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How do I show the colleges I am mature enough to return to school?

QUESTION: I am a married 37-year-old mother of three, currently auditing a university class as a special student and am applying as a transfer student for the fall.

Here is my dilemma. I have been out of school for the past 15 years. I have an Associates degree and have held a very good job pre-kids in which I was promoted in a very short time. I have overcome adversity with a battle with breast cancer two years ago. I decided life was too precious and if I was going to achieve my dream of getting my Bachelors degree, I should pursue it now.

My problem is that my high school grades and SAT scores were not that great. I graduated from college with a 2.75 GPA. How can I tell the college that I have matured and am ready and serious to obtain a B.F.A.? Do colleges take into account people's life experiences when they have been out of school for so long? Also I want to mention how I overcame my illness, but I do not want them to feel sorry for me. What I want to show them is how strong this has made me. Signed, Mature Mom

Dear Mature Mom: Colleges understand that you are at a different point in your life when you are a teenaged high school senior and a mother with 15 years of work and child rearing experience. And they will treat your application differently. They realize that SAT analogies and pop quizzes are relics of your high school past and will instead focus on your more recent achievements. So don't worry about your high school grades or SAT scores. What's more important to colleges is your work experience, life experience and recent academic studies.

From your life experiences, you won't have a problem demonstrating that you are ready to get your Bachelors degree. You have a number of years of work experience, you have overcome a serious illness and you have demonstrated your commitment to your studies by auditing the class. The college will see that you are ready to further your education.

When you write your essay, it is important to describe the challenges that you have overcome. A mistake that applicants often make is just describing their difficulties instead of illustrating how they have overcome them or what they have learned from them. It sounds like you have the maturity to give your difficulties this needed perspective. Congratulations on your decision to return to school.

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Gen & Kelly Tanabe

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the founders of SuperCollege and the award-winning authors of 11 books on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. Together they were accepted to all of the Ivy League colleges and won more than $100,000 in merit-based scholarships to graduate from Harvard debt-free.