year-old with no SAT/ACT

Oct. 7, 2016

College Options for 23-year-old with no SAT/ACT

Question: I'm 23 and didn't take the SAT/ACT, but want to apply to a university! What should I do?

Throughout High School, I worked a part time job to help support my family who struggled financially and never found the time for my studies or ever had time to study for the SAT/ACT so I never took it. Along with that, my graduating GPA suffered traumatically (less than 2.0)With that being said, I am now 23 and finally stable enough to attend college. While community college is an option, I very much rather go to school at a university for the reason of being further away from home with no distractions following me. However, the university I would like to attend requires an SAT/ACT score and a GPA requirement that I do not meet. What can I do to make this dream of going to a university a reality? Thanks ahead of time.


The good news is that college admission officials can be very understanding of students in your situation, but the bad news is that, if your first-choice university requires the SAT or ACT for admission, there is little chance that this requirement will be waived for you because of your circumstances.

Moreover, your low high school GPA will keep you out of many colleges. While you may get some “wiggle room" due to your extenuating circumstances and your maturity now, your best bet might be to attend a community college for two years. That way you can “prove yourself" academically while you earn an Associate's degree. Then, the majority of colleges that require the SAT/ACT will waive that requirement for transfer applicants with an Associate's degree.

However, if you currently have one particular four-year university in mind that you would like to attend, it can't hurt to talk to an admission official right away to see if you can get the test and GPA requirements waived because you are an “older" student. Alternatively, you can give the test a shot … you've still got time if you're eyeing fall 2017 admission … and see where you stand, even if you approach it with minimal preparation. (If your high school GPA is low but your test scores land above a college's median, it's possible that admission officials will consider you anyway, given the obstacles you overcame in high school.)

If you decide to take the SAT or ACT and you do poorly, there will still be four-year colleges that require the tests but accept the majority of their applicants regardless of test results. (Depending on where you live, these schools might include well-price public institutions where you will qualify for in-state tuition. However, the majority of colleges that admit candidates with very low test scores are private colleges that may require you to take out a lot of loans to attend, and I don't recommend this route at all.)

You could also consider applying to one of the many hundreds of four-year schools that are test-optional. See http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional

Thus, you could choose a less-selective, test-optional four-year college now and then transfer elsewhere if you do well, but from a financial point of view, a community college will probably be the most cost-effective path.

WARNING: If you apply to college with a weak high school transcript and no test scores, you will be doing yourself a disservice and will probably only be admissible at colleges that accept all or nearly all of their applicants. You will have a much better range of choices if you start off at a two-year college and then transfer to a four-year college once you've compiled a stronger record. And, if you want to get away from home, there are SOME two-year colleges that even offer housing. To see if there are any in your state—or in another place that interests you—use this Search engine: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-search?navid=gh-cs Under the “Type of School" heading, enter “2-year/community college." Then, under the “Campus & Housing" tab, click on “Coed Housing." If you are looking for the lowest-cost colleges, go under the “Public or Private" heading and click on “Public," If you also choose the state (under “Location") where you are currently a resident, you will be able to hone in on low-cost college options where you can pay in-state tuition and also live on campus … if such schools do exist in your state. (Not all states offer public two-year colleges with dormitories.)

In addition, you said you are 23 now. Once you are 24, you automatically become an “independent student," meaning that only YOUR income/assets and not your parents' income and assets will be considered when you apply for financial aid. If your parents are still struggling financially and have a very low income, then this might not matter. But you may find that you will qualify for more financial aid if you can hang on another year until you're 24. This might be another good reason to enroll at a community college. Then you'll be 24 by the time you're ready for a higher-cost four-year institution.

Colleges really do welcome students like you who are motivated and mature, but they are still going to be hesitant to accept an applicant who has a weak high school transcript, no college-level classes after high school, and no test scores to indicate potential. So you may want to start out slowly at a sensibly priced two-year school with the aim of transferring to your top-choice college down the road.

Best wishes, whatever you decide. Be persistent and you will reach your goals.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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