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Articles / Applying to College / Engineering Degree for Former Vocational Student?

Engineering Degree for Former Vocational Student?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Feb. 21, 2017

Question: I Graduated High school 6 years ago, with no intentions of going to college afterwards. I had taken vocational classes and thought Id be alright going straight into the working world, and that I'd be able to get by doing that.

A lot of this time has made me realize that was a big mistake, so now I have to wonder if there's any chance that I can still go back and get into a good school, with the intent being some form of Engineering. And what kind of financial aid options I would have, as I cannot get any help in terms of money from my parents, and won't be able to afford it on my own. Am I completely out of luck?

You're actually not out of luck at all. There should be plenty of options for you, and many college admission folks (and faculty members) truly appreciate older students who tend to be more focused and, of course, more mature than their typical freshmen.

Because you took vocational classes in high school, your best bet at this point is to enroll in a local public community college. Although the cost should be low if you are a resident of the state where the college is located, you will still be eligible for financial aid if your assets+income qualify … and they probably will. If you are age 24 or older, there's even better news: Colleges will consider you an “independent student" and thus won't consider your parents' income and assets when determining aid eligibility. (If you're under 24, they will consider your parents' data unless you're married, have a child or are a military veteran.) So, if you're currently just under 24, you might want to wait until you hit that milestone before beginning your college career.

Once you enroll in community college, you can take the basic prerequisite classes to prepare you to transfer into an engineering program. Usually students spend two years at community college, with the aim of earning an “Associate's degree" before making the transfer. Your community college adviser should be able to help you select the appropriate courses, but you would also be wise to contact the engineering departments at a few colleges/universities that appeal to you to confirm that you are on the right track. (Even if you ultimately don't end up at any of these schools, it can't hurt to get advice from them.) Many college/university engineering programs also offer information for prospective transfers on their Web sites.

The vast majority of colleges will NOT require standardized admission testing (SAT or ACT) for transfer students who hold an Associate's degree, but—when it comes time for you to apply to four-year schools—you will need to confirm that none of your target colleges expect test scores. It's not a wise idea for you to take the SAT or ACT now, since you are likely to do much better once you've been back in the classroom for a few semesters. As an aspiring engineer, you will probably take classes like trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus which will help you on standardized tests and which you may not have encountered in high school.

If the thought of community college isn't appealing, there are four-year colleges that will accept you with your current background, but these will be less-selective schools and, given that you were in a voke program when you were younger, I think that your chances of success in engineering will be best if you test the waters at a community college first. You will find that the community college student body is very diverse … not just racially and ethnically (and that will vary from location to location) but also in terms of age and academic motivation. While some of your classmates will be teenagers who are attending the CC because they snoozed through high school and aren't quite sure what to do next, others—like you—will be adults who are ready and eager to resume their education and will approach it seriously. While it may take you a few weeks–even months—to find soulmates at school, I suspect that you will. You will also find that your goals aren't unrealistic at all, and that there are others who share them.

Good luck to you and write back if you have other questions.

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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