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September 29, 2012 3:27 PM   Subscribe

It's probably about time I go to college. I'm kind of (actually, very) confused. What do I do? (Wall of text inside)

Right now, I'm really confused about life and stuck in a dead-end, awful retail job that has had a pretty negative effect on me mentally and physically (especially mentally). I need to get out, but I've found it incredibly difficult to get an interview. It seems everybody wants somebody with a bachelor's degree or years of experience to make up for the lack of one. I don't have either.

So, I decided that it's probably about time I go to college so I can at least have a somewhat better chance of getting a better job and getting my life together. But, I don't know what to do. I don't know what I want to do with my life. Ideally, I'd like to wind up as a producer (a localization producer for video games would be nice) or a sound designer, but those are just pipe dreams. I was looking at Full Sail University, just for the hell of it, and they have a course called "Entertainment Business", which sounds appealing, but if I'm going to wind up $50,000 in debt, I don't want to just have a useless degree to show for it.

I also don't know what path I should take. Do I go to a community college first, then transfer somewhere to get my bachelor's degree, or do I skip community college altogether and just try to go for my bachelor's degree? And where do I go? I'd love to use college as an excuse to get out of where I currently am (inland Southern California). I'd like to try Northern California, or at least go to one of the coastal counties in Southern California. I don't know how feasible that is for somebody with very low income, though.

Additionally, I've also read just about everywhere that a bachelor of arts degree is useless, and to go for a bachelor of science. I am very bad at math (this was always my biggest obstacle in school), so I don't know how well I'd do getting one of those.

I want to be successful. At the very least, I want to be able to say that I tried. I'm going to be thirty in five years, and I'm terrified of the idea of being in the same place I am now.

I don't really know of anyone to talk to that could give me good advice. That's why I'm asking here.

So, I guess my question is: do you have any advice to offer on this? Have you ever been in the same (or a similar) situation, and what did you do? Are there any good options for me in California?

(If it matters, I'm a 25-year-old male, and I have graduated high school).

(I also apologize if this comes off as "help me sort my life out!" I just want to figure out this college thing, as I feel it'd be a good first step in beginning an actual life, rather than being depressed and working retail for another several years. I realize I'll probably still have to work retail while I'm doing school, but I'm hoping college will motivate me with the knowledge that I may be able to get a better job).
posted by Redfield to Education (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I was in a very similar situation to you around the same age, in Northern CA, and I took the community college -> UC route. I continued to work and it took me a few years, but I was able to complete the requirements, enroll at UC Berkeley, and complete my degree there. Although the CA system is struggling with its budget right now, I would highly recommend trying some community college courses. There is very little risk, because the cost is quite low (even waived entirely if your income is that low), and the course schedules tend to be quite flexible. You can pick and choose your courses and credit load, and it will allow you to explore different options. California in general has quite a good community college system. There is also very favorable arrangements between the University of California system and their community colleges. Not only do they look favorably on applicants from community colleges, in some cases there are even guaranteed admission agreements if you have completed your requirements with a certain GPA. Count yourself fortunate to be in California, as there is still a great public school system and there are many opportunities available if you willing to give it a shot. I can attest to the fact that ~8 years ago I was working a shitty minimum wage job and now I have a degree from a great university and work at a great job for a high-tech company doing something I love making great money.

I would not recommend Full Sail unless you have money to burn.
posted by sophist at 3:47 PM on September 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

I would 100% recommend against Full Sail University, or any for-profit university. Although they make it make very easy to get financial aid, they're also not accredited, and many employers don't look kindly upon them.

I would totally recommend doing community college for a couple of years and then transferring. It'll save you money in the long run, and if you transfer to a four-year university, nobody ever has to know you started at a CC.
posted by itsamermaid at 3:51 PM on September 29, 2012 [11 favorites]

The CC->university route has worked quite well for some people I know who were in situations similar to yours. It sounds like there isn't an academic subject you're truly interested in, though, which is kind of a handicap. But you may discover a calling at CC.
posted by hattifattener at 4:00 PM on September 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I realize that I'm disregarding many of your stated preferences, but I think it's worth putting this out there. Many many many people with Bachelor's degrees can't find jobs right now. People with Bachelor's degrees from Ivy League institutions, even. I've seen it. If you have to go in debt to get a Bachelor's degree, I would make sure that the degree will be in something that you will definitely be able to get a job in, afterwards. Otherwise, you will have lots of educational debt and large monthly loan payments for at least a decade, and no way to pay it off (and I believe educational debt can't be discharged by bankruptcy).

If I were sensible, and not foolishly trying for humanities academia, I would have gone into nursing, and it's something I urge you to consider as well. I believe you can get into nursing with only a two-year Associate's degree (?), which you can do cheaply at many community colleges. You could also go for a four-year BSN, but that will be pricier. You may be able to do the Associate's degree, and then keep on with the courses and convert it into a BSN while working (and maybe getting tuition remission for it, if your hospital is affiliated with a university - I believe my mom's hospital would pay 2500/semester tuition reimbursement for her and for each of her children). My mom is a nurse, and from all that I've heard, the jobs are reasonably plentiful (or at least, not as scarce as they are in other fields at the moment), very flexible hours, and you can make good money (probably somewhere around $50,000/year, and going up to $70,000 or $80,000 at some hospitals, and in some fields of nursing with a master's you can make $120,000 - 180,000, e.g. nurse anesthetist). You can also do 12-hour shifts instead of 8-hour, which means fewer shifts per week: at my mom's hospital, for instance, three 12-hour shifts/week are considered full time, so you have four days off each week to pursue your hobbies. You also, of course, get the heartwarming feeling of concretely helping those in dire need, which is priceless.

If nursing does not appeal to you, I'd urge you to look into some degree that is readily convertible to a secure job. Many of these are in the allied health field, but there may be other expanding fields too. I would strongly urge you not to take out educational debt to pursue a degree that may well not lead to a job. Many of my friends, from a top university, are over $100,000 in debt from four years of undergrad, and can't find well-paying jobs (and many can't find jobs at all). Many fields are incredibly tough to break into without connections, and it's really stressful trying to do that while having crushing loan payments. I'd hate to see you give up your current situation for something significantly worse. Something to think about.
posted by UniversityNomad at 4:07 PM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Find the job ad for your dream job, see those qualifications, and figure out how to get them.

If you want to be a producer, you need to work on your project management skills. I'd focus on business or any other area that lets you focus on project planning. See what your local community college offers. This will also provide you with skills you can use in other project management-type jobs. Something technical like engineering or computer science may also be good. Anything where you have to plan serious projects. And it will also work for you if the game industry dream doesn't work out.

If you want to get involved in localization, you need to get involved in localization of some kind. Maybe that means working with volunteer groups that do fansubs/dubs/translations of anime and manga. Maybe it means working with the guys who do translations of Japanese games that won't get released here in the US. Do you know another language to the advanced level? If not, you need to get studying. If you do, you should add more.

If you want to do sound design, you need to be teaching yourself and learning to do it now, then find a specialized audio-type program and do that.

If you want to be in gaming, your choices in California are Los Angeles, San Francisco/The Bay, and there are a couple in San Diego. That's pretty much it.

Here's something you can do: Go to the college or university you want to go to and find the classes you'd be taking in that subject. Check the syllabus and find what the textbooks are. Go to Amazon or your local used bookstore or your local library and buy/borrow that book. Read it and see if this is something you want to take a course in. Yeah, it might be expensive, but it'll be far more expensive to pay tuition and realize you hate it.

If you want to get your bachelor's, figure out where you want to go. Then check and see what community college offers a transfer program. Usually, your first 2 years are "core curriculum" anyway, so you can do it at University of Bigname and pay their high-sticker tuition, or you can do it at Your Local Community College and pay their much-lower tuition, then transfer to University of Bigname with all your pre-reqs done, a degree in hand, and only 2 years to pay for.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:08 PM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

First off: don't worry! You are far from the only person to have gone through this, and you're much earlier than many people. But you're also old enough to be eligible for a lot of non-traditional student resources and scholarships, so you're in a good spot.

My husband started community college at age 30 and is still working his way through, finishing up a BS in information and communication technologies (networking) through a distance ed program from one of our state universities. It hasn't been perfect, but it's been really rewarding for him. He's glad he started later in life; it helped him focus and draw on his life experience.

Here's something he said to a friend's son graduating high school:
I started college when I was 28 or so, and got into it to make someone happy. But after I got into it, it started to make me happy.
It made me happy because I could do it. That might not help you very much when you’re 18, but I realized that I could do it because I had experience now. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. In some ways, it wasn’t even as intense as high school. The subjects may be more in depth, but it was that high school is more about having 7 classes to go to every day; you have to make that work. You’re doing so many things at once that you don’t get a chance to really learn things.

I would suggest you start taking liberal arts college prep classes at whatever local college you have. Do NOT go to Capella or University of Phoenix or any other for-profit school; they're expensive and only focused on getting you in the door. If you need an online program for whatever reason, there are plenty of programs affiliated with brick-and-mortar schools that are very affordable.

I'd suggest starting with in-person classes, even one at a time, if you can. Keep in mind that some classes are better in person and some are fine online; look for online classes where the instructors make videos.

I work at a university, used to be married to an academic adviser, and worked in admissions as well as the registrar's office. I love helping people get going or get back into education. Please don't hesitate to contact me if I can help answer any questions.

You can do this! It's just hard to think of it sometimes when you're used to people telling you "no" in various situations. Just keep on. There are a lot of people who can and will help. Don't take no for an answer.
posted by Madamina at 4:09 PM on September 29, 2012

I just want to add that going into a four year university if you don't know what you want and are in a difficult monetary situation these days is a risky proposition. Community college will really allow you to not only get back into the mindset of schoolwork, but explore different courses and interests in a much less pressured environment. Even though I ended up spending 3 or 4 years at community college, by the time I got to university I knew exactly what I wanted out of it and had the right mindset to succeed. This ended up putting me ahead of many classmates who went to college just to get a degree, and still wanted to party and were trying to figure things out. As far as degree choices, I would highly recommend computer science or hard science if you can manage it. I personally feel that liberal arts degrees are in high supply and low demand, and that a science or engineering based degree will open so many more interesting career paths. Another thing about Full Sail is that while they make it easy to get loans, you will not get the level of federal and state grants you would get at a UC, not to mention low-interest government loans.
posted by sophist at 4:10 PM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

1) PLEASE DO NOT GO TO A FOR-PROFIT SCHOOL. PLEASE. Go to public college or university, not a private one. I would be in so much less debt now if someone had told me that and I would have gotten a much better and more valid education. If you ever decide that you want to go back to school, you can't transfer credits from private career colleges. It's a total waste.

2) How do you feel about trades? If you don't mind doing dirty work or working with your hands, there's pretty good money to be had in a lot of trades, and a fair bit of independance. If you do an apprenticeship, you'll be earning money while you're in school. Apprenticeship programs usually aren't too long, and once you're finished, you won't have a giant pile of student debt. Then you can work at your trade and save money for school while you figure out what you really want to do.
posted by windykites at 4:14 PM on September 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Do you know anyone who works in your dream fields--video game producer or sound designer? Or do you know someone who knows someone in those fields? If so, see if you can wangle an informational interview with them: ask if you could just spend 15 minutes with them over coffee to find out how the field works, how many openings there are, whether it's a growth field, where they recruit, what qualifications they look for, and how the person with whom you're talking got into the field. You could even cold call a couple of firms if there are any in your area, or somewhere you'll be traveling. A lot of professionals are happy to share that kind of information, as long as you make it clear up front that you just want an informational interview and you're not angling for a job.

That way, you'll get a realistic sense of whether your dreams are just pipe dreams, or whether there's a chance that you could realize them. If it's the latter, that is a powerful motivation to do well in school, and the information you get will help you choose the school and major.

Avoid for-profit schools unless several people in the field in which you want to work say that, in that field, the for-profit that you're considering is seen as reputable and a good place to get the training or credentials that they expect.

And finally: in most circumstances the community college --> 4-year college/university route is good. But I've heard horror stories of what the budget cuts in California have done to community college students' ability to get into the classes they need to get an associate's degree or to be able to transfer to a 4-year institution. Before going that route, check with students at the college you're thinking of attending, and ask them how hard it is to get the classes they need.

On preview: Windykites's suggestion about considering the trades is a good one, though it's worth finding out about state licensure regulations and any union restrictions before you decide to pursue one. I have a great deal of respect for the plumbers, electricians, appliance repairers, and other tradespeople with whom I've worked, and if you're both skilled and entrepreneurial, it's possible to make a very good living at them, and do work that is satisfying and really helps people out.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:25 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have no idea what you want to do - do not go do a degree. Do a trade.
posted by heyjude at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you feel the need to explore your options, Community College is the BEST way to do this. It's cheap, the classes are smaller (especially in the 101, entry-level courses) and you'll feel more part of a community. (So many ways to take that.)

If you think you'll like Southern California, check out your options there. You can get a job, perhaps even a full-time job and work your classes around it.

I told this story recently, but I dropped out of University after a mediocre performance and got a job at The Phone Company. I liked it a lot, and took a swing shift so I could spend my mornings finishing up my English degree, which I didn't use at all in my 25 year career in Telecommunications. Turns out I was good at it, and I liked it. Telecomm been bery, bery good to me.

Your dream jobs are highly unlikely to happen, not unless you are talented and gifted in those areas. What's plan B? What other jobs sound like stuff you might enjoy doing?

California Comminity Colleges can be places where you get an RN, Become an X-ray tech, Sonographer, Cosmotologist or any of another of the skilled trades. Start of with general classes and explore things that interest you.

None of us got our dream job handed to us because we got a degree.

If you like the looks of it, the skilled trades have apprenticeships, plumbing or electrical. The phone company has some great jobs.

Not everything is a dead end, but you have to meet a job half-way, you have to know what kinds of things are achievable, available and appeal to your talents and interests. College is usually a time and place where you can find this out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best community college programs have matriculation agreements with sister public universities, allowing you to transfer ALL of your credits to a bachelor program, saving you time and money. It allows you to get your gen ed requirements out of the way while you figure out wtf you're doing.

I discovered that being very bad at math was actually a combination of math anxiety and improper math study habits. Actually reading the textbook section (and doing the sample problems) that will be covered in the next lecture did wonders for my abilities--I went from hating all math to having calculus I & II be my two favorite classes. I had As in both. However, I still suck at arithmetic. Yay calculators.

As for your "pipe dreams," I don't think you can discount anything until you've had some experience in college. A friend of mine was absolutely certain that he wanted to program video games for a living. After working at various Pizza Huts for about a decade, I persuaded him to take out some loans and go to college. He was over 30 at the time. Not only did he discover, after taking various programming classes, that he had no desire to become a cubicle programmer, but he discovered a passion for economics, informatics, and complex systems, and he is now in a Ph.D. program. It's never too late. Seriously.
posted by xyzzy at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2012

I'm going back to school, I am hoping, in the winter (couldn't get in for ball due to the IRS being slow with getting me my tax transcript, thus flummoxing my attempts at applying for financial aid). One of the nice things in Washington State is they have a program for people like me - long-term unemployed looking for work and willing to retrain - which may have a match in California.

But yeah, no reason not to try. I am almost 20 years older than you, with a decade and a half experience in a field that is rapidly moving to India at a company that has gotten me laughed out of interviews and, according to some reports, is actually a strike against you for security clearances, so I have to do something different.

Go forth. Do things. Be awesome.
posted by mephron at 5:03 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Community college is exactly for people in your situation. It is fine going in not knowing what you want to eventually do. In community college, you can take the general education classes that are guaranteed to transfer to your state university system.
posted by Wordwoman at 5:49 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recommend going to a community college for a while to do some general education classes and see how things go. They typically offer workshops or classes that help you narrow your focus, pick a major and a career path, and help you better understand what you want out of a degree.

Holders of both B.A. and B.S. are struggling right now, but a big part of that is where our economy is. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't get one, necessarily, just that you should have a clear picture of how it's going to help you if you want to go into debt for it. Which is exactly what the counselors at your local community college should be helping you figure out.

For what it's worth, I started community college 3 years ago, and have transferred to a local public university. If you ask about my pipe dreams, I'll tell you I'd want to get paid to play video games all day or run a book shop. Back here in reality, I took a good, hard look at the skills I have, the working environment that's best for me, the kinds of things I wouldn't mind doing day in and day out for another 30+ years, and what's going to get me a job when college is done. That's how I chose my major.
posted by asciident at 7:16 PM on September 29, 2012

I agree with most of what others have said - community college is a good way to start. But do make sure you're checking on the transferability of courses. I work with students transferring from community college to my four-year institution, and I've worked with a lot of students who have taken completely random courses who are dismayed when they realize the coursework didn't transfer. Every four-year college has its own requirements for what it will & won't accept, and it can be really frustrating. Most (good) community colleges have staff whose jobs are helping students pick the right courses for transferring to a four-year college - find those people and work with them religiously.

Also, my own two cents: please disregard both your thoughts about how "useless" a B.A. vs. B.S. is and what UniversityNomad suggests about nursing - I don't care how easy a job is to get; if you're going to be working that job for the majority of hours of your waking time, if you don't at least find reasons to like it, your life will be hell.

B.A.s are not useless. They are what you make of them. Employers are not just looking for that degree: they're also looking for work experience, typically through things like internships. You already have work experience, so you're actually ahead of the game. Don't force yourself into classes you won't do well in, since it'll just mean a more expensive & longer-to-graduate degree. Whatever major you choose, start working with the university Career Center from the day you set foot on campus to get yourself positioned to find a great job as soon as you graduate.
posted by bibbit at 7:21 PM on September 29, 2012

If you have interest in a few industries or professions, why not seek out some people in those roles and ask for advice? Most established professionals would agree to being taken out for lunch by someone young and in need of mentorship, as long as you ask nicely and are respectful of their time. These people more than anyone else know precisely what preparation and training you would need to find a way into that industry. Focus your energies on finding a mentor.

If you can arrive at a college program with a goal and a next step already in mind, you will be so so so much better off than you would going in blind.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:28 PM on September 29, 2012

It's important that if you go to a California community college, you go into it with your eyes open. California CCs have been hit hard in recent years and in no way will you find small classes (most especially not in the entry level classes) and in fact you'll find a great deal of overcrowding and a need to beg/steal/borrow to get into the classes you need to TAG into a UC or the equivalent for a CSU (which, frankly, you shouldn't overlook--Cal State San Bernardino's a solid school and if you want to go coastal, there's SDSU, SFSU, Humboldt State, CSULB, etc etc).

I join others in urging you to not go for-profit. You'll find that you can get a much cheaper degree through the state system, as frustrating and expensive as it has gotten. I also join others in urging you to take a realistic look at your goals and evaluating whether college of any stripe is the correct next step to achieve those goals.

If you decide that college is in fact your next step, look at your local CC's offerings to get an idea of what's out there. Riverside City College is a pretty decent CC, even if it's not coastal, and you can get an appointment to sit down with their counselors and start plotting your path. It's very important, if you want a four year degree, to hew closely to the transfer requirements or else you'll waste your time on classes that won't transfer. Once you've got those ducks in a row, it's a matter of signing up for the appropriate basic classes and paying fees. And then you're off.
posted by librarylis at 8:04 PM on September 29, 2012

Since no one's said it, the BA vs BS distinction is non-existant when we're talking about the word on the degree. Both math and physics at Berkeley are a BA, for instance.* Some places offer a BA and a BS option in some subjects which may have subtly different requirements that may make a difference to you. But that's something to consider once you're actually faced with that choice.

To be honest, I strongly suspect the reason people say a degree in electrical engineering, say, is better than one in English is that there's a job called 'electrical engineer' and there's no job called 'English engineer', so the route to finding a job is less clear. However, even if it's objectively easier for the electrical engineer to find a job, having crappy grades in EE because you hated it probably erases that advantage (never mind then having to work as an electrical engineer).

The best community college programs have matriculation agreements with sister public universities, allowing you to transfer ALL of your credits to a bachelor program, saving you time and money. It allows you to get your gen ed requirements out of the way while you figure out wtf you're doing.

This is how it works in California. The website with all the articulation agreements is assist.org. There's a set of requirements that if you fulfil them at a community college will wipe out the breadth requirements at a UC or CSU (maybe insert some disclaimer if you're transferring to an engineering program--I assume that might be wonky).

Also, my feeling is that you're lucky being in California, even though the CCs are getting hit incredibly hard (along with the UC and CSU systems). There is actually infrastructure in place to get you from day one at a community college to finishing your degree and loads of people do it, which just isn't the case in a lot of states.

*There are two fairly obscure majors called Engineering Math and Statistics and Engineering Physics that get you a BS. I believe people intending to go to grad school in engineering do them. Probably also a few people who want to switch to math or physics, but for whom switching out of the engineering college would be a headache (because they'd get hit with a load of different requirements).
posted by hoyland at 8:43 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like Hoyland said, there's not much different between a BA and a BS for employment purposes. I think, when people are telling you to go for a BS, what they are really saying is 'study a science or a pre-professional field instead of humanities or social sciences.' They may be right in terms of job prospects (says the underemployed anthropology major), but don't discount the value of having some humanities classes under your belt.

Also, if you go the community college route it might be best to earn those credits before you move anywhere. I don't know if California does this too, but in my state if you move from one county to another you need a year to establish residency before you can get the lowest possible CC tuition. Otherwise you get charged as an 'out of county' resident and have to pay additional fines. If that's the case in CA too, better to earn your CC credits where you're established and then move away for a four-year school, where only your state residency matters.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:53 PM on September 29, 2012

*Additional fees, not additional fines. They feel like fines when you're paying twice as much in the city you damn well live in!
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:54 PM on September 29, 2012


Maybe a good option would be to start classes at a CC part-time or on the lower end of full time while you continue looking for (meaningful) work. It's a way to figure out some interests without paying a ton, and as others have mentioned, it can easily transition to university credit. People don't care where you started school, they care where you graduated from.
posted by jorlyfish at 11:10 PM on September 29, 2012

(If it matters, I'm a 25-year-old male, and I have graduated high school).

Oh. Double check that you're registered for the draft. Financial aid is held hostage to draft registration and you need to do it before you turn 26 (or have your decision not to register be an informed one). If you are a conscientious objector, the standard advice is to register on paper and write your objector status on the form.
posted by hoyland at 5:43 AM on September 30, 2012

First of all, if you have no specific career goals and no real preference in a major aside from nothing that requires math, I think you're in the same position as 90% of university undergrads. Also, most undergraduate degrees are "useless" without a few years of experience in the workplace. The degree qualifies you for a category of white-collar jobs and gives you a leg-up over a non-degree holder, but the degree alone is little more than a foot in the door.

If I were in your position I would do this:

1. Make a list of five dream careers. Go crazy, don't aim for something realistic, but do try to think of real jobs that actually exist. Sounds like yours is something in the video game industry.

2. Interview people that have your dream career, either through email/twitter or in person. Ask them a) about the job itself, b) what did they need to do to get to this point in their career, and c) what did they study in school and what connections did they make outside the classroom.

3. Based on #2, select a list of three possible majors.

4. Apply at a local community college and start taking general education credits. These are 100-level courses that almost any four-year college will accept in transfer. Keep your grades up.

5. Consult a counselor at the community college to determine your best options for applying to a four-year school. Don't apply to for-profit colleges like University of Phoenix – they have terrible graduation rates and are, generally, a scam.

6. Apply and get ready to work hard for another three years.

Basically, aim for what really motivates you. Do you want to make video games? Or be involved in the business side of things? Do you want to learn how to program? Find out where your true pipe dream lies and use that as a motivator for getting through school. Even if you don't end up exactly where you want to be in four years, you'll be closer than you are now.

I know people talk about community college disparagingly but they're wrong – community colleges are an excellent resource for people changing careers or trying to get an undergrad degree from a non-traditional situation. I have used community college career counselors myself, even though I already have an undergrad degree. They're a great resource, and you would be remiss to not use that resource.

Here's my "go to community college" story:
My cousin was not a great student in high school. He got C's and didn't both applying to college in his senior year because he didn't know what he wanted to do anyway. So he spent a year playing MMORPGs and teaching himself physics through game programming. He also took a few community college classes, realized he liked physics, took every available course at his local community college, and then applied to a local state school's physics department. Not even a top-tier state school. He did incredibly well for the next three years, because he found something he loved. Then he applied to Yale for graduate school. And he got in. The guy is now studying for a PhD at m-fing Yale, and he started at a community college in suburban Chicago.
posted by deathpanels at 8:08 AM on September 30, 2012

This is how it works in California. The website with all the articulation agreements is assist.org. There's a set of requirements that if you fulfil them at a community college will wipe out the breadth requirements at a UC or CSU (maybe insert some disclaimer if you're transferring to an engineering program--I assume that might be wonky).

Yes, I agree that CC to university is the way to go, and assist is the thing to use to figure out the specific classes for the major you want. You waste a lot less time taking specifically targeted classes than if you just go the TAG route, but if you don't know what you want to do exactly, TAG perhaps is the best choice. However, my feeling is that if you don't know what you want to to, there's not much point in going to college just because you have a vague notion that you ought to.

I transferred from CC to UCDavis, pretty much using assist and the UC Davis site for my major to find out exactly what I needed to take. I transferred with all my GE out of the way and all the specific lower division courses that were available through Peralta Colleges out of the way. I had a lot more opportunities to take fun or interesting electives once I was actually at Davis than many of my peers. All my CC classes were as rigorous as the university level courses, but much smaller class sizes in almost all cases, especially the night classes.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:42 PM on September 30, 2012

Since you don't really know what you want to do, the first thing that I thought of was some of those personality tests that tell you what type of job you might be good at. There are a bunch of them free online - I wouldn't pay for one or buy a book or a course, but I think it couldn't hurt to just see what they say. Google for "free personality test for job placement" to see some. Or check your library for a copy of "What Color is your Parachute?"

I'm a little surprised to see that nobody else has mentioned this yet in this thread - is this old advice that is no longer valid? It used to be all the rage 10-15 years ago.
posted by CathyG at 7:01 PM on September 30, 2012

I know this is late, and nobody will see it, but thanks to everybody who responded. I decided to enroll into a community college (not the one I wanted, but I'm not in the position to be choosey) where I'll be doing a business administration program that's intended for people who plan on transferring to a 4-year institution, and went with "Option C", which is "the transfer curriculum which fulfills the lower division general education requirements of both the UC and the CSU".

Math is, of course, still a requirement, both for the general education and Business Administration courses, and I'm still absolute dreadful at it, however, I've purchased a pre-Algebra book as a first step in an attempt to get a better grasp of math as a whole.

I'll look into the TAG thing today.

CathyG: I've actually done the personality type stuff in the past, however, the recommendations for my type (ISTP) are a little weird.
posted by Redfield at 11:43 AM on October 26, 2012

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