Q: In high school, I was sure I wanted to enter the police force, so I attended a police academy for two years. But then I realized this was not the right career for me, and I left the academy. Now I want to apply to a regular college, but am really worried about this. Will my chances of admission be less because I went to the police academy? I want to get into a top school, but will they consider me good enough for their programs? I am concerned that I might not get in at all, and that my earlier choice might affect my future. What should I do?
A: Don't be so harsh with yourself! A lot of young people make a choice they think is appropriate for them AT THE TIME, but which turns out not to be the right choice. Do you think you're the only one? What about the student who spends a year or two in nursing school, and then realizes her heart isn't in it? Or the one who studies engineering and then discovers it's really math that he wanted?
The question becomes: now what? First of all, those two years happened, and you cannot make them un-happen. In your application, you will have to account for the two years. Simply tell the truth: you thought law enforcement was right for you, but have reconsidered. If you will use the Common Application, be aware that there is a place near the end where you will be asked to explain anything you wish to discuss. This is where you can explain your work at the police academy.
Should you apply as a first-year student or a transfer? In all likelihood, your courses at the police academy will not be equivalent to the ones at the colleges to which you apply. So you will not get any credit, and therefore you should apply as a first-year. But check this out, just in case you can get some credit. After you decide where to apply, call those schools, ask to speak with a transfer counselor, and check.
Which school will be best for you? Rather than looking merely at "top" schools (whatever that might mean), try to visit a variety of colleges that you can visit easily: public, private, small, large. Spend some time at each, have a meal in the dining hall, talk to random students, walk around. You will get a feeling about what feels right for you. I am guessing that a larger, more urban campus might be best for you. You are not a 17- or 18-year-old just starting out, so you might feel more comfortable with older students, those who have been out for a while, working or doing something else. Also, do not be in a rush to choose a major. Sample different subjects.
Another thing in your favor: students returning to college after a start elsewhere are often more focused than others. You have already tried one curriculum, so you know how to work. Take your time, be thoughtful, and good luck!