Relative and her college parted ways. She needs a new college. Help?
February 12, 2014 2:04 PM   Subscribe

It's a really raw deal, but the point is that she needs to find a new college. She was going to a top-tier school (Ivy League). I'm helping her navigate this next challenge - but where do we start? What are good resources or people to talk to that could help us create a list of attractive and viable colleges? Or, if you have actual college suggestions, that's great too. Specifics inside.

The reason I say it's a raw deal is because essentially she is being kicked out for depression. And yes, we're fighting it. Without going into the specifics too much, she had fine grades (B average) and was not kicked out for disciplinary reasons. But that said, if this expulsion holds up, it will look like she got kicked out of school. A great next school would be a place that:
-Is academically on par, or at least somewhat close, to the last school
-Accepts students who have already completed some college
-Would be open to hearing her complicated, but ultimately sympathetic, story (we just fear that blindly sending out applications to big, top-tier universities would be a recipe for failure given how this looks on paper)

We're in need of college suggestions, or suggestions for people to talk to or websites/books that might guide us. The advisers at her previous college are not an option, because screw them.

Any ideas?
posted by Anonymousness to Education (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I went to an ivy school and it was, in fact, very depressing. It might not be on her terms, but leaving might be the best thing that could happen to her in this situation.

I think the first thing you should do is help her get help for her depression. No college is going to solve that issue. Lots of college students face depression, and finding the best possible college that will accept her is not going to help her succeed or be not-depressed.

After helping her get some depression help, I would ask her where she might like to go to school and what she's looking for.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:09 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like there are some similarities to this story, which I first heard about on metafilter. "We Just Can't Have You Here." The situation is so similar that I'm sure it would be worthwhile for both of you to read it-- for sheer comfort alone it was very helpful to me to know other people were in the same situation.

I'm sorry I can't help with the college choice, because I don't believe an Ivy-League education is worth the amount of debt most students accrue. But if your relative needs to talk to someone who has struggled and had some success with depression in a college setting, feel free to encourage her to drop me a memail.
posted by seasparrow at 2:09 PM on February 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

It would help to know what she would like to do......but ultimately, smaller liberal arts colleges tend to be kinder on a lot of those fronts and can even provide a better education with a lot more direct contact with faculty and administrators, too.

But first, she needs help with her depression. And she needs to be in a solid place where starting at a new school is in her best interest right now. Lots of people take time off in between colleges for lots of reasons, and it can turn out to be better in terms of rebooting the college experience for the student and in terms of time in getting everything together to apply to a new school.

What I wouldn't do right now --- I wouldn't even be working on the college issue until her depression is addressed.
posted by zizzle at 2:14 PM on February 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

The main thing that colleges are going to want to hear is that the reasons someone was kicked out of school have been 1) identified and 2) dealt with. Your relative needs to get that under control before anything else happens.

That said, without knowing many of the specifics, it sounds like this is a very severe case. Most of the cases I have heard of (I do not work in deanery, but sort of parallel to it) involve people who were asked to take a break because their depression (etc.) affected their grades so much that they went below the minimum threshold. They were then given the opportunity to return after showing how things are under control now. Something must be tipping your relative's school off to the thought that either she is a danger to herself/others or it's too severe for her to ever return.

But every college is different.

I know someone who was home from Harvard for either a semester or a year for health reasons, and I'm pretty sure this was it. In her case, she took classes at her local university while she was still close to family and undergoing treatment. This could happen with a community college or four-year institution. If your relative is up to it, this would probably be a good way to show that she is making good-faith progress toward a degree no matter where she is.

Depression and anxiety may also fall under the purview of disability services offices, if she ends up needing additional assistance down the road.

Shot in the dark for the future: how about Carnegie Mellon? It's a fantastic school, but I've also heard of a lot of students who are, shall we say, a little off the social beaten path doing well there, in part because of support networks.
posted by Madamina at 2:14 PM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Most people I know who left college under similar circumstances completed their studies at their relevant state/public school. But one other guy I know went to Reed and successfully finished his studies there.

And I second taking classes at a local community college to demonstrate good faith towards completing a degree.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 2:16 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hi - thanks for the initial responses. Just to be clear, the depression is being treated and has improved substantially (not fully, but still). We would not be turning to the "what college?" question otherwise.
posted by Anonymousness at 2:16 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

-Accepts students who have already completed some college

Almost all colleges accept transfer students. There are fewer transfer spots open, but there is no reason why your relative can't just start filling out transfer applications to colleges of a similar caliber that she would like going to.
posted by deanc at 2:17 PM on February 12, 2014

We would not be turning to the "what college?" question otherwise.

Nearly all schools - even the Ivies - accept transfer students. Where she's going to want to go will depend a lot on what she's interested in, whether she wants to go to an urban or rural school, big or small, etc. - a whole lot of info we don't have.

Off the top of my head, based on experiences (mostly from years ago, but hey) of my own and that of friends: Wesleyan (the one in Connecticut); Smith College; Bowdoin; Brown.
posted by rtha at 2:22 PM on February 12, 2014

Oh: Where else did she apply when she was in high school? Is she still interested in any of them?
posted by rtha at 2:23 PM on February 12, 2014

What area, geographically? Major? Size of school? Does she want to stay in a bigger school? What level of financial aid would she need, and were there any internships/programs/paid jobs she would want in her new school?

I would say that SLACs are often really good at handling students and complications like this, but without any info on what she needs/wants from a college degree it's going to be hard to give really strong recommendations.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:24 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would suggest that she should think about transferring to a school that is fairly close to family and those who can give her some support if the depression issues return in the future. Can you update this with the location at least regionally where her family is located, so that people can suggest some colleges perhaps within a few hours of that location? Also, knowing what her major is or what she is considering majoring in would be helpful as well in offering suggestions for schools.

Also, this: Where she's going to want to go will depend a lot on what she's interested in, whether she wants to go to an urban or rural school, big or small, etc. - a whole lot of info we don't have.

I will say, I know people with similar issues who went on to thrive at their state schools. I would not count out state schools (speaking as a happy alumna of one.)
posted by gudrun at 2:25 PM on February 12, 2014

Community college for a year or so to complete the necessary transfer curriculum credits to transfer to the nearest state school to finish a four year degree.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:25 PM on February 12, 2014

Let me kindly suggest that you find an objective (perhaps paid) adviser to help relative with this question.

What I see in the post you wrote is a lot of inflammatory verbiage around the situation (raw deal ... screw them) and I do understand that it is probably a terrible situation. I'm very sorry, and I hope that relative is getting better.

What I don't see in this post is any kind of indicator at all of how to choose a college or university from the thousands out there. What are relative's interests? What size of college or university? Etc. As a previous poster indicated, almost all of them will accept some transfer credit. We need more to go on than that.

My advice would be: step back from your obvious emotional involvement in the story here, and focus on how to solve to forward task -- with someone else.
posted by Dashy at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Evergreen State College

Small, personal, kind to unusual situations, top-notch faculty, and plentiful options for self-directed/accelerated study.

I'm a biased alum, but it's a fantastic place for smart kids who don't do well in 'Big U' situations.
posted by gyusan at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2014

jetlagaddict: Northeast would be ideal. Second to that would be California or any big city. Size of college doesn't matter, and financial aid wouldn't be necessary.

As for academic areas of interest: computer science and art.

rtha: she is still interested in the schools that she was accepted to in HS. Do you think the fact that she was previously admitted helps?
posted by Anonymousness at 2:28 PM on February 12, 2014

Dashy: that is precisely what we're looking for. We're more than willing to speak to an objective adviser. But where do we go to find a good one? Yelp?
posted by Anonymousness at 2:30 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

She might consider Hampshire College.
posted by gudrun at 2:32 PM on February 12, 2014

She might consider Hampshire College.

Hampshire had a standing policy when I was there (a ways back) to kick out any kid who had tried to commit suicide. If your relative's issues with depression concern a suicide attempt, I would not suggest them. There are many great schools where self-motivation is a huge part of being able to get through them. Hampshire is one, Evergreen (also suggested) is another. They are great places for people with alternative views on things but there is not a lot of structure there and people can find themselves a bit adrift for longer than they might if they were in a more conventional school. Hampshire was perfect for me, but I'd be wary of suggesting that it was perfect for other people.
posted by jessamyn at 2:35 PM on February 12, 2014

Unless anyone happens to know someone or was in this sort of situation themselves, we're all just going to display our biases about universities. To me, it seems like your starting point should be to revisit the list of places she was interested in before, see if she's still interested in them and try and get the relevant information from them--whether whatever expulsion language ends up on her transcript would be a deal breaker, how many transfer students they accept, etc.

You may want to look for places with robust disability services offices, who could hopefully help avoid this situation recurring should her depression recur. (I'm assuming that the university is essentially looking to protect their own image here. You want somewhere that will work with students, even if it means damaging their four year graduation rate or whatever.)
posted by hoyland at 2:37 PM on February 12, 2014

Do you think the fact that she was previously admitted helps?

It might, it might not. The only way to find out is to contact the admissions offices.

The reasons that got her admitted last year or the year before or whenever may not apply to getting her admitted in the future (admissions people are trying to build a forest, not select individual trees that are in and of themselves perfect), and they may or may not help in a transfer situation.

She should investigate her previous admits; she should go online to college confidential or one of the other zillion college sites with robust forums and poke around for anecdata about tranferring. She should pick the schools she likes the looks of most and contact their admissions offices for info about transferring because of a medical separation from her previous school. Keep in mind that this is an extremely busy time of year for admissions offices.
posted by rtha at 2:38 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

This might be a good place to start. Best wishes.
posted by Dashy at 2:38 PM on February 12, 2014

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that most colleges -- Ivy, LAC, public, private, not elite at all -- treat cases like this one in the same unsympathetic way. I'm sure there are exceptions but I have heard many stories from all different kinds of schools that sound like this one.

That said, the approach I've seen work best in these cases is, as previously stated, to attend community college for a year to demonstrate continued interest, stability, and ability to achieve academically. After that, she is extremely likely to be admitted to at least one of the schools that already admitted her when she was a college senior.

I see a lot of people recommending non-traditional schools like Evergreen and Hampshire and quite frankly I think that sounds like a poor idea for someone coming out of a situation like this -- those schools are great for people who are specifically looking for a non-traditional, unstructured college experience but that's not at all the sense that I got from your question.
posted by telegraph at 2:38 PM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would interview a couple of local college advisors (the kind that help kids get into the right the school, not the kind that work for a specific college). Ask them what kind of experience they have working with (1) transfer students and (2) kids with special needs.

I'm guessing that a campus visit and on-campus interview would be helpful, at least at the smaller schools. A visit will also help her get a better feel for the vibe of the school - she will want someplace welcoming where she will feel accepted as a transfer student and she (and probably her parents) will want to visit to the disability office just see what options are available if she starts to struggle again. (One school we looked at, the disability office was all about ADD, dyslexia etc and offered minimal help with mental illness) By the way, in California, our experience with the disability office at community college was excellent especially negotiating unexpected health situations.

If she is looking at California schools, take a look at MIlls College - a welcoming place for nontraditional women with an excellent academic program.
posted by metahawk at 3:00 PM on February 12, 2014

option 1: if she's making her grades and doesn't pose a threat to anyone else at her ivy, i would lawyer up and fight to stay.

option 2: since you mentioned california, look into pomona college and its sister institutions in claremont. i have a little bit of bias here. great weather!
posted by bruce at 3:03 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stunned that we're this far into this thread without doing, yes, Colleges That Change Lives.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:08 PM on February 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I encourage you to at least try to negotiate for a withdrawal vs. expulsion. I was allowed to withdraw from two different institutions due to mental distress, which left me out the money for the courses I didn't complete but left my GPA intact and my transcript free of expulsions/dismissals/incompletes.

I don't want to make things more difficult for you, but I will mention that schools tend to accept general ed classes for transfer credit but not classes taken for a major. She may have to repeat some courses when transferring to a new program as a result.
posted by xyzzy at 3:24 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not a college recommendation but she should consider filing a complaint with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights if she experienced discrimination (different treatment by being involuntary disenrolled) based on her disability (depression). They can investigate her complaint while she pursues relief through the courts and get her readmitted in the meantime.
posted by youdontmakefriendswithsalad at 3:34 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

How Colleges Flunk Mental Health

This was just published in Newsweek. There were a couple of legal resources mentioned in the article. The sad truth is that most schools have the same MO. There is likely some kind of readmission procedure at her school, and it will be much easier to get back in (assuming that she is being forced to withdraw, rather than actually expelled - that is unusual) than it will be to get into a school of similar quality. I would not reveal anything about her health status on any applications to another school.
posted by decathexis at 3:39 PM on February 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

I went to and graduated from an Ivy League school. I had a friend at said Ivy League school who had a similar situation and took an LoA for mental health reasons. He went back for a semester or two and then took another LoA for almost five years. He had to speak to the Dean to be readmitted, but he was, and by gum he finished and graduated.

I don't know the particulars of his situation because he kept it fairly private, and I didn't feel it was any of my business to ask about it; though I did at times suggest he transfer to another school. I'm glad he did not listen to me.

I had another friend at said Ivy League school in a similar situation. She ended up transferring to at least three other colleges and eventually graduated.

So, I don't think I would recommend my Alma Mater on this front (and I suspect it may be the same school -- there's a one in eight chance I am right about that, after all). I've got at least two examples of general unfriendliness to students with mental health issues, and I had a rather small group of friends in college.

However, it sounds like your relative is making very good grades, so I'm not sure why they'd be kicking her out as she is indeed surviving academically (and I thought that was about all they cared about short of students who repeatedly break the law). IANAL and TINLA, however, I would suggest she lawyer up in addition to transferring to another institution of higher learning in the mean time. If the time to complete the case takes her past graduation, perhaps they could be made to pay for tuition and fees at the new school as well as compensation for emotional damages. If not, perhaps Ivy League Institution could be forced to readmit her and/or accept transfer credits from the new school.
posted by tckma at 4:45 PM on February 12, 2014

I went to an Ivy League school for undergrad, a big state university for graduate school and being an instructor, and I am now an art professor at a very small private university. A huge perk for students of my current institution is that students don't get lost here the way they might at bigger places. The institution itself is set up to really support each and every student, the faculty are more invested in each and every student both due to the smaller program sizes and because the school is geared more toward teaching than research, and the students themselves are more close-knit and supportive since they know they'll have to interact with each other over and over again.

So my advice is to consider looking into small schools; by small, I mean student major sizes in the 15-60 range and overall student population in the hundreds to very low thousands. At this type of institution, you can contact the program director and/or the student success office and they will likely be happy to discuss whether your relative is a good fit.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:31 PM on February 12, 2014

Chiming in to second the recommendation of College Confidential. The Parents Forum might be particularly helpful.

A few people have mentioned checking out the disabilities office of any college you are considering. That is a good suggestion, but I think the counseling office is more important for someone dealing with depression. I understand that your relative is doing better, but she should know that if she has any difficulties going forward, there will be counseling support at her new college.

In my somewhat limited experience (I have two kids who have attended college), the strength of the counseling department might not correlate with the overall supportive atmosphere of the school. One of my children went to a wonderfully supportive college in the midwest -- one of the Colleges That Change Lives schools -- and everyone there was as kind as could be. BUT the actual psychological counseling that was available was very limited in terms of time and duration, and for ongoing treatment, my child had to see a private therapist in town. This was far from ideal.

My other child went to an East Coast school that has a reputation for being academically challenging, but both the Counseling Office and the Dean's Office were incredible. Not only extemely supportive, but also able to provide weekly counseling at no fee for as long as needed. They were also very supportive of students taking leaves of absence and then returning.

In short -- don't make assumptions about the strength of the counseling office at any college. Check it out, at least online.
posted by merejane at 6:16 PM on February 12, 2014

My experience (tangentially, not my situation but two people very close to me - one at a SLAC and the other at a large private university) was that it was easier to get re-admitted than to transfer -- but that the terms of readmission can be quite dear. I don't want to drown the thread with more details, but simply wish that there be no blanket assumptions that certain types of schools are more sympathetic than other. Certain schools, maybe.

The advisers at her previous college are not an option, because screw them.
May I ask why? If you feel that they failed your relative in some way, that's one thing. But if it's just because of the taint of association, I'd suggest looking into it further. Even a non-advising professor, for example, might have some insight on alternative programs.
posted by sm1tten at 7:15 PM on February 12, 2014

Add me to the list of people who think the best solution would be to negotiate with the school to convert this to a leave of absence with the option to return, or to leave her on the books to apply elsewhere as if she is simply transferring.
posted by salvia at 7:26 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out the smaller but top-tier liberal art schools. They compete with Ivy schools, but differentiate themselves are more--I guess--human. As opposed to career-obsessed (not that they aren't career obsessed, but it's different).

Wesleyan, Oberlin, Smith, Wellesley (all girls school, pros/cons of course), Occidental, Panoma, Clairemont Mckenna, Reed, and you could even check out schools like U Michigan or Berkeley, which are large and top-tier, but lack that uniquely suicide-inducing atmosphere that is found to creep in some top ivys.

Disclaimer: This is a list that I would research if I were you. I'm not vouching for any of those schools, necessarily. They might have issues I am unaware of.
posted by jjmoney at 8:47 AM on February 13, 2014

If her former school wasn't Columbia, and she enjoyed the academics and teaching approach at her former institution, I would think about Barnard. It's the same ivy league academics and amazing options and opportunities, basically, but with the small-school support network that just isn't present in the rest of the university.

Columbia has a major campus dialogue around mental health issues and community - in part because the administration has not always been great on that front. From friends' experience, Barnard is generally better than Columbia (much better/more aware advising, better help and support from professors, deans, and others who are not officially designated therapists/counselors/advisors). Despite the ability of students to get lost at the university and in NYC, Barnard has always felt pretty aware of students, and student-led initiatives to focus on wellness actually create a really wonderful, supportive system of peers who have faced similar issues.

Plus, we have a pretty tight-knit transfer program and I know a number of transfer students who have had a really good assimilation process here, including several who have explicitly transferred because of mental health struggles.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:31 PM on February 13, 2014

I just sent you a mefi mail with a specific school recommendation.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:34 PM on February 13, 2014

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