Test Prep

Should an Adult Learner Returning to College Take the SAT/ACT?

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I am a 48-year-old who was working full-time through March and now I'm out of work and thinking about going to back to college. I finished two years of college in Ohio in the late 1990s, then left for financial reasons, then did another year of college in Virginia, then ran out of money again, and then did one semester at a different school in Virginia before leaving that school too. So I have a few years of college but not all at the same time or same school. I last went to school in 2004. So when I apply to college this time around, will they take those old credits, and would I need to take the SAT again now that I'm 48? Basically I just want to know how this all works for someone like me who is an adult and has been out of the college world for a long time.


First the good news: It's highly unlikely that you will have to take the SAT again! These tests are designed for teenagers, not adults, and even snazzy institutions like Yale, which ordinarily do require standardized tests for admission (at least when it's not during a pandemic) will waive this requirement for their Eli Whitney program that is aimed at non-traditional candidates. This is true at almost all other colleges as well.

As for your credits being accepted, most of them probably will, but this can vary from college to college and, especially, from subject to subject. You may have heard that college credits have a 10-year shelf life, but in most cases, this isn't true. Again, it really depends on your curriculum and your goals. If, for instance, your interest is in computer science, the courses you took in the 1990s may not be considered up-to-date now, and you would have to retake some classes in STEM fields. But if you're an English major, all of those credits could still be valid.

Some colleges will only let you transfer a certain maximum number of credits — often the equivalent of two full years of study. So you might exceed the upper limit at such places, and you would only be able to use the credits you earned in Ohio. Typically, the more selective a college is, the more stringent they are about their "residency requirement." (A "residency requirement," in this case, doesn't mean you have to live in a dorm! It just refers to the amount of time that you have to spend as a matriculated student in order to earn a degree.)

So a smart choice might be a "Degree Completion Program." These are designed specifically for students like you .... folks who have already taken years of college classes but never earned a bachelor's degree. If you Google "Degree completion programs," you'll see many options. Note that these are often online programs. You don't say if you are looking for a true on-campus college experience or if you just want to get to the finish line, ASAP, without cheering for the football team, sharing all-nighters with bleary-eyes friends, or stumbling home in the wee hours from a keg party. ;-) If you aren't seeking campus life, then an online degree-completion program might be just the ticket.

If, however, you yearn for classroom discussions and tea with professors, then it's not too late for you to have it. Some degree-completion programs are available on actual campuses. Also, Google "College Programs for Non-Traditional Students' to see what comes up. Here's one example of what you'll find.

At Smith College, where I used to work, the highly-regarded Ada Comstock Scholars Program is an on-campus opportunity for women who have attended college but never received a bachelor's degree. The "Adas," as they're nicknamed, range in age from about 24 to 94 (!) and they are offered all of the same opportunities as traditional-aged undergrads, but with more flexibility (for lighter course loads, for on-or-off-campus housing), etc. If you are female and eager to take another shot a true college life, you can look into this program and to similar ones at other elite women's colleges. As noted above, the more selective the college you desire, the pickier your credit evaluation could be (meaning that you may not be able to retain all your credits, especially those that extend beyond two years of full-time study), but the better the financial aid is apt to be, if you qualify.

More good news (and there really isn't any bad news!): opportunities for adult students are growing by leaps and bounds. Whether this is because college officials believe that adult students are among their most focused and motivated or simply because they realize that older bodies fill empty desks as well as younger ones do, you should be able to find a school that meets your needs and even your budget. Because you don't say what you plan to study, where you live, if you are willing to relocate, and if you would prefer an online program on an on-campus one, "The Dean" can't provide any specific suggestions. But I can certainly provide a ton of moral support because I feel that your plan is a sound one, and I even sometimes wonder if college, like youth, is wasted on the young! Best of luck to you as you continue your education.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

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