I've been having trouble finding an existing discussion that answered my questions, so I decided to just lay them all out here! I'll start with a little context and then list my questions below. It might get a bit lengthy so feel free to skim or jump to the questions and just answer what you can!(:
I attended a very small, but rigorous, private school where I live in the Midwest for K-12th grade. I didn't mesh very well with my small class or do much extracurricular, but I put my everything into my school work. I maintained a great GPA, was on student council (Vice President junior year), and my senior year completed & presented a senior thesis paper that I researched and worked on for 3/4 of the school year. I also scored high on ACT and SAT. I applied to schools even though I had no idea what I wanted to do or if I even wanted to go. I got accepted to them all (Loyola University of Chicago, Drake University, Augustana College, University of Denver), but I was so burnt out from school, and in a very unhealthy mental place, that I couldn't even think about going back into a school environment when I graduated (in Spring 2015). I was also scared that college would be the same as my high school experience, which was very difficult mentally and emotionally, and I was just really scared of exposing myself to that again. I didn't think I would ever want to go to college and would be happy just staying in my hometown, so I didn't try to plan anything that would benefit me if I wanted to apply to schools again. I considered doing a travel volunteer program, but my parents didn't like the idea, so I got a part time job, lived at home, helped my younger sister (w minor learning disabilities) with school, and didn't do anything remarkable.
Throughout this past year I've gone back and forth on what I want to do, and applied to my state college just in case, but still didn't want to go. I finally decided to enroll in a local cosmetology college for this fall to become a licensed esthetician. Now, I've matured a lot and am in a better place, but still very uncertain about what I want to do. I'm naturally a hard worker who likes to have goals and be motivated, and this past year of uncertainty and just working part time is not me, and I'm thinking it may be time to give college a try. I have a lot of questions, though, and my parents didn't go to college and my small high school never had a guidance counselor or advisor so the whole researching and applying to schools process has always been very overwhelming to me. So I've written some questions that I have and am hoping that someone will see this who has some experience in this area or knows more about the system than me and can give some clarity on these concerns I have.
1. Will colleges/universities look down on the fact that I haven't done anything academic since graduating high school and only worked part-time? And what are some things I can do this upcoming year that would help my application look better besides cc?
2. Since this school year just started, it's too late to enroll in cc, but would it be worth taking a few classes spring semester to get a feel for some areas of interest, or would that make the application process more complicated if I want to apply as a freshman? Would taking classes help or hurt my chances?
3. Since by next spring it will have been 2 years since I've been in school, would it be hard to get into a college as a freshman? Would it be better to go to a cc for two years and then transfer to a university with other older students?
4. My esthetics program goes from start of fall through start of spring. Is it a good idea to go ahead with it? I would like to, but not if colleges would look down on me completing a certification process. Would doing this affect me trying to apply as a freshman? There is still time for me to drop out but classes start soon.
5. Next fall when school starts I will be 20 about to turn 21. Will it be weird to live on campus with people coming straight from high school? I'm already worried about fitting in or being considered an outsider because I'm older haha but has anyone experienced this or is age not as big of a deal?
6. How do I go about filing out an application that requires teacher recommendations and counselor recommendations (my school doesn't even have one lol) when I don't even go there or have contact with the teachers for over a year? Also are my SAT and ACT scores still relevant since I took them last year or will I have to take them again (yikes)?
7. How can I approach application essays about why I took time off and what I did with that time? Should I be completely honest? Will this greatly affect my chances of getting accepted?
8. Does anyone know any resources I can talk to about application questions and such? Since my old school doesn't have a counselor/advisor, I don't really know who to talk to about this stuff or if there even is anyone. Can I ask admissions advisors at schools I want to apply to? Do they remember or make note of what I ask them and will that affect my chances?
9. Finally, does anyone have any school recommendations? At this point I'm interested in Marketing/Design/Communications/Business type direction, but I find all the school options overwhelming. I have family in California but I know those schools are hard to get into, would I stand a chance? At this point I'm wanting a bigger school, pretty diverse student body, in or near a big city, a place for a great education but not Ivy League lol.
I really appreciate you taking the time to read this and help with what you can. This process has just been confusing and a little overwhelming. I also would love anyone sharing if they had a similar experience or situation and what they're doing now! Thank you so much, I'm sorry this is so long! Any input is appreciated!