Out of whim, my mother and I once talked about HER being admitted to MIT or a school of that calibre. Now I haven't approached the subject seriously in conversation, but reading some admissions stories, I do wonder if non-traditional applicants tend to be more of a "shoo-in," provided they get the equivalent of high GPAs (good track records? a local university transcript for courses?).
My mother, who is approaching her fifties, often comments on how she does an engineer's job at a much less prestigious job level ("architectural draftsman"). She entered polytechnic when she was 16 and graduated with a (vocational/technical?) degree in architectural drafting. Then she worked for my birth country's Housing Development Board in the early 1980s. Now mind you my birth country -- Singapore -- was only starting to boom then. We were a developing ("third world") nation after independence, and many of the buildings you might see in current photos were still under construction. The national housing programme (created by the HDB she worked in) helped transform the nation from a people living in overcrowded unsanitary conditions in shophouses (sometimes hundreds of people would be living in one shophouse) and squatter settlements into a nation where 80% of the population lives in public housing with a high standard of living (our human development index is 0.922, whereas the US' is 0.951. 40 years ago it would have been something like 0.600 -- think Cambodia). Among the things she as designed are bus stops, schools, and underwater subway tunnels. It was here that she gained knowledge of many engineering principles by work experience -- how to measure and work with soil stability (or lack thereof), how to build below the water table or under a river, and make a diverse array of load/shear/stress calculations.
However, she does not know calculus formally (nor is she formally qualified for a lot of the higher engineering math that is not part of the architectural drafting curriculum, though she is familiar with it). That is, she uses some of the techniques without knowing why exactly they work -- my mother has asked me to teach her when we both have the time. For example, she knows the procedure and formulas for several integration and geometrical techniques so that she can proceed with her calculations and design-vetting, but she does not know the "theory".
Anyway, she later worked with two private employers. Then she married and had me and my sister.
That's when she stopped work. My father was an electric engineer who was born into a duck farm in Kuala Lumpur, came across discovered UNIX early in his career during the 1980s and moved into programming and computer science. We moved to the US December 1995 and got our green cards because he performed a valuable enough job ("that no Americans could be found for") such that INS cleared us. Unfortunately despite his brilliance -- he introduced to me the subjects today that I am fascinated with, and if not for him I think I would be going to the equivalent of community college in Singapore -- he was also abusive (the details and extent of which I do not want to elaborate here), so my mother divorced him in 2001 and won full custody where we moved back to Singapore temporarily. In the meantime, my father managed to perform a few legal moves that made us lose both our homes (in Singapore and the US), and even though he was required to pay child support and combined with the loss of my father's ricebowl, it was an act that left us impoverished. Mind you, my family had bought our first housing unit (whose later sale lead to the rest of our housing history) on my mother's savings, not my father's -- particularly unfair. My mother plans to pursue the case after she no longer has to worry about our welfare.
Before the divorce however, my mother, who had in childhood dreamt of being a lawyer (she was a first-generation student), started taking up political science at a local university as a homemaker, with the aim of reaching law school. However, the divorce and the subsequent poverty it mired us in has disrupted all of that. If it matters, she also has a substantial bible college transcript -- theology and missionary work was a separate line she once pursued. My mother, because she is on several honor societies and on the Dean's List, has seen much younger peers talk about admissions to MIT and Harvard. Her graduation was disrupted when we moved temporarily back to Singapore (for family support), but she eventually graduated with a Bachelor's in Political Science (magna cum laude IIRC) in 2005. During her time in Singapore she worked once more in an architectural firm for several years to support us. However, with the next Asian recession she was retrenched. All her present income (and past recent income) has went into paying the large debt that divorce and living costs (during the times she wasn't working) have caused. After we moved back, she was unemployed until 2007 where she found a job with Bath Iron Works, a defense contractor for the US Navy.
Lots of office politics -- she works as a design validator, and she has the power to stop design production for an entire ship by simply refusing to sign her approval for a design. Things usually don't get that far, but there is an appallingly nonchalant attitude about design flaws. (Mother: "I can't approve this design. It's internally inconsistent and the sanity check calculations don't add up. The value for this element should be 25." Other designer: "[Crosses out a previous line on the design documentation]. There, now it's 25.") She empathises quite a bit with other engineers, because of the way management is perceived as having too much authority for a field they don't know how to perform work in. (Classic Dilbert material...)
Now, admissions to high-calibre schools is far from a primary goal for her at the moment. Her priority is to take care of us and send me and my sister both to college. That is, she is definitely not applying within the next two years. Butt seeing how her career has been derailed at several points at her life and kept from achieving advancements she has always wanted, I thought it would be something nice to have. For HER to go to school again would be a major financial pressure given both tuition and the fact that she is our main breadwinner as a single parent ... but for her to gain more advanced/prestigious qualifications may be something that will help our family get out of our financial rut in the long-term. (She is also financially delinquent on her credit -- this will affect the ability of all three of us to take out student loans...) Engineering and law school are both options for her. Plus it'd be so cool for the family to send each other to school all at the same time.