Should I stay or should I go? (Education remix)
October 14, 2008 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Should I try something new and transfer to a new school for a year, or should I stick around the same old school and raise my GPA enough to graduate?

I've spent far too long at a state school in the city where I've lived most of my life and received grades that range from A+ in difficult classes to F in a simple class where I just didn't complete my work. In the process, I've banked a lot of credits and the only obstacle to my graduation is raising my GPA a few points and finishing two last required courses.

Despite arriving as a National Merit Scholar, enrolled in the honors program, I've had too many semesters where I utterly lacked motivation due to factors such as depression, major life traumas, projects which distracted me from schoolwork, and a simple failure to manage my time effectively. These have dragged my GPA way, way down.

In a few weeks, I'll finish an important project and I'll need to make a new decision about school.

I've considered transferring to another school which might inspire me more than the one I've attended, shaking up my world, living in a new place, and enjoying the prospect of a fresh start on my GPA, but I'm not sure where I should go or what the chances are that I would be admitted.

So, if any of you have any experience in admissions or in going through this decision making process for yourself...

Does it seem reasonable or possible that I could finish up as a transfer student at a decent school, in just one year, with a fresh GPA?

Or is the best path to just stay where I'm at, perform excellently in my classes, and finish where I started?
posted by abkadefgee to Education (13 answers total)
Many schools will not allow you to transfer there for just one year, or to graduate with a degree from that school after taking so few credits there. If you do choose to transfer, you'll probably have to stay for longer than one year to finish up your degree. I don't really understand the "fresh start on your GPA" thing, either - your grades would either transfer or you'd have to do your whole BA/BS over again. I don't think you would get a fresh GPA. If you've done your research on the above concerns, then just ignore me there.

Were I you, I would finish the last two courses. I don't think that transferring is a realistic option.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:30 PM on October 14, 2008

Most undergrad schools will ony let you transfer, at most, two years of credits (and you'll only be able to transfer credits for classes you haven't failed, of course). If you really only have two classes left, it's best to finish up your degree where you are.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:32 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Does your school have some sort of college exchange program? A friend did that for one semester of her senior year. Or could you take a leave for a semester, complete an internship (possibly just take one course that is transferable at a community school), and then come back and finish? Internships can be more important than GPA in many fields.
posted by ejaned8 at 1:34 PM on October 14, 2008

Response by poster: @Solon and Thanks, @ThePinkSuperhero:
It's not actually just two classes, it's two classes plus enough good grades to raise my GPA. That could mean a year at the same school as well.

My impression has been that starting a new school means that you have a new GPA. I've heard this from a couple of sources, but it may not be true for every school. The way that previous grades work is that you can only transfer those credits where you've received a C or better, and I have plenty of those.

It does appear true that few schools will allow you to stay a short time and graduate, but I imagine that there would be some out there. Maybe some funky private schools with super liberal policies.

I think they might have such a program. I could take a look at that.

I have however taken time off to work on other things, such as now, as I work on a political campaign til Nov. 4th. That's why it's rapidly becoming decision time.
posted by abkadefgee at 1:44 PM on October 14, 2008

"My impression has been that starting a new school means that you have a new GPA."

Employers and graduate schools who care about your grades will care about your grades at all the schools you attended.

Employers who don't care about your grades won't care about your grades.
posted by Jahaza at 1:48 PM on October 14, 2008

Employers and graduate schools who care about your grades will care about your grades at all the schools you attended.

Agreed. I transferred from one undergraduate school to another, and only the grades earned at the new school counted toward graduation. That said, were I to apply to graduate school, those school will want transcripts from all schools I've attended.

Reading what you've written thus far, I'm not convinced transferring is the best choice for you. You're hoping a new school will "inspire me more than the one I've attended", but that needs to come from the inside- no school can do that for you, once you get there, you'll still be dealing with the same motivation problems. You need to know exactly what a new school would offer that your current school couldn't (if only to convince the admissions officers at the new school, who I think you may have a tough time with). I think your best choice is to finish up school where you are, maybe even part-time so you can pick up some work experience while you're at it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:55 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's the answer you don't want to hear, but need to, IMO:

I've had too many semesters where I utterly lacked motivation due to factors such as depression, major life traumas, projects which distracted me from schoolwork, and a simple failure to manage my time effectively.

Dude, get in line behind all the other people who have asked here how to salvage their college careers after dicking around for a few years. Your question reads to me like you basically want a quick and easy way to wipe your collegiate slate clean, doing away with 3+ years of bad work with a semester or two at a different school.

Uh-uh, you don't get to do that. No one's going to fix this problem for you other than yourself.

Stay, and take whatever classes you need to graduate and get your GPA to a respectable level. Depending on what industry you want to go into, your GPA may not even matter, really. Not anywhere, as a matter of fact, after your first job.
posted by mkultra at 1:58 PM on October 14, 2008

To nth the "finish at the current school" line of thought, many schools allow you to retake classes and REPLACE that grade on your transcript and GPA. This has a twofold benefit:

1) Each class retaken would basically count double on your GPA, erasing a low grade and adding a high grade.
2) As you've taken the class before the material would hopefully be at least somewhat familiar and thus less of an "unknown quantity" that may result in more lower grades.

I would talk to your adviser about retaking the classes. One college I went to replaced grades altogether, the other would average the two grades for your GPA (one A, one F = C). Either way it may raise your GPA higher, faster so you can graduate.

Further, as someone who's reviewed resumes and interviewed employees in the past, if I notice a student changed colleges before graduating I always inquire as to why and, if the person is fresh out of college, ask for transcripts. Many jobs ask for transcripts no matter how long you've been out of doing whatever you can to "fix" what is at your current school would look better to employers in the long run.
posted by arniec at 2:11 PM on October 14, 2008

Speaking as an administrator in higher ed...what other folks have said so far is right on. It sounds like you have two issues here: one, boredom/need for change, and two, GPA/graduation/concerns about what comes next.

As to the first one, ejaned8 has great suggestions. If you can take some additional time off and work (paid or unpaid, if you can) to round out your resume, that would go a long way towards offsetting poor academic performance in the eyes of an employer and may recharge your batteries. But what I hear from you sounds a bit like you're just ready to move on in general -- and graduation would let you do it. Now we come to the GPA issue.

Transferring is not your answer, for all the reasons stated above. Those who will care what your GPA was (not every employer does, you know, and you can always fudge this a little by emphasizing your major GPA, which is usually higher, rather than your cumulative GPA, when necessary) will always know that your transcript contains work from different institutions. In order to earn a degree from another institution, you usually have to do at least three full semesters of work in residence there -- if not more -- to qualify for a degree from them. That said, pulling a GPA up gets harder as you earn more credits. You should find out exactly how far away from your desired/required GPA you are -- many schools provide GPA calculators in some form to give you clear data (for example, x credit-hours of A/B/C/D etc to reach Y GPA).

Obviously if you are wanting to go to graduate school you will need to demonstrate solid academic performance, and some employers do use GPA as a measuring stick. Or you could just have your own personal reasons to raise your GPA. Keep in mind that MANY students hit rough patches in college, and you might be surprised how much of a non-issue a stray low grade here and there matters to anyone. It matters when you establish a pattern of poor performance. For example, if you consistently get good grades in two classes and low grades in two others each semester, that illustrates that you may just not be able to handle your workload. If you have wide discrepancies in grades, like lots of A-range grades and a lot of Ds and Fs, that might suggest that you can do the work, but you just don't always want to. However, in my experience, many students encounter academic problems when their personal lives make focusing on academics difficult. This is incredibly common. I urge you to talk to an academic advisor or a dean at your college to see if they have an appeals process that may allow you to ask that some grades be retroactively withdrawn from your record. If you tanked in a semester when your best friend died in a car wreck or you were diagnosed with depression or anxiety, then that's really understandable. You'll need to look into the policies of your school, but it is VERY MUCH worth asking. And don't judge yourself too harshly here -- life happens, students are people too, and college administrators want to help you succeed!
posted by butternut at 2:13 PM on October 14, 2008

To counter mkultra a bit (sorry, dude...but this is from my experience):

I applied for a job with State Farm Insurance after having been out of school for 5 years. They asked for transcripts. I had to scramble to figure out how to even get them after that long. They also said that even though I'd had 5 years professional experience, my undergrad GPA was too low to even be considered for employment. That drove me back to grad school where I got a 3.96 because I knew it DID matter.

I also got a job at a college, again having been out of school for many many (10+) years, and they asked for transcripts.

Further, several jobs I've applied for, including positions with Caterpillar, the State of Illinois, and others have applications where you list your education, every school you've gone to (some even ask for MIDDLE SCHOOL!) and they ask you to put your GPA in. They may or may not verify it against transcripts but they ask...
posted by arniec at 2:16 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Transferring to a better school than the one at which you started is an enormous pain in the ass. It's also pretty unlikely that any reputable university will let you transfer there for just a year. When I transferred, I ended up having to take several unnecessary classes just to bring the balance up between the two schools I attended (the bureaucratic regulations are different at every school though, and there are an assload of hoops to jump through in any transfer).
posted by solipsophistocracy at 3:17 PM on October 14, 2008

I'd stick it out. Anectode of a friend of mine - was pulled out of college by her parents for a fresh start at a different college (this one closer to home), had the same problem of lack of focus there. Better to put your energy into learning how to focus better than to put it into getting into a new school. Think of it this way, you're trying to jump-start your ability to focus on schoolwork by concentrating on figuring out the bureaucratic system of another school - that is, by focusing on something other than schoolwork. You're not only wasting your time not solving your basic problem, but if you do get into another institution and can finish up there in a year (which is very unlikely as posters above noted), you will have new, more interesting surroundings and new people to meet at a new school - more distractions from what it sounds like your goal is, raising your GPA.

Of course, if you are simply unhappy where you are and don't care so much about the academic side, and are willing to put in a couple more years (or even more) at another institution, then finding another institution would be more in line with your goals.
posted by lorrer at 5:10 PM on October 14, 2008

Response by poster: To tell you the truth, I might be willing to spend more than a couple of years somewhere else if it were the right fit.

To address some of the points and add some additional info:

I've lived in the same area for my entire life and I think I've become fairly complacent. I have challenged myself to face new challenges all that frequently, so I'm not the sort of person who just picks up and leaves when the going gets tough.

Unfortunately, I've burned through designated retake credits and retaking classes no long can replace bad, old grades.

I've been working full-time since March on political campaigns except for a short time between one campaign that ended and a position I found in another. For the most part, I've excelled at this and have been working very hard at resolving my basic problems.

I have some nasty hang-ups about what my professors think of me when I do poorly in their classes and dread seeing them around campus. This has fed into my depression and by extension my lack of motivation at times. I know that dealing with this anxiety is important, but I also want to get done with school instead of slogging through more anxiety and more potential failures.

I guess the fact is, school is painful and fills me with dread right now, but this has a lot to do with baggage about past experience and feeling somewhat embarrassed that I've been in and out of this school for about 8 years now. Transferring seemed like a possible way to wipe the slate clean in more ways than one and provide a new set of challenges for me to enjoy.

What you're all saying is helpful, though, so thank you.
posted by abkadefgee at 5:47 PM on October 14, 2008

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