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Articles / Applying to College / Test Scores and High School Transcripts for Non-Traditional Students

Nov. 30, 2017

Test Scores and High School Transcripts for Non-Traditional Students

Question: How do test scores and high school transcripts affect older Non-traditional students? Do admissions officers take in to account time and maturity

You ask a good question but once again “The Dean" must resort to a highly unsatisfying “It depends" in response.


Generally, the longer you have been out of high school, the less your high school credentials will matter to college admission officials. In fact, high school test scores are only considered valid for five years. So, if you took the SAT or ACT more than five years ago, your target colleges may—or may not—expect you to re-test. You'll have to ask admission officials at each school individually (or look for an answer on the admissions Web site).

Often, if you have earned an Associate's degree, you will not have to submit new test scores (or ANY test scores) with your transfer application. But again, that will be decided on a school-by-school basis.

Some colleges and universities have special programs that are ONLY for non-traditional students, such as The Ada Comstock Scholars Program at Smith College, where I used to work. These programs frequently have different (and more flexible) requirements for their applicants than those that the college expects from their younger candidates. So if any of the target colleges on your list offer such opportunities, you may find that test scores have been waived for the older applicants.

As for high school transcripts, most admission officials understand that the grades earned as a teenager may not at all reflect the potential of an adult. BUT ... when an older student applies to a selective college without having taken ANY college classes since high school, then there will be much more weight put on the high school grades than if the older student has done some college-level work, whether as a matriculated student or only as a part-time non-matriculated student.

Thus, when I advise non-traditional students who are aiming for selective colleges and universities, I always suggest taking at least several college classes (if not earning an actual two-year degree) before applying. The choices should reflect a balance of humanities, social science and math/science courses, regardless of the intended major. When a student has been successful in such classes, it goes a long way toward bolstering admission odds and putting high school grades well onto the back burner, especially if they weren't so hot. The most hyper-competitive colleges in the country (think Ivies and their ilk) actually admit some adults who excelled in community college classes, even if the rigor of those classes was well below what these students will encounter after they transfer.

So, yes, time and maturity will certainly factor into admission verdicts for non-traditional students. But good grades in classes taken as an adult provide the strongest ammunition.

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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