School: Once More With Feeling
August 30, 2011 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Need advice about going back to school, and lots of it.

I dropped out of college as a result of complete lack of money, and deadly fear of debt. Now, I really want to go back, but I'm not fabulously wealthy. I am, however, less terrified of debt. Problem is, due to depression and cash issues, I have some low grades and incompletes on my transcript. I would go nights at a community college, but I'm mostly done with my GE classes already, mostly just have to take some philosophy classes which don't seem to be offered often around here, especially not at night. Should I quit my jobs and go back to school full time? Can I get into a school with such a crappy transcript? Can a school I get into with a crappy transcript get me into a decent MLS program after I graduate? Can I get a student loan with absolutely no credit? All these questions and more (hopefully, with your help) will be answered today on AskMe!

Yes, its a big unfocused question, sorry. More details available upon request. Talking to credit union next week, but don't know what to ask really, except for, you know, money. Would talk to admissions, but where is realistic?

Anecdotes and vague assurances welcome, constructive advice doubly so.
posted by Garm to Education (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My husband is currently going back to college at age 36. He had several previous attempts with varying degrees of success.

In terms of crappy transcript, of course this will depend on which school you choose, but it wasn't a problem in my husband's case. His school isn't super selective, but also his work experience, etc., factored in. Do you have work experience? Do you have people who can write you letters of recommendation?

In terms of money, he was able to get a Pell grant that covered all his tuition (no loans). I do not know whether you have to be a full-time student to qualify for a Pell (he is). The financial aid office at the school you want to go to should help you, as should the admissions office. Let them know about your non-traditional situation and see if they can work with you.

posted by pupstocks at 3:49 PM on August 30, 2011

Why do you want to go back to school? Just do do it? Because as you know, it's a pretty expensive proposition, particularly when you factor in the opportunity costs of quitting your job.

Indeed, it's quite likely that a non-traditional student graduating with a philosophy degree in the teeth of the worst job market in recent memory may well have worse job prospects than you do now, depending on what it is that you're doing.

And an MLS? That's 1) going to be pretty costly, and 2) really not a growth area right now. Odds are decent that you'll walk out of this some $50,000 in the hole with no real way of getting a job that pays much more than half that.

If you really want to do this, despite the costs, well, talk to admissions and financial aid. Hard to recommend particular schools without knowing where you live.
posted by valkyryn at 3:50 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

For any school you consider applying to, you need to find out what, if any, of your prior credits will be accepted. Just because you took GenEd classes at another school a while back, that doesn't mean that your new school will accept those credits or will accept that class as meeting their GenEd requirements. I'd suggest calling some of the schools you're looking at and inquiring about whether they'll consider transferring your old credits. Depending on the school, you might have to basically start over from scratch. On one hand, retaking classes will take time and money. On the other hand, that means that you get a second chance to retake and do well in classes you bombed the first time.
posted by decathecting at 4:05 PM on August 30, 2011

I've recently done the back-to-school-after-several-years thing.

1. Financial Aid.
Basically anyone who needs it will at the least qualify for direct student loans. These are need-based, so it doesn't matter how goddamn awful your credit is, you will probably get them. You have to fill out a FAFSA to qualify.

2. Price.
Go to a state university. These are BY FAR the cheapest, and even cheaper for in-state residents. Tuition where I go in PA is under $8,000 a year (and about double that if you're an out-of-state student), compared to $50,000 for a private school.

3. Choosing a school.
Go here to help find the right school for you. They also have some good info including acceptance rates, average student grades, pricing, etc.

4. Transfer credits.
Schools will only evaluate this after you've transferred. However, most will accept them for gen ed classes if you got a C or better, since these classes will likely be similar at your new school. Once you have an idea of where you want to go, look at the school's webpage -- specifically the Registrar's page. They will have some info on their transfer credit policy, and possibly even a list of ones they will definitely accept from area colleges.

5. Your jobs.
Keep your jobs for the time being. Start saving up now. You will be applying as a transfer student, and most schools have a deadline around October 31st for the spring semester. Find a school and get your application in. Work out logistics after you've been accepted. You'll have a lot better of an idea if you want to commute or relocate or whatever after you've decided where you want to go. Also, a lot of schools have work-study programs so depending on your current debt you might be able to get by with something like that.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:38 PM on August 30, 2011

OH, also very important -- there are special grants and scholarships for non-traditional students (those 25 and older). If you qualify, this could help alleviate a lot of the expense.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:39 PM on August 30, 2011

For what it's worth, a friend recently went back to school for his MLS after getting a BS in an engineering field. He had a lot of trouble finding relevant work, questioned his decision to switch fields and go for the MLS at all, and now works in a position related to his bachelor's degree. He's happy and it all worked out for now, but given his experience and that of his classmates, I'm not sure that the MLS would help your career prospects right now.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 5:17 PM on August 30, 2011

To qualify for federal financial aid (e.g., Pell Grants), you have to be a full time student. However, there is a wealth of other money that you might be able to access as a non-traditional student.

I work at a state college that targets non-traditional, first generation, school leavers, etc. We love people like you. If at all possible, I strongly urge you to look for a school or a program within a school specifically targeted at non-traditional students, especially if you hope to continue working while going to school.

Honestly, the first step, as suggested above, is just to talk to somebody in admissions at some school you would consider going to and find out how likely your credits are to transfer. The biggest factor will probably be how long ago you took the classes.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:42 PM on August 30, 2011

Do you have any library work experience? The library field is cutthroat right now in terms of way, way more MLS holders than positions (this is a generalization. I know search committees who've been looking for health sciences librarians in rural areas and gotten 0 applicants. I speak from having been on a search committee for a reference librarian position last year at a major academic library. We stopped counting after receiving 100 applications).

I urge you to not even seriously think about an MLS program until you have at least 1 year of library work experience. My advice would be to find a way to go back to college and get a paraprofessional job in a library close to what you might be interested in (special, corporate, academic, public, etc). After some time in libraryland, you'll know if you have the appetite for library work, and then you can apply to an online MLS program if there isn't a local one near you, or if moving is not an option.

Feel free to mefi mail me. I speak as a current MLIS student and paraprofessional of 3 years.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:56 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice and resources. I'm not too worried about the grades for the classes I finished. Mostly just the semester worth of Incompletes I got at the end.

Love philosophy, but love learning too, depending on what carries over, I might go for a liberal arts degree instead, just so I can take more interesting classes. Any BA will help, will be worth it (to me). As for MLS, I really would like to get one. As for MLS, I'm pretty well sold, but that would be a few years out, so I have time to reevaluate that later. Currently debt free. Looking to go back to school full time and take a part time job, likely more tutoring. I love tutoring, just can't making a living doing it.

Hydropsyche, that sounds pretty great, do you know any colleges with similar aims in or around southern California (LA to SD)?
posted by Garm at 5:56 PM on August 30, 2011

So you have most of your "Core Curriculum" already? If not, take those at a community college. It's your highest degree that matters, so get your core at Community College, your Bachelor's at state and your masters and doctorate a step up. That'll save you about three hundred thousand dollars, LOL.
posted by roboton666 at 6:06 PM on August 30, 2011

Hydropsyche, that sounds pretty great, do you know any colleges with similar aims in or around southern California (LA to SD)?

Well, technically that's a large part of the mission of the Cal State system. But I know it's a big mess right now, and budget cuts are really hurting their ability to serve their target student populations. I would definitely check with your closest Cal State school to find someone who can answer your questions about transferring credit and go from there.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:13 PM on August 30, 2011

The other thing to do is look for places with good Transition or Bridging programmes: something like the Academic Bridging program at Woodsworth College, at the University of Toronto.

Most institutions have something like this, which provides support and information for 'non-traditional' students.
posted by jrochest at 6:59 PM on August 30, 2011

Since it sounds like you're interested in schools in California, check This website will show you how much transfer work officially will count for specific classes at each college. I don't know if you live here or not, but if you don't, establishing residency in CA for about a year will REALLY cut your college costs (which will be horrendous here even at a state school, unfortunately).
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:42 PM on August 30, 2011 shows how California community college units transfer to state schools, specifically. Private schools or out of state CC's are out of luck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:43 PM on August 30, 2011

haha, MLS is not the most fantastic idea. I though it would be nice but then I got one.. it was a pretty big waste of money.
posted by ibakecake at 7:54 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I went back to school after a dreadful academic performance my first go-round and then a looong hiatus. I did the community college route at first and then transferred into a traditional school. I highly recommend this, as the community college courses eased me back into academic responsibility without being too stressful. It was also a very inexpensive way to amass credits and improve my GPA.

As far as funding, fill out a FAFSA and talk with the financial aid office. The folks there can point you to more funding opportunities. I transferred into a private school, and after a couple semesters of good grades I was able to get an internal academic scholarship for transfer students.

Going back to school changed my life for the better in a million different ways. Good luck!
posted by swingbraid at 8:26 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Assuming your dropped out of school more than a year ago, those Incompletes are now F's. Many colleges will let you retake at least a few of them under a forgiveness/make-up policy. That will, more or less, wipe out your old grade. The old grade will still be on your transcript but only the new grade will be factored in your GPA. (Some schools take averages, either way your GPA goes up.)

Perhaps more importantly you'll be able to construct a narrative of your collegiate career in which you learned from your mistakes, went back to school, succeeded where you previously failed and our now ready to live up to your full potential.

In short, your poor performance in the final semester does not have to, by itself, significantly impact your shot a grad school.
posted by oddman at 9:25 PM on August 30, 2011

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