I fucked up. What now?
May 13, 2005 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm in my third year of college, and I just got grades back from this past semester. I've always been an A/B student; my gpa has been around 3.66 or so. This last semester I had a bunch of relationship-related/personal trouble; I was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. [consequences inside]

For a large part of the semester things were really, really bad, and I just didn't care enough to do much work or I just couldn't concentrate on anything. I'm on Zoloft now and have been feeling much better, but now I feel kind of shitty about myself and my future after seeing my grade report for this past semester. I ended up with two C-'s, a D, and an F. My overall grade point average has dropped to a 2.74 because of this.

Needless to say, all of this has left me feeling pretty depressed and angry at myself for having single-handedly screwed up my gpa in one semester, not to mention my relationships with my professors. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do after college; I was thinking about grad school, but now I'm worried that I've blown my chances for getting into a decent school. Has anyone else had this sort of experience? How did you bounce back(both in a mental sense and in a real-world sense)?
posted by Stauf to Education (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Happened to me too, but not as bad as you. Don't worry about, you'll snap out of it. Stay away from those drugs though, the docs will diagnose you for anything if you're walking around with a long face, when all you really need is a good lay. All the anti-depressants do is make you happy while they're screwing up the rest of your life. Plus, drugs don't solve problems.

Don't worry about grad school. They value what you do in the time spent out of college more than the time you spent in, academically.

/Not a doctor, so if you feel suicidal, get yourself checked into a hospital, otherwise just go and get laid
posted by jsavimbi at 12:37 PM on May 13, 2005

I'd start by going to the counselling center at your school (they pretty much all have them) and asking them to help you with identifying the school's process to petition or otherwise hide your grades. You may have the ability to retake your classes, for example, and have your future grades override your previous grades.

One general piece of advice I received once that I find helpful in situations like:

Think about whether you're the first person who has ever had this problem.

The answer is most likely 'of course not', and for any problem for which the answer is 'of course not', the university most likely has a process for dealing with it or mitigating it. You're not the first person to have one bad year, and you have a medical reason for yours. It can be mitigated both now (repeat classes, petition grades, etc) and in the future (explaining the scenario in grad school applications).
posted by jacquilynne at 12:38 PM on May 13, 2005

My college allowed me to get a "mental health medical delete" for several classes when I was having a hard time. The classes were cleared from my transcript. You might ask if this is an option at your school. The fact that you're now on doctor-prescribed meds to help you deal with your problems probably counts in your favor.

I had to go to therapy and get a note from a psychiatrist that I was getting treatment in order to return the following semester.

I had to take the classes again, of course, to get the credits.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:44 PM on May 13, 2005

it happens to everyone man...

I got an A, B, D, and an F my senior year. I knew the ropes at the University, so I graduated.

don't beat yourself up to much, shit happens.
posted by trinarian at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2005

You'll be giving grad schools your transcript, not just your GPA. If your grades before [and after] last term are all pretty decent, you'll probably end up fine. Shit happens, and grad schools would be foolish not to recognize that. Just make sure you try hard next term, and when in the application process for grad schools, you may be able to trot out the story of that term as a triumph-over-adversity thing. Getting into grad school's more than just grades - do some research with professors, try to get published, etc. Do what you can to buff up the rest of your resume.

Something similar happened to me [without the relationship bit] a year or two ago, and I ended up taking some time off. When I started the readmission process, I went and talked to my advisor, the head of my department, my psychiatrist, professors for classes I needed to retake, etc. I told them what had been going wrong before I left, and laid out a specific plan for the next term. The idea was to make sure that even if I had emotional trouble, I'd have a bit of a safety net, between my advisor, a counseling dean, and my psychiatrist. You may want to consider doing something similar. It can feel restrictive when things are going well, but it's a lot easier to pick up the pieces and deal with future problems if you can get admins on your side, and getting admins on your side is easier if you can show them that you have a plan for making things better. And hey, even with medication, you may find sometimes it's hard to deal with your depression; talking to professors and admins so that they understand [and so that you feel OK going to see them after something like a few days where you break down.] Finally, counseling/therapy depts. at most schools tend to have some amount of power to fix things, as long as they know you're dedicated to doing better. Really, make sure you've talked to them and/or keep talking to them.

You may also want to consider taking things a little easy next term. Try to shunt harder classes off to next spring - it'll sort of suck to have hard classes your last term, sure, but you may find that it really helps to spend a term rebuilding your confidence in your academic skills and in your ability to deal with things in general. [Again, this is something that I did. When I later encountered some difficult classes, it really helped to be able to look back and say 'well, this class is just hard, but I know I'm not a total failure.]
posted by ubersturm at 5:35 PM on May 13, 2005

all you really need is a good lay. All the anti-depressants do is make you happy while they're screwing up the rest of your life. Plus, drugs don't solve problems.

That's the same advice I give diabetics! Put the insulin down and start fucking.

I dropped out of school for about 3 years due to depression. I got on medication, got my life back under control, and finished school. And I got more out of it by taking those few years off.

Remember, your GPA is not really important. What you learn is what's important.
posted by Bort at 5:59 PM on May 13, 2005

Trust me--we see this happen all the time. It's the sort of one-semester blip that can be explained on a statement of purpose. And, as ubersturm notes, we look at the whole transcript, not just the cumulative GPA. A retroactive administrative withdrawal will help your GPA, but then again, you'll have to retake the courses.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:22 PM on May 13, 2005

Stay away from those drugs though, the docs will diagnose you for anything if you're walking around with a long face, when all you really need is a good lay. All the anti-depressants do is make you happy while they're screwing up the rest of your life. Plus, drugs don't solve problems.

Please do not discard the advice of a medical professional who's treating you in favor of what some guy on the internet says.

As for grad school, I would consider retaking any classes that relate directly to the field in which you're considering entering a graduate program. Demonstrate that you are capable of mastering the material. It would also probably be a good idea to explain the situation briefly in your application statements. Emphasis on briefly.

This is an obstacle to overcome, but overcoming it is definitely possible.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:22 PM on May 13, 2005

Your GPA will matter very little in graduate school applications. What really matters are your letters of recommendation (which, if you know someone well enough, should explain your lost semester) and in some disciplines your GRE scores. Even your transcript matters very little compared to those two factors.

You're going to be ok when you pull out of this. I've seen many people do it before. Put your education in a box for a little while and get healthy. (Read on the side in your discipline if you can.) And Bort is certainly right, what matters all things considered, even more than grad school, is what you learn. Many people get good grades, but far fewer learn the subject they're studying.
posted by ontic at 6:22 PM on May 13, 2005

thank you, bort!
posted by katie at 6:23 PM on May 13, 2005

Almost exact same thing happened to me. I had great grades, and then I failed two semesters of school. Straight Fs. I took a year off from school, got some therapy and slowly got myself back together. I also switched cities and schools, which was a big help -- it removed me from a lot of the instigating situations. I'm not sure if any of those options are feasible for you, but there are definitely ways to distance yourself without physically moving.

I thought I would never recover from failing school. I was convinced of it, actually. But taking that year really gave me perspective, and now I've just had two semesters of straights As. The most important thing to do is take the time you need. This might mean you don't graduate in four years or graduate older than you expected, but it'll be worth it. Good luck, and you can e-mail me if you'd like more detail.
posted by Zosia Blue at 6:55 PM on May 13, 2005

If I had one piece of advice for you, it would be to ignore whatever jsavimbi says -- except for the last bit about being suicidal, but I don't think it's come that far.
posted by drpynchon at 7:12 PM on May 13, 2005

Speaking as a professor, we work with students like you all the time. Let a trusted professor in your department know what has been going on. Or maybe the mental health people at your school can do this for you. Once the professors know that you didn't just party out, they will be understanding.

Also, you might be able to undo some of the damage to the GPA, depending on the rules at your university. At my college you can retake a course and the higher grade replaces the lower one. Also, you can declare "academic bankruptcy" once in your college career and have an entire semester erased from your transcripts.

Finally, if you really are back on track and do well from here on out, you can explain your one poor semester to grad schools in your letter of application. "Though personal problems in the Spring 2005 semester brought my grades temporarily down, my GPA for the rest of my college career was 3.7, including a 4.0 my senior year." Combine that with a good GRE score and you will be a strong candidate.

Good luck.
posted by LarryC at 7:12 PM on May 13, 2005

From my back of the envelope estimates, I figure 4 classes a semester, for 5 semesters, right?

So, in order to have a 3.66 GPA before, you'd had to have had a total grade sum of 73.2 (3.66*20). Add C- (1.6) + C- (1.6) + D (1) + F (0), and you get 77.4. Divide by your new total number of classes (24) and you get 3.225.

Have I missed something?
posted by Caviar at 7:22 PM on May 13, 2005

all you really need is a good lay. All the anti-depressants do is make you happy while they're screwing up the rest of your life. Plus, drugs don't solve problems.


That's the same advice I give diabetics! Put the insulin down and start fucking

Shat myself from laughing.

I have never had a single person on SSRI therapy say that it made them feel 'happy', but it usually helps restore some perspective to their sense of the world and allow them the capacity to effect change, i.e., talk-therapy, discussing a plan of action with professors, etc. I imagine if I was interviewing you for grad school, I would be impressed to hear a forthright accounting of the situation and even moreso by how you dealt with it and got back on track.

Seriously, good luck to you.
posted by docpops at 8:17 PM on May 13, 2005

docpops,zoloft made me really happy but then a few months later I got my bipolar diagnosis. But those were a nice few months!

Other than that tho, jsavimbi, shut up. I only wish I had had these type of meds available when I was in college. I might have gotten a degree instead of bouncing thru three schools with nothing to show for it but unrelated credit hours.
posted by konolia at 8:56 PM on May 13, 2005

Sorta tangential, but I'm just now realizing (upon graduation from a MA program) how hard grad school was on my mental health- and you might want to take this into consideration.

My experience: I was on antidepressants starting just before my senior year of college, and eventually it got to the point where I knew I would be able to control my depression through lifestyle changes (exercise, diet, sleep, and me-time) rather than medication- but being in grad school there just wasn't the time for anything but swallowing a pill every morning.

There's just something about grad school that's incredibly depressing. Everyone who signs up for grad school should know this.
posted by elisabeth r at 9:20 PM on May 13, 2005

I feel compelled to give the opposite viewpoint. I quite enjoyed grad school. I think it depends heavily on the program, the academic environment, and how well it matches to your expectations and needs.
posted by Caviar at 9:32 PM on May 13, 2005

Larry C gives the best advice (above), but as a grad student who used to be on an undergrad petition committee - do find out whether your school has any policies on dropping courses due to illness/mental health. We did - students could petition to drop courses, especially if they were only diagnosed after the drop date. You will need medical documentation for this.
posted by jb at 10:59 PM on May 13, 2005

I was in a similar situation (though I had no excuse whatsoever), and I found a professor who would authorize a 10-hour summer independent study for me. I had to pay tuition, but I earned 10 credit hours at an "A" grade.

I think Caviar is right that your math seems fucked up, and only you have the details to figure out if such an independent study would make a substantive difference in your grades, but if you have a sympathetic prof, you may want to give the independent study a whirl as a mechanism to facilitate both deeper learning and grade re-flation.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:10 PM on May 13, 2005

While my undergrad experience was quite the opposite of yours (lousy grades first--for no good reason, I might add--then decent grades consistently thereafter, also no depression), the result was the same: a GPA I was convinced would forever bar me from grad school (suffice it to say it's below what pretty much all the respectable grad schools list as the absolute minimum required for admission). It didn't. GRE scores, reasonably eloquent (if I may say so myself) admission essays, and letters of recommendation did the trick for me (hell, I was in a top-10 program in my field) and it sounds very much like they can do the same for you. In fact, I have yet to encounter, in grad school or otherwise, anyone who gave a shit about my GPA (obviously, this came as quite a relief); the only comment I ever heard about was from my graduate advisor, who was delighted not to be dealing with another smug 4.0 student who "probably didn't have a life."

Now, grad school was the only time in my life in which I was geniunely depressed, even borderline suicidal, but that's another story altogether.
posted by willpie at 5:42 AM on May 14, 2005

I totally forgot the most important thing!

Take this opportunity to reconsider if you've made a mistake about the subject you've chosen to study.

Given that you're not sure what you want to do after graduation, you may have picked a major you don't really enjoy. That's a great way to completely kill your enthusiasm for studying in general.

If that's the case, and you do find something else you want to study, changing may add some extra time to your tenure (probably not the worst thing if you were considering grad school). That may seem like an extra expense, but consider it in the alternative light of having gone through all of this and ended up not studying what you should have been in the first place (and the possibility of postbac studies later - I know a lot of people who have done that).

Or, you may find, as I did, that with a little time off studying something else, what you really miss is the first thing, and you'll go back to that with renewed interest and drive, and never look back.
posted by Caviar at 6:50 AM on May 14, 2005

I've been there, almost exactly, though my depression wasn't exactly the cause of the academic troubles. The end of the story (as it stands now) is pretty good, so there's hope. :-)

Short version of the story: Grades sliding through three years of undergrad, finished off with three Fs in my final semester. Dropped out of school for a bit, did interesting things, decided to go back to (a different) school. I had to argue with the admissions director to even get to apply ("We don't accept people who have recently failed courses. Go take some math/science courses at a community college and get As or Bs and then apply." "But I already have plenty of As in math/science courses!"). I kicked ass for two years there and got a degree.

I applied to a bunch of top grad schools. Most of them rejected me. I don't know how much was due to my transcript/GPA (which I did explain in my statement of purpose - do that for sure), but I expect a large reason was that the school from which I graduated just doesn't send many people to grad schools, so it's not well-known.

In any case, one school accepted me to the MS program with no funding (I was set on getting a PhD). Despite all of the advice that says "Don't go to grad school if you have to pay for it!" (and I'm in engineering, even, where that is definitely true), I went. Within the first semester, I found a professor to fund me, and I am currently done with my second year, doing well, enjoying myself, and heading towards a PhD.

(I completely understand how you're angry with yourself. I was pissed off with myself for literally years for having "screwed up my life." But as it turns out, I didn't. At the same time, it was good to really look at it and figure out what I did wrong. Be angry enough to learn from your mistakes, but don't let it consume you.)

Moral of the story is: It can work. You can get into grad school even with a big blotch on your transcript. Make absolutely sure that you do something you enjoy, though, especially with the background of depression. Graduate school is definitely the type of environment that can be devastating when combined with depression. There is no way I could be successful if I didn't enjoy what I'm doing so much - I'm just not strong enough.

And listen to Caviar about the grad school experience. Some folks absolutely loathe it, others enjoy it. And I don't think either group has a massive majority.
posted by whatnotever at 9:31 AM on May 15, 2005

Others have given good advice about talking to your school administration and seeing if they can do anything. I think you'll be fine; you were doing very well before and if you can bounce back, you can show that you just had one bad year.

I applied to law school last year. GPA is extremely important in law school admissions. But I know a bunch of people who were in similar situations to yours. In some cases, they even failed out of school and went back later, or dropped out of high school and got their GED. They still got into good schools. They made sure to justify their GPA in their applications by writing a supplementary letter, and they all worked for several years after undergrad and were able to point to a successful career as proof that they had overcome whatever troubles they had in college.

If you want to get a Ph.D., I would also recommend reaching out to specific faculty members who you want to work with. If they know you and they know you're smart and conscientious, they'll be more understanding about your GPA.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:58 AM on May 16, 2005

So.... how ya doin'?
posted by Caviar at 6:07 PM on May 24, 2005

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