I want to go back to college after a 15 year hiatus!
August 7, 2011 7:51 AM   Subscribe

I want to go back to college but I feel like I'm starting all over again and don't even know if I can get back in! I'm posting this anonymously because my lack of college degree deeply embarrasses me. More details about my situation inside...

To make a long story semi-short, I should have graduated college in the late 90's. I had 75 credits when I left school (a combination of illness and an sexual assault drove me away.) My last three semesters at school were a wash - I went from being an A/B student to flunking all my classes because I was in deep denial about what had happened to me, and shutdown completely. (I have since dealt with this through intensive therapy.)

I was lucky enough to be working while I went to college - and that job turned into a career. (For a reference point, I was a liberal arts major who now works in a computer field.) I have been steadily working since my junior year of college and have been lucky that my combination of 12 + years experience and industry certifications (I hold two very high-level IT security certifications) have allowed me to find great jobs without my degree.

Here is the thing - I feel deeply embarrassed and incomplete without my degree. Most people I meet assume I have the same educational background as they do and it pains me to gloss over the fact that while I attended school, I never graduated. I am constantly scared that one day I will run into a roadblock that is caused by my lack of degree and there will be no way around it.

I've wanted to go back to school for years. It seems that most programs that target my demographic are ones for online universities. I don't have a problem with this, but my major is not one that is historically or generally offered online. I am not interested in going back to college to further my career or get a more technical degree. I want to finish what I started. I also would like to go on to a Master's program, again only for my own personal growth.

I've done some research and have found a few schools in the NYC-area that I believe might fit the bill for me. (New School and Columbia's General Studies program.) Both are on the verge of cost-prohibitive; I earn too much to qualify for aid, and am *not* in in the position to take on more debt. I'd like to attend CUNY for its value and diversity of campus locations, but the barriers to entry for someone like me seem higher than those at private intuitions.

A few specifics:

- I was never great at college math - and as such, do not have a college math credit to my name. I have thought about going to a community college to take a math class, just to get this over with and have it on my transcript since most colleges require it now.

- My GPA was 3.2; after everything happened, it slipped down to a 1.97. I was also academically dismissed; but after my mom came in and raised holy hell about what was going on with me, they let me come back and take classes. (I did manage to make a 4.0 my very last semester of college.) However, the academic dismissal on my transcript remains there. I have taken a handful of college classes between now and then (approximately 9 credits) and have gotten A's in all of my classes. For traditional transfer students, I realize that my GPA at my original institution pretty much disqualifies me from getting into a new college as a transfer student. I do not know if my other classes would raise my GPA enough.

Essentially, what I am looking for is this:

- Are there other colleges in the NYC area (Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Bronx) where someone with my background and college credits might find a good fit to finish the last year and a half or two years of college? (I realize most colleges have a required number of credits that must be taken at their institution.) I know myself well enough to know that anywhere I land, I will do well. I have the time, energy and maturity to finish my program, but I feel like I do not fit in anywhere at all. Besides the New School and Columbia, I've looked at CUNY (Hunter and Brooklyn College) but am very concerned about CUNY's transfer requirements.

Any help from those in academia (at these institutions or others) or those who have been in a similar is completely appreciated!

Throwaway e-mail if you want to e-mail me outside MeFi: backtocollege.nyc@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Education (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Take a look at SUNY Empire State College. With campuses in Manhattan, Long Island and Saratoga, it is SUNY's college of individualized study.
posted by Pineapplicious at 7:57 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

The amount of time you've been out of school might impact your potential transfer status as well -- sometimes schools don't like to take credits older than 5-10 years. This varies from school to school, though, and would be worth checking out at the time you're applying. Credits transferring in were a big concern for me when I was starting my official undergrad (I did three years of full-time dual enrollment coursework instead of high school) and my admissions counselors were all more than willing to check with the registrar about which of my credits would be accepted. (I didn't apply as a transfer student, just as a regular first-year student with a lot of transfer credits.)

I can't help with school suggestions, but I would recommend contacting the Admissions Offices at all the schools you're interested in and talking to someone about your situation. They'll be able to give you the best tips about how to move forward in continuing your education.

Good luck!
posted by naturalog at 8:00 AM on August 7, 2011

Is there a reason you can't get readmitted into your old school under your old program requirements? Depending on the type of school it was, they will have a readmission process that will allow you to go back and complete your degree, even after an academic suspension.

Beyond that, start looking around at the bigger state schools in your area for cost effectiveness and transferability. The bigger schools have a much more streamlined admission and transfer process, and will have less of a residency requirement (the amount of transfer credits you can use to graduate vs. the amount you have to take at your new institution). Talk to someone in the transfer admissions office, your situation is not as uncommon as you may think.

I would avoid any degrees from proprietary schools (ie schools that advertise on television late at night). You already have a large enough chunk of coursework done towards your BA, so that is the degree you should go for.
posted by Think_Long at 8:06 AM on August 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would avoid any degrees from proprietary schools (ie schools that advertise on television late at night).

I worked at one of these and I agree with this 200%. I also second contacting the admissions office.

If you do take a math (or any other) class at a community college, first make certain that your destination school will accept it. This is not automatic. But before that, see if you can test out of the math requirement. For a liberal arts degree, the bar is probably set fairly low (no offense; sociology major here who didn't go past college algebra).
posted by desjardins at 8:15 AM on August 7, 2011

Former head of Graduate Admissions here.

Make an appointment with the Admissions departments of your top choice schools. I know that there have been cases we have helped dropouts come back after 20 year professional careers and complete special projects under a professor to complete the requirements of their degree. If you find you're being roadblocked by rule following staff then make appointments to see the Dean in charge of the curriculum and program requirements.

If your post had been an essay submitted to me I know that I'd have at least written back to you to come in to see me. Its got passion and commitment and maturity.
posted by infini at 8:17 AM on August 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

I came in to echo the Empire State College idea. I am doing this right now myself. Feel free to MeMail/email me, I ma halfway through the application process, and I have know people involved with SUNY and had a long discussion with them about what the school is, and how things work. If you get your application in by September 1st, you could be starting classes by November 1st. Good luck!
posted by kellyblah at 8:24 AM on August 7, 2011

I agree with the posters above about contacting the admission office and asking these questions. They will have the best, most specific information for you.

I also just want to encourage you - I didn't get my undergraduate degree until my early 30's. I'm starting grad school this fall (for a professional degree - I can't afford to go just for personal growth!). I do feel embarrassed sometimes about not having gone the traditional route for a degree, but I have also found that people don't really care.

I went to a private, non-profit (Jesuit) college with a program targeted to returning adult students. They took my several-years-old credits without a problem. This was for a more business-focused degree rather than a BA, though.

Good luck!!
posted by jeoc at 8:45 AM on August 7, 2011

Lots of people are in positions similar to yours. My local community college has extensive programs oriented to people over 25 who have some college and have been out for more than 5 years. Heck, my dad, stepmom and stepdad got their bachelor's degrees late (my dad got his in his late 40s,) and all three are tech people - two in computer science. Don't feel bad.

And Nthing a call to Admissions and checking with your original school. There are also some scholarships for women going back to finish their degrees that you may find helpful (if you are female.)
posted by SMPA at 8:57 AM on August 7, 2011

I'm so sorry you had this devastating experience. I hope you have had therapy to deal with the very real trauma. I wonder if your strong feelings about lacking the degree are related to the trauma.

Your story is reasonable, and you should meet with an Admissions counselor at one or more of the colleges/universities near you. You may be able to get credit for life learning, or be able to test out of some requirements. Math isn't always easy, but adult students often have good persistence at doing the required study, and tutoring can make a big difference. If you are feeling very uneasy, just go take a class as an un-matriculated student. Your ability to succeed in your career shows that you are perfectly capable of achieving, and I think you will do well.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 AM on August 7, 2011

Please feel free to contact me; I'm very familiar with both admissions and deanery academic probation, etc.) and have a partner who is finishing his bachelor's degree at age 36. We've also investigated just about every distance learning option.

Your background is common and not insurmountable. Far from it. Schools will want to know that you have identified and overcome the thing that took you down back then. The mere fact that you are here and looking into it says that you're well on your way to being a conscientious student who won't take school for granted. Good recommendations, and maybe a few good community college grades, will go a long way.

*hugs* I know it seems like there are so many barriers to overcome, but you are so close! It's all a matter of perspective. So many people didn't even get as far as you have because they were simply told that they were not college material. What a bunch of BS -- but when you're used to hearing the word "no" and having it be final, that's that. When my fiancé finally started college at 30, he found that the way he approached learning was so different from both his own expectations and the experiences he'd already had in school.

You're a different person now, and that gives you a huge advantage. It's not a detriment at all.
posted by Madamina at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're not right about CUNY; CUNY has a returning student program and they're extremely sensitive to diverse situations. You should go talk to them about your situation!

In other news... as someone who didn't go to college, it caused me some anxiety for a while and then I was happy to put that behind me. It's a balance of financial and time investment versus possible and unknown future outcomes. There are plenty of us without college degrees and we do just fine! Certainly, it's not something to be ashamed about! Your experience adds a diversity to the workplace and to humanity in general. You should be proud of yourself that you didn't take the commonest route.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:12 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing contacting the Admissions Office of your colleges of choice. They can answer a lot of your questions. Also nthing those that say to look at state colleges. I don't know much about New York colleges, but I do know that in other states where I've been, the state colleges have far more lenient entrance guidelines.

antedata: I have never been embarrassed about my lack of a degree, but it did hold me back, as did a lack of a High School diploma (I got a GED instead). I waited 12 years before I tried to go to college. It took my over ten years to finish my AS because I went manic and quit the final semester of my first go-round and didn't go back for eight years. I though that would hold me back, but it didn't. It took me another five years to get the time/money/circumstance to enroll into a four year college. I had to re-take some courses because the university I'm in now would not accept the community college courses that were over 12 years old or that did not correspond with their courses, but here it is, four years later I'll be receiving my MA this December. I'm 45 this year. It's not too late, and nothing should hold you back from trying.
posted by patheral at 9:59 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The thing about CUNY-Hunter is that they can be a lot more flexible than you might think, and also a lot more hardassed. Their website is by NO MEANS the final word on their actual policies.

I suggest going to the CUNY schools you're interested in in person and asking to speak with an admissions counselor about making your way back into school. The CUNY admissions office has always been pleasant and much more informative than their website.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2011

I'm sorry for what you've been through. I want to ask, though: Why are you going back?

Do you have a satisfying, productive career and a good life now? Because if so, then it's a lot faster and cheaper to get over your (completely unnecessary) shame over dropping out than it is to go back to college.

I quit school because of a combination of depression and displeasure with it. I, too, found a tech-related career that I was able to teach myself to succeed in. And lots of other good, smart folks (like those who founded Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook) have done the same.

Just as you have no reason to be ashamed of having been assaulted, you have no reason to be ashamed of having left school, especially as it was due to cruel circumstances beyond your control. If anything, it should make you even more proud of all that you've accomplished, and if there's some wirthwhile part of society that's untraceable due to a lack of a college degree, I haven't found it!

By all means, if you love school, go back and follow all these people's advice. But never, never do something because you feel ashamed about a situation where you did nothing wrong.
posted by anildash at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

I also had under a 2.0 when I finally left school (I may have been asked to leave due to my grades; I can't remember now). When I got to the point you're at now - that I wanted to finish what I started and get that degree over with and quit having the nightmares that today was test day and I hadn't been to class all semester - I found a school that had a program that catered to non-traditional (i.e., not 18-22 years old) students. My admission essay explained why my grades sucked, they didn't bat an eye, and I was admitted the next week.

And I had a hell of a fun time going back to school as an older adult! I hope you do, too.
posted by Addlepated at 10:25 AM on August 7, 2011

First, I want you to know that you have nothing to be ashamed of.

To make a long story semi-short, I should have graduated college in the late 90's. I had 75 credits when I left school (a combination of illness and an sexual assault drove me away.) My last three semesters at school were a wash - I went from being an A/B student to flunking all my classes because I was in deep denial about what had happened to me, and shutdown completely. (I have since dealt with this through intensive therapy.)

With verification of your experience from your therapist, you might contact your original institution about getting those grades expunged due to depression. You might also simply call them and ask what your options are. They might allow you to retake credits (perhaps distance credits) to replace the lower GPA.

Schools seem generally better equipped to deal with student melt downs due to life circumstances and mental health issues than they did in previous decades. Good luck!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:37 AM on August 7, 2011

Hi there! I'm only 26, but due to a number of circumstances (parents who refused to sign financial aid documents, and anxiety and depression), I don't have a college degree, either. However, like you, I continued to work and made good progress and references. Just last December, I joined a research lab at an (Ivy League!) university, and will be working there as I finish my education for free. Yes. You heard me correctly. I'm going back to school at an ivy and getting my BA for free. If you have the ability to take a (probably significant) pay reduction to work in academia, that might be one solution. Not only will you get your degree for free, but you will have contacts and mentors in your field who can help you through what will probably be a stressful experience. Good luck, and don't be ashamed! We all have our own stories. Your story has made you a stronger person, I'm sure.
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2011

two lights above the sea makes an excellent point. Nthing their suggestion very seriously.
posted by infini at 10:46 AM on August 7, 2011

Though it may be unlikely they will be any more accommodating of your situation, I think you should at least look into NYU's offerings. I certainly think of them as more geared toward nontraditional students than Columbia. I think SCPS may be what you're looking for though I'm not sure if they grant bachelors degrees.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 12:39 PM on August 7, 2011

I would avoid any degrees from proprietary schools (ie schools that advertise on television late at night).

Definitely. If you graduate from one, there's a stigma. If you don't, your credits from there likely won't transfer.

As for GPA, admissions reps want to see trends. Take a couple part time semesters at community college, keep your grades up and you'll be good to go at plenty of schools.
posted by tremspeed at 1:22 PM on August 7, 2011

As for GPA, admissions reps want to see trends. Take a couple part time semesters at community college, keep your grades up and you'll be good to go at plenty of schools.

Not just trends - in this case, I believe the OP had decent grades except for three semesters where there is undeniable evidence for why there was a decline but taking a class or two now and getting good grades will show that they still have the skills and discipline to take classes while working and get the work done.
posted by infini at 1:29 PM on August 7, 2011

Sure, I just mean if you can do quality college work in the present, they're much less likely to analyze a bombed semester.

Also about Columbia GS- it may fit your needs but it is very expensive, and the degree does differ from a Columbia College one, if that sort of thing matters to you.
posted by tremspeed at 1:35 PM on August 7, 2011

You may want to talk to a few graduate schools to see if any would take you without a full degree. Some - and I do mean at accredited schools - will make exceptions for strong students with life and work experience, especially if they take a semester or two of credits first.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:46 PM on August 7, 2011

Nthing Empire State College.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:52 AM on August 8, 2011

You might also look at Excelsior College, part of the SUNY system. Less flexible than Empire State College in some ways (only a few majors offered and you can't really design your own degree) but more in other ways (you can test out of just about any course requirement.)
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 7:30 AM on August 8, 2011

I also recommend checking out IT or "technologist" positions at universities. They pay squat, but classes are free.

Personally, I don't think you need a college degree. The smartest, most capable programmer I ever worked with didn't have a high school degree. I think it's almost a badge of honor that you've managed to make a career for yourself without one.
posted by xammerboy at 1:49 PM on August 8, 2011

But until you get to the kind of name recognition that Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, or even Anil Dash who commented upthread, have, it puts a block on working outside of your home country. Visa regulations often have minimum educational requirements built into the system. Having a four year degree from a recognized institution is a portable reference. Just saying...
posted by infini at 5:51 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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