Back to school? What else?
July 1, 2012 3:40 PM   Subscribe

My situation: I think I want to return to school. Due to health problems, I left a previous education in rather poor standing - and after several years I'm considering an entirely different line of work. How do I pick up the pieces and start something new?

I started the fall of 2007 at a quiet liberal arts school with good academics and plans to go after a BFA in an applied art. Photography had been an interest for several years and I was quite good at it; this was the obvious choice. They gave me decent aid, so I went for it, even with their small art department. I took art history, some studio credits, a bit of CS and polysci, and played music with their orchestra. I had a nice time and pulled a 3.35 over two semesters and a winter session. I can summon transcripts and credit details if necessary.

I applied for a transfer that spring, 2008, and made it in to another school for a proper BFA education. Art school. I was excited.

In May 08, in the predawn hours one morning, I went to the hospital in a terrific amount of pain. I was there for two weeks. Crohn's disease. The summer before my first term at this new art school was grim. I had another flare over orientation weekend (hospitalized) and the following year was entirely touch-and-go. Couldn't make it to class half the time but hung on like an idiot. Trashed my GPA.

Fall of 09 I pulled the plug on the BFA. Convinced I should try to keep moving, I enrolled at a state school (in the same city) and took some light credits. I had a mixed experience. Health dogged my attendance yet again. I stopped after the 2010 winter session with a really beat up GPA.

After fighting with many medications, I decided to get on Remicade (scary side affects my big hesitation) and wow! what a drug. I gained a lot of energy and confidence back and life returned to normal. Fall 2010 I took a job with a small clinic scanning medical records. I am now their dedicated IT guy and love the work. Healthy amounts of freelance web development on the side has kept me pretty comfortable. I formed a LLC to offer web dev and IT services to my small pool of clients. I could put my shoulder behind this, but fear it might not go far in this competitive town. Maybe this is the best option, but it worries me.

So now I am in this awkward role, where I have decent income and little debt, but feel unsure of the long term plan. IT seems unstable, not long term - I hear horror stories from friends with similar jobs. It is highly competitive should I want to move on, and I have zero credentials. I have lots of surface experience in many areas, but the deeper knowledge eludes me given my busy schedule - gotta work, can't be studying on the job. I'm worried that as time passes, I'll get stuck here and lose any chance of moving forward.

Web development is my strongest skill. I like writing code for web. I would like to do software, but only know the very basics. Application design for mobile technology is very interesting. I am decent at making pretty design work, given my time doing art-stuffs in school and for freelance clients. Server admin and network engineering are fun but I have much to learn. The 'many hats' thing works for my current gig, but I realize that I need to pick one area and bunker down.

So, to boil this down:

1- Do I go back to school? Is self study a good path? If I stick with IT, are Microsoft certs worthwhile? I want to make software - is a CS degree the best starting point?

2- Where can I find information on worthwhile CS programs? I know of many excellent places to study, but I doubt with my situation I'll get in anywhere prestigious. Affordability is key - either low tuition or good aid offerings is a plus.

3- If I find a school that looks like a fit, how do I clean up this mess and get in? Ideally I would like to erase my bad year and start fresh. This seems impossible. I'm worried that I'll be stuck dealing with lame options, which makes self-study more attractive.

If anyone here has experience with a bad health situation and college, please share. Thank you hive mind!
posted by roygbv to Education (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The rules are different for returning as an adult learner. Start doing your research on programs and schools. Talk to a college counselor. You may find that going back to school is not as problematic as you think.
posted by Michele in California at 3:48 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could continue to work your day job and do a CS degree online, full or part time. Thomas Edison is a real degree, you can transfer in credits, they don't care about your prior GPA as long as you have a highschool degree. It's very cost efficient at $164 a credit, plus 1.5k per year.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:01 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I also had a trashed GPA from an initial undergrad attempt gone wrong (not so much a health situation, more of a chronic bad decision-making situation). When I went back as an adult, the place where I earned by B.S. (a 100+ year old Jesuit university - not a shady for-profit) calculated my GPA only based on the classes I took with them. As a result, my formerly (sadly low) GPA was transformed into a summa cum laude graduation. I'm now in one of the top health care management graduate programs in the country.

So those old problems do not have to dog you forever. I think it is fairly common to "restart" the GPA in programs that target adults returning to school - and those are definitely the programs you should look at. These kinds of programs are offered by lots of schools - state universities, private colleges - there are probably several in your area. I strongly recommend you steer clear of for-profit schools (U of Phoenix and the like).

Health IT is really booming right now and will continue to be hot. Since it sounds like you're already working in that environment and liking it, I encourage you to think about preparing yourself to move into more responsible roles in that arena. There isn't a lot of software development going on at the provider level (although you might consider a career with one of the big health care software houses: Epic, McKesson, Cerner, Siemens, GE, etc.). Hospitals and clinics need more infrastructure, analyst and PM roles.

If you're interested in this, get involved with your local HIMSS chapter. Meet people and find out where they got their MIS or CS degrees and how happy they were with the program. This is also a good way to get a handle on the wide range of IT jobs that are available in health care (from web dev to server wrangler to clinical analyst to DBA to code monkey).

With the federal government pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into health care IT right now, it is probably the best possible place to be in IT. Having clinic experience is a big plus for you, if you're interested in leveraging it.
posted by jeoc at 5:27 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all, why do you care about a GPA? I attended many universities and transferred credits all over the freaking place. It didn't hurt me at all. I went to state schools primarily, graduating from San Francisco State University with a BA in English. Then I got the opportunity to go to a mediocre private schoool for my MBA, again, the GPA didn't hurt me at all.

Can you go to a state school with an emphsis on what you want to study in Web Design? As for Microsoft certifications, they're helpful, but experience is better.

I'm not a huge believer in getting a degree in MIS/CS, only because by the time you finish the class, it's obsolete.

For example, I'm an administrator for a very popular program right now. I'm self-taught, basically having been given a system and carte blanche to build it and maintain it however I saw fit. I never sat in a classroom, but instead just got my hands dirty.

If I were to be certified, I'd have to sit in a class for a week and then every quarter, when there are updates, keep taking exams. For now, it's not worth it to me.

Finishing the BA is totally worth it, not because you'll get anything for it, but because you won't automatically be excluded from jobs for not having one.

Transfer the credits you can, don't transfer the credits you don't like. Don't worry about your GPA, no one else gives a flying eff.

As for IT, stay there until you can't anymore. Then do something else.

There's no such thing as a lifetime of employment. No guarantees that the job you have to day will even exist in 5 years (talk to some travel agents about that). Your ability to roll with the punches will dictate your ability to maintain employment over the years.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:10 AM on July 2, 2012

Oh, I forgot.

If your current employer will pay for it, consider getting a Project Management Professional certification. It's honking EXPENSIVE and really, really hard, but once you have one, you can get PAID!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:12 AM on July 2, 2012

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