Engineering Degree for Former Vocational Student?

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.