I'm having trouble connecting the dots.
July 26, 2012 10:14 PM   Subscribe

How do I get over no longer being able to afford the awesome school I almost graduated from? I'm at the end of the (long, winding) road, staring down a Voluntary Withdrawal form and it's killing me, despite everything I'm managing to tell myself. Gratuitous B.A. derailment details inside.

(Sorry for the length here, I've been meaning to ask this for weeks. I'll do my best to condense everything into something that makes sense).

The school year before last (2010-2011), I was attending a Good School in Washington, D.C. I was studying something that interested me, meeting wonderful people that I still care a lot about, and I had an amazing job that I loved at a particularly well-known museum that I was able to get through federal work-study.* It was all pretty damned sweet, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have experienced it.

The school was also very expensive. I transferred in from a community college, and the year that I attended was financed by a substantial loan from a family member (after generous financial aid from the school). This family-member-loan was a one-shot deal, and the plan was to get a bank loan on my own to finance my senior year (which would have been my only such loan). As it turned out, I needed a cosigner. Months of trying to secure this loan and convince potential co-signers that they were in good hands (an exhausting task) was all for naught. I was three thousand miles away from school when classes started up again, and I was devastated.

So the school year that was to be my last (2011-2012) was spent in limbo while I tried to improve my credit. I spent a term at a state university in Portland, Oregon to keep my mind at-the-ready academically. My financial aid in D.C. turned out to be a pittance this year, and, just like that, I'll be finishing my B.A. in Portland (2012-2013). The school in this case isn't terrible. It's a hell of a lot cheaper than the other one, and I'm going to be able to graduate without having a single bank loan! I'll be indebted to the feds and my gracious family member for a while, but I'm otherwise allowing this to count as a small victory. Another would be that I feel I've grown tremendously in the last year and a half, which is part of why I moved to DC in the first place. So that worked, a little.

I'm always reminding myself about how this situation is playing out to my probable benefit (I'll graduate with less and no "evil" debt, I'm much closer to family and many important friends, I might be able to get away without working during the school year so I can focus on my grades, and / but Portland's full of beautiful girls, etc, etc). It's just that any time I see D.C. on TV or in the movies, I often end up seeing where I worked. Or, when I see / hear a former professor talking about some event on TV or the radio, even friends on facebook(!) I get that socked-in-the-gut feeling. This has been going on for tooooo long.

So I guess what I'm wondering is this: Is it likely that just sending in that withdrawal form and charging on ahead will help? That's going to happen one way or another, but I'd like to move on with my life and emotions at any rate. Have any of you been in similar situations, maybe not with school per se, but with...? Any anecdata or advice or get-with-its are much appreciated.

* This job required a full calendar year's commitment before we were given permission to include the position on our resumes / use our supervisors as references. It goes without saying that I failed to meet this commitment. So while I learned a lot personally, I don't know that I can bring its weight to bear professionally. It's not the end of the world, but God Damn It, you know? This is one of the big hairy things that's eating me alive. Bonus question, is it worth asking my supervisor for a waiver of sorts in this regard?

TL;DR: Fantastic opportunities lost, replaced by other pretty-darned-okay opportunities. How do you detach from the first?

Thank you!
posted by Chutzler to Education (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So you have the benefit of a great network of friends and professors in DC and from this well-known school, but you have freedom from crushing loans? And you can go back to DC when you've graduated - in just one year! - and continue to pursue your interests there?

Send in the form. This is a great outcome.

I'm sorry it's not what you had planned, and you have every right to grieve for your former plans for a limited time. Life is going to be like this -- facts force us to make choices which close certain doors all the time, and closing doors is always a bit sad. But being in a "smaller pond" may open other opportunities for you.

Focus on what you can do this year. Getting to know a professor or two who can write you an excellent recommendation, or doing political or museum work in Portland, or whatever will be useful resume material moving forward.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:24 PM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Bonus question, is it worth asking my supervisor for a waiver of sorts in this regard?

Very much so, yes! Costs you nothing, and why wouldn't they agree? How in the world can they enforce what you put on your resume? And if your supervisor liked your work, why wouldn't he say so to someone else? Make sure the supervisor knows how much you enjoyed it and learned from it, how you left due to financial constraints and not due to grades or lack of interest, and how you want to return to that type of work upon graduation.
posted by Houstonian at 10:31 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I went to a cheap non-prestigious college. This means that I have no student debt.

My lack of debt was, in my opinion, a much bigger help than a degree from a more prestigious school would have been. I was able to do an unpaid internship after college which led to the career I now have, for example. Meanwhile, I know people who went to Ivy League schools who had to take dull corporate jobs in order to immediately start paying back loans, even if said jobs were not in their field.

I spent my freshman year of college at a more prestigious -- and vastly more expensive -- school. There were piles and piles of "opportunities". All of them cost money. My parents wouldn't pay for me to spend the summer putting on a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so ultimately that opportunity might as well not have existed. Then I transferred and ended up living in an artists' collective and creating video installations, basically for free. Same general type of "opportunity", but one has financial strings attached.

Side note: You're not "allowed" to use this job on your resume? How the fuck do they enforce that? If someone calls up and asks if you worked there, they say no on principle if you didn't stay the full year, regardless of the circumstances? FUCK THAT NOISE, dude. If I were you I'd probably just list it on my resume anyway. Chances are nobody's going to call and ask, and if someone does, your dates are right there on the resume. You're the one being honest, here. If you're really worried, just tell the interviewer what you said here. They'll probably understand.

(Also, are you sure they didn't mean, like, for grad school recommendations and such? To keep people from taking the job, half-assing around for a couple of months, and then swanning about asking for letters of recommendation?)
posted by Sara C. at 10:33 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can understand them not wanting to do recs for everyone who's ever worked for them for a week, but are you sure you are not misunderstanding about putting the job on your resume? I have never heard of trying to deny people the right to put an experience that they actually had on their resume just because they didn't do it long enough.

Usually it is the prospective employer's job to scrutinize how long you stayed at each place of employment and to draw conclusions from it, not the former employer's job to decide what your work with them means/whether it counts as a valid experience for your future jobs.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:47 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

While B.A.s from prestigious schools feel like they will do a lot for your future, it doesn't seem like the positives often outweigh the exorbitant tuition. After acquiring my BA, and also seeing most of my friends get theirs, I have come to realize how much more important grades, reference letters, personal interest and work experience are. Getting into a prestigious graduate school is VERY possible if you've proven yourself academically without coming from prestigious undergrad (again, you need stellar references too). You could also very easily get into a less-prestigious (i.e. non Ivy-league) school with a great graduate program in your field and get funding! Even fewer money problems!
And honestly, work experience is so much more important than the origins of your first degree. I totally agree with what people have said above, too - just list the work experience on your resume anyway. There are all sorts of internships and work-study programs that only last a semester or two, so I doubt potential employers would blink an eye if you listed it as less than a year.

So, well done - work experience, a degree, and a much better financial outlook than most college grads. Hooray!
posted by thebots at 11:09 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This article may help: Turning 'Plan B' Into a 'Plan A' Life

posted by wenat at 11:24 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went to a cheap non-prestigious college. This means that I have no student debt.

My lack of debt was, in my opinion, a much bigger help than a degree from a more prestigious school would have been. I was able to do an unpaid internship after college which led to the career I now have, for example. Meanwhile, I know people who went to Ivy League schools who had to take dull corporate jobs in order to immediately start paying back loans, even if said jobs were not in their field.

This is not a small thing in the longer journey of your life.

Right now is hard. And honestly, you may always feel a pang or two for the loss.

In 2000, when I was choosing Business Schools, I was interviewed at MIT and Kellogg but offered a 70% scholarship by Pittburgh (NOT Carnegie Mellon) for their 11 month program.

For BSchools the brand is critical and it took me a long time to internally integrate my sensible decision (almost free program in half the time) with the no name aspects of it compared to "what might have been".

But the fact remained that the market for MBAs crashed in early 2001 and I was free to explore a career and career path that has led to where I'm happy today than if I'd emerged in 2002 with mountains of debt and a shrinking job market.

Its hard. Only in hindsight will this path come to bring value to you - little consolation today when you're going through all of this, but remember the most powerful part of your question (in the context of today's global economy): and I'm going to be able to graduate without having a single bank loan!
posted by infini at 3:52 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's the thing: DC will still be there. And if you come back with experience, letters of recommendation, or new skill sets, you might even find more opportunities the next time around! Please do talk to your supervisors at your old museum job. That kind of hands-on experience is crucial to getting other internships and jobs, but there's no reason you should be a pariah or act as if it never happened. If it was, for example, part of the Smithsonians, I had a great experience as just a lowly volunteer; it would have been really easy to keep coming back as a volunteer even after a break, and I'm pretty sure I would have had a good shot at the internship program. Just don't forget to keep tabs on the specifics of what you liked doing and learned-- those are transferable and useful, no matter what coast you're on. Have you volunteered or worked at any of Portland's museums? I suspect you'll feel better if you start feeling involved with a community where you matter, and so that when you do contact professors or old employers in DC, you can let them know that you're in a good and productive place. I'd even bet you can still attend alumni events from your Old School.

I know this, a little. I was in a master's program abroad at a university that gets brought up all the time, and I loved every minute of it. But I couldn't do the two-year version and certainly couldn't transfer it to being a DPhil right then for personal and financial reasons. I absolutely think I made the correct decision to come back as planned, but I think about what I might be doing or what digs I could be working on all the time. I've sometimes had little panic attacks about losing that world, but the truth is that I've found a lot of chances here too. I'm more solid financially, my partner and I are no longer across an ocean, I've volunteered with a great museum here which has a fantastic collection for my time period....and thing is: I could go back. I'm still young. If something happens that can make it work, I could probably get in and do a DPhil, and the university is, hah, definitely not going anywhere.

Basically: you'll be okay. This sounds like the correct choice to make, even if it's hard to process and deal with everything right now.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:05 AM on July 27, 2012

Is it likely that just sending in that withdrawal form and charging on ahead will help?

Yep. Rip that band-aid straight off and get on with your life.

One thing I have observed is that people who have found good opportunities in the past tend to find them again and again. It's an attitude thing I think. In any case it is probably time for you to stop focusing on the last one and start considering the next.

Also as others have said, Do Not Underestimate the value of no debt.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:07 AM on July 27, 2012

RE: the job. Put it on your resume honestly, for the time you were there. 6 months, 9 months, whatever it was. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. I'd ping my supervisor (if he or she is even still there) to see if they'd be willing to give me a reference, but if called to verify employment, they'll have to answer honestly. Sheesh!

As for the school thing, you'll get over it. I too graduated from a State University after attending quite a few schools (and seven years) and it's not prevented me from going where I wanted to go in life.

In fact, I think my weird road to where I am today suited me very well.

The old rules don't apply anymore. Those prestigious schools come with a price; and many are finding that the prestige isn't worth the crushing debt.

Besides, what keeps you from returning to D.C. and taking more classes, or persuing a master's or doing whatever it is you want to do?

Your life will be filled with regret and disappointment. Learning to deal with it and to roll with the punches is the best way to insure that you'll get through life without too much angst.

As you are discovering dwelling on "what might have been" is soul-crushing and ultimately pointless.

Congratulate yourself on being mature enough to do well in plan b, and start thinking about where life will take you next.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on July 27, 2012

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