Where do I give back the fake diploma?
May 28, 2014 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Unemployed un-graduate seeks life and career advice. More details inside...

I just completed my last semester of undergraduate work at the local U. I chose to study English, which was a decision based on the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do (and still don't). I was never motivated but still ended up with a good GPA. I walked at graduation, got my fake diploma, and started to pursue my original post-graduation plan, which was to work for a year before going to graduate school in either higher ed administration or in an MFA program for creative writing. So far, I've had no luck on finding jobs, but I'm still expanding my search (and this could be another question entirely...)

This was the plan, until yesterday. I found out that I didn't graduate.

My last English class was a disaster. It was a small seminar - essentially the capstone class for the major. Unfortunately, I started on the wrong foot immediately, and never recovered. The professor and I didn't see eye to eye, and the final grade was based almost entirely on a paper that I struggled to complete. I earned a D, which was terrible (I had never earned anything below a B before that class). What I didn't realize was that I needed a C- or greater to graduate. I was completely unaware of my situation until I got an email that said that I didn't "pass" the class and that I couldn't officially graduate until I did so.

So now, I'm hurt, deeply embarrassed, and ready to throw in the towel on grad school. I was never really keen on the idea to begin with, but I thought it would be a way to live somewhere else and (hopefully) get paid to go to school for 2-3 years, which wouldn't be too bad. Now, I don't know what to do. Having to retake this undergrad class is going to look terrible on my transcripts, and now I can't stomach the idea of asking my professors for reference letters.

Should I just give up my weak dreams of grad school and just look for jobs and/or move on my own?
posted by DRoll to Education (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You beg the professor to change your grade.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:56 PM on May 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

Retake the class, and graduate for real before your credits start expiring. It sucks, but so does having spent all that money with no diploma to show for it.
posted by TheAdamist at 12:57 PM on May 28, 2014 [20 favorites]

Repeating a class is not that big of a deal. Definitely get your degree.
posted by Rob Rockets at 12:59 PM on May 28, 2014 [15 favorites]

It won't look that bad, either retake it while working (easily doable for a single class) or try and find something else quick and dirty to get your last credit over the Summer semester. You weren't planning on applying for grad school this cycle anyway, this will have zero effect on what you do when application time rolls around next spring.

You should reconsider grad school just on the economic terms, especially if you're planning on taking out loans to get a completely un-marketable MFA degree, but don't do it on the basis of one minor screw up in one class.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:02 PM on May 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

This could really work to your advantage. First, do everything you possibly can to finish your degree ASAP. The longer you wait, the more likely you don't finish. Next, spend this summer scouting out internship options. Finally, spend Fall semester finishing ONE class and learning at your internship, while building your resume. I highly suggest pursing a job over pursuing an MFA, unless you are actively excited by the prospect of completing your MFA or see it as an integral part of your professional development.
posted by samthemander at 1:02 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Approach the professor and see if there's ANYTHING you can get him/her to do to change your grade to passing. Barring that, re-do the class, and get a swing-shift job until that's done.

Don't be hurt or embarrassed, just shrug your shoulders and finish it up.

Also, don't bother with an MFA or higher ed admin. The ROI on either of those is crap. Also, you still don't know what you want to do.

Get out in the world and work. At anything. A college degree is the equivalent of a high school diploma at this point, so you're not too good for a corporate job. Do your resume, and tell anyone that you're finishing up this one class then you'll have your degree.

I'm an English major and I taught high school for a couple of years. Perhaps you can apply to be a Substitute Teacher, it'll give you the flexibility you'll need, and real world work experience. Plus, you can see if you actually LIKE teaching/education. (Turns out, I didn't.)

If this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you're lucky. Don't let any time pass in getting this done, You don't want your credits to expire or the degree requirements to change.

Speak to your advisor and beg for help.

Other than that. You'll be fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on May 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

Is retaking the class the only route that you have been offered to raise your grade? What if you were to rewrite the paper, or redo multiple papers? I would talk to a dean about this ASAP. (Talk to a dean, and to your advisor for your major if you have one, BEFORE you talk to the professor you do not get along with.)

Even if it turns out that you do have to retake the class, DO WHAT IT TAKES to graduate. Do this for yourself. You did not spend several years (and possibly also quite a bit of money) going to school and completing work to not get a degree over ONE class. No. Do not let your brain trick you into sabotaging yourself here. Do not let shame overwhelm you. Buckle down and get this done.
posted by BlueJae at 1:04 PM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree with mr_roboto and Ruthless Bunny. I was in your exact same situation (except I had an F). I had a serious heart to heart with the professor, we talked about how life kind of sucks in your early 20s, I did a little bit of extra work and it made all the difference. I got a C, got my degree and she's even willing to let me use her as a reference when I need it now.

That said, you also have the opportunity to retake the class and get an A in order to wipe out the bad grade (at least I think you can, that's how my small state university did it). That could be very valuable when applying for grad school.
posted by coreywilliam at 1:07 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I graduated from my undergrad, I had been an a "clinical depression" for about 8 months. I got some terrible grades towards the end of it ( but enough to still pass). The depression got worse as the grades got worse to the point that, when I graduated, I 100% believed that I was a total failure, worthless, never going to find a job, afraid to show my face in public, and that my dream of continuing my education was impossible.

About a year later I got a job in a field that proved very interesting. Through this job I discovered a career path I had never considered. Now I'm going to grad school in september for that career path. I got in because of my work experience.

All this is to say, in no way does your bad grade in one class doom you to never going to grad school. retaking one class is a small price to pay for your entire future. 5 years from now, all your shame will be gone and you'll forget you ever worried about it.
posted by winterportage at 1:14 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Call the professor. Be humble, explain that you were in a rough place, and offer to write the final paper over in exchange for a grade change. Or retake the class.

Don't let yourself get caught up in shame and self-loathing--think of it like an embarrassing, but necessary thing, like certain kinds of doctor's appointments. Do what you need to do to fix the situation for yourself, and then you can move on.

now I can't stomach the idea of asking my professors for reference letters.

Why? If you did good work in their classes, and they like you, there is no reason that they shouldn't give you a reference.

I also agree that your graduate school plan is not solid. "Getting paid to live somewhere else" is not a good reason to go to graduate school and especially not a good reason to go into debt. Work for a few years and find out what you are good at and really interested in before you start thinking about grad school.
posted by epanalepsis at 1:18 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Firstly, hugs. I was in the same boat 20 years ago with my fake diploma in hand and commencement snapshots on the wall and when the letter showed up in the mail saying I failed my last class -- a government class that I took as an ELECTIVE -- I thought my life was over. My mother warned me to never tell a soul, lest the family think my grad party was a fraud and a grab for gifts. Yeeeeeeeah.

I cried for about a week. Then I went and took a completely different class at the community college (it was an elective!), transferred it to my real school, earned an A, graduated with the January crowd, got great jobs and it never mattered again. You, on the other hand, should retake the class, get your real diploma, work for a bit, then apply to grad school. (don't wait because of the grade, wait because IMO everyone should get some RL experience before grad school).

I promise, I promise, I promise you will be fine!
posted by kimberussell at 1:32 PM on May 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Been there, man.

First step, contact the prof. If they can't do anything, go in person to the registrar/dean of students/provost (whatever it is at your U that handles grades and student disputes) and get a solution — it may be retaking the class, it may be adjusting other classes to cover the credit, there are a fair number of options. I will recommend that you get it in writing, as I had to do this shit all over again after an employee promised me that a class would count for a requirement and didn't (which is why I've taken both "Hip Hop and the African American Experience," and "Rap and Hip Hop in Black Culture," both taught by the same prof with nearly identical syllabi but different accreditation coding). Email counts as writing, though, so I found it helpful to just get them to sign off on my follow-up email.

Something else that's helpful, or at least was for me: I went in to the meeting wanting a solution and being willing to work hard. I had something similar happen with another prof who simply forgot to enter my final paper grade and gave me an incomplete — she'd given me a B on the paper, but I couldn't find it a couple years later when this stuff actually mattered, so I ended up rewriting something for her just to show that I remembered the topic (without doing all the super-involved research I did the first time) and she clocked it in for me.

This shit can be scary, but a lot of people have dealt with it and it's not the end of the world — it's just dumb university shit that's part of getting a degree.
posted by klangklangston at 1:33 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

No way is one poor grade going to wreck the rest of your life, unless you allow it to. Leaving school one class short of a degree would be the very definition of "allowing one poor grade to ruin your life." (I had a similar thing happen to me with my high school diploma and am really sympathetic to how much it feels like the end of the world right now. But! I have a Ph.D. in engineering now and can say with certainty that it can all come out fine in the end if you are proactive.)

First, figure out exactly what you need to graduate (first-first, go ahead and wallow for a day or two, just don't let that overwhelm what you need to do to get that stupid paper.) Is it this specific seminar, an upper-level English class, a few credits? Second, figure out if there are any summer classes which fulfill this requirement. If there's nothing listed, contact the department secretary and ask him or her about the options. Talk to the professor, too, about an independent study if there's not an appropriate class listed. Listen to what he or she has to say about that. Grubbing for a C- will reflect more poorly on you to the department than working on a plan to move forward and get your degree.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:36 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone for the responses so far! I just re-emailed the department advisor to see if I had any other options besides retaking the class.

My plan for grad school was to only go if I was fully funded, and I have only looked at schools/MFA programs where all of the students are funded. I have no debt, and I'm not about to put myself into debt now!
posted by DRoll at 1:47 PM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

You should have other options than retaking the class. I made a "D" in a class where I had to earn a "C," and appealed to the dean without a problem.
posted by lunalaguna at 1:51 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Figure out a solid plan for finishing right now. Don't plan to take care of it during the summer. Make a plan, get it approved and sign up for whatever it takes to graduate.

I, erm, know someone who was in a similar situation, and moved on with life, planning to take care of his "one last thing" at some point. He didn't get serious until someone helpful at the university called a couple years later to inform him that the earliest credits he earned would be falling off his transcript soon. That was lucky.

It's easy shove this stuff into the dark corner of your mind, especially when the urgency subsides and only the shame* remains. Get it taken care of this summer. Then move on. It will haunt you otherwise.

*It's not actually that big of a deal, but it sure can feel that way. I've heard.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 1:59 PM on May 28, 2014

Get those credits, no matter how you have to do it. Don't throw away that time and effort.

If you can't stomach going to the prof, and the appeal to the dean doesn't help, then retake the class.

Don't kid yourself that a degree doesn't matter.

Grad school--meh. You're 100 percent correct that going into debt is not worth it. With regard to the long term and your possible future pay, seriously consider whether your time and effort is worth it with regard to the long term. If you're not sure what you want to do now, how do you know what you'll want to do later even after grad school? I suggest you get out into 'real life' and work for a while. If nothing else, it will tell you what you don't want to do for a living. Maybe then grad school will make sense.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:59 PM on May 28, 2014

A department that has a capstone probably has lots of picky rules and I'm guessing you can't easily do-over that one class until next semester or next spring.

Beg the teacher. Do it. All students do. It's nothing to them to change that D to a C-. I mean, it's a form and maybe an email or two. The longer you put the conversation off the more trouble it becomes for everyone, so don't wait.

Think about why you got off on the wrong foot, take full responsibility even if it's not your fault, and then apologize in a way that will resonate with what you know about the instructor. First, send an email asking if you can come in to discuss your final grade.

If denied, then escalate. Reply or write again after a few days and explain the graduation issue. CC the chair and your adviser if you have one. In the meantime see the student health center, your adviser and maybe the dean's office in person. If it were me I'd go Student Health Center first. They can probably bring in some dean on your behalf.

If your instructor digs in their heels, I'm not sure in which order I'd bring in the other outside offices-- certainly not all at once. But you you want to involve several, because your D affects a stat that is important to university administrators: four year completion rate. It's a measure of "quality" in higher education. The university doesn't want students leaving without a degree because some English instructor assigned a D to make a point-- no matter how intimidating or powerful that instructor appears within the department or whatever.

get paid to go to school for 2-3 years, which wouldn't be too bad.

"[G]raduate school in either higher ed administration or in an MFA program for creative writing" isn't going to pay the bills. Do not take out a loan for graduate school to figure things out! Don't go at all right now.

If that's all to the story, escalate this carefully and you might even get some good career advice along the way (about how to get into higher ed admin, for instance). This is a grade. No one will ever look at it again. But someone might remember you and how well you handle this.
posted by CtrlAltD at 2:03 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

> I just re-emailed the department advisor to see if I had any other options besides retaking the class.

Instead of doing this over email, if your current schedule allows, make an appointment and go talk to them in person. Be humble, but do not make excuses for yourself. Focus your discussion on what are the possible steps you can take so that you can graduate in the shortest amount of time, while minimizing negative impact on your graduate school plans. I say to go speak with them in person, because they might have suggestions such as pointers on how to deal with the professor in question, that they might not be willing to put in an email but might mention in a face to face meeting.
posted by needled at 2:22 PM on May 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Retake the class over the summer if you can. If by September your record shows you have met all your requirements for graduation (and just waiting for the actual convocation ceremony) you may still be eligible for starting your graduate program. Also look into the possibility of having your previous grade removed from your record on the condition that you get a satisfactory grade in the course (such an option exists at my institution but it's not really advertised).

Do not walk away now and give up on your degree. It would be like drowning in 1 ft of water after swimming 10 miles. Repeating courses is no big deal. Students do it all the time to increase their average for whatever future academic goals they have.
posted by Karotz at 2:31 PM on May 28, 2014

Okay, number one: don't go to grad school in creative writing just because you have no goals and no clue what to do with your life. Racking up a bunch more debt that you can never pay off just to postpone working for 3 years is a horribly bad idea. If you don't NEED an advanced degree for your future career plans, do not get one. It's not worth the debt these days. You don't need an advanced degree to write fiction if you want to do it, either. I know you said you're looking for "fully funded" (this exists for creative writing?!?), but schooling is still expensive even with a "free ride," which it really isn't. Don't just go to grad school to kill some time or stall. You're gonna have to look for a job at some point anyway no matter what, after all.

Number two: talk to your dean's office about what options there are for you out there. Can you retake the class? Can you take an equivalent class at a community college? Do you have any justifiable reason (beyond "the professor hates me") that you can cite officially as a reason why you did a bad job in this course?*

* note: sometimes you can petition to get a bad course removed from your record, but most of the time where I work you'd have to have justifiable/documented reasons for why, and you'd have better odds if you asked for your entire semester to be wiped instead of one bad grade. And depending on how they allow repeats at your school, you may be able to have a better grade in the retaken class wipe out your first crappy grade. You'll have to check with your dean's office and/or the registrar's on the policies of your school, though.

Number three: after you've somehow made up the work, then file for graduation. This kind of thing happens all the dang time (it's why ceremonies and actual graduation are frequently kept separate), it's not really a big deal.

Number four: you are at "graduating senior" status. Schools will almost always move heaven and earth to get you the hell out of school at this point. You have leverage. You are more likely to get magical exceptions made for you at this point than any other time in your life. Important rules may be passed by just so that you can leave, at the authorities' discretion. I'm not really plugging "make the instructor change your grade" because if the instructor doesn't like you I wouldn't hold my breath on it, but maybe something else can be Arranged.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:38 PM on May 28, 2014

This is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. This happened to me also, except I already had my family and 3 friends flying out to watch me graduate.

So, I put myself on the "walk" list, took a class in the summer, and officially graduated at the end of August. Eighteen years later I have two masters degree. This is just a small blip; learn from it and move forward.
posted by Sal and Richard at 3:40 PM on May 28, 2014

I am a college professor, though I am not your college professor.

For what it is worth, while some professors are grumpy and tired and cranky, most of us aren't, and most of us aren't assigning grades to make points. Most of us are also aware of when classes are C-wall classes (more often than our students usually, and I say that with all gentleness). This is especially true when we're the folks assigned to teach capstone classes. I've had to have the 'you're not graduating when you thought you were' conversation with students, and it sucks a lot. Most of us don't want to be the person who has to have that conversation, and we will try to not have to do that.

So please, please, please, don't just ask for a flat out grade change. If you manage to get a D in my C-wall class that you need to graduate, and you're totally unaware that you need a C, any sympathy I had will vanish if you just ask for a flat-out grade change with no offer on your part. Ask if you can rewrite that final paper, and ask what you need to do to improve it. It doesn't matter if y'all 'see eye to eye' or not - the prof is the person grading the paper, so ask what you need to do to fix the paper to their standards and then just do it. If that doesn't do the trick, you can try escalating, but odds are if it's a senior capstone class, the answer you're going to get back is that you have to retake the class. If that's the case, swallow your pride, arrange the money, sign up for the class, get it done, and move on with your life. As you've seen from the rest of the thread, this happens a lot. You'll get through this and go on to do awesome things and in a few years, this won't even be a thing.
posted by joycehealy at 7:26 PM on May 28, 2014 [14 favorites]

What joycehealy said! But keep in mind that your professor may not be able to do anything about it. For example, at one college I'm familiar with, I would not be able to change your grade without signing a document stating that I, the professor, entered it in error in the first place. (And it would have to go through my dean and so on. It would be a big deal.)

Retaking the class isn't the end of the world.

Good luck!!!
posted by wintersweet at 8:43 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Update: I met in person with the undergraduate advisor and department head, and conversed via email with the professor. It looks like I will be retaking the class next spring, when it is offered at night. It is going to be taught by the undergrad advisor, who is an awesome professor (and I haven't been able to take one of her classes before).

I am disappointed in myself, but I am also looking at this as a learning experience. I realized that I have a lot of talent, but I rarely give 100%. I know that when I take the class again, I will be successful!
posted by DRoll at 9:17 AM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

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