How to fix my college blunder
June 14, 2014 5:17 PM   Subscribe

I was doing a degree program and I had some mental health problems and dropped the ball big time. How do I recover?

From 2007-2009 I was doing an online degree completion program at the University of Illinois at Springfield. In 2009 things were bad. I lost my job and my friends, made some stupid decisions, and ended up in the hospital because I was suicidal. By the time the Fall semester rolled around I was in a very bad spot with my mental health. I tried to be optimistic by registering for classes, but I never attended any nor paid my tuition for that semester. I couldn't manage even manage the drop the classes in time. I haven't paid that bill and still owe it (with a ton of extra charges) and I haven't taken a class since then.

After many more years of bad mental health, I've finally gotten to a point this year where I feel decent in the mental health department and I want to finish my degree (I was a senior). I want to explain my situation to someone, but I don't know who. My goal is to have my tuition for the semester I didn't attend classes to be forgiven and to be able to register for this Fall. I received Fs for the classes I never attended that last semester, which I'd like removed from my transcript as well. Who would be the right contact(s) at a university for this? Do you think this is a reasonable request? Any other advice related to this is appreciated.

Other info that may be important: If I log into their system, I have good academic standing, but I have a hold on my account due to collections. It also says I'm still part of the program I was accepted into.
posted by anonymous to Education (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This sort of thing happens to students more than you might think. I'm not sure if they'll refund your tuition, but they may be able to give you compassionate retroactive withdrawals for the semester where you got all Fs. It will help if you can provide documentation for mental health treatment you received around that time.

Try starting at Student Services and explaining your situation. On this page there is a contact number for a program assistant who can probably direct you to the right person.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:34 PM on June 14, 2014

Contact Student Life, they should have someone who you can talk to
posted by WizKid at 5:57 PM on June 14, 2014

Something seems odd about this and might work in your favor. Back when I was in undergrad at the school I went to, if you didn't pay, you were automatically withdrawn from all classes. This happened to me every semester because of a database screw up where my SSN was linked to two students. One was me. The other was an incorrectly entered me with my name spelled just slightly wrong. That other student never paid, and I had to jump through hoops to get re-admitted to all of my classes.

I'm really surprised that if you never paid and never attended that you weren't automatically booted out of those courses. So, maybe those Fs were recorded in error anyway?

Good luck with this. Something to keep in mind is that even if the bureaucracy can be frustrating, university administrations do want students to complete their studies and graduate.
posted by Gotanda at 6:14 PM on June 14, 2014

It looks like you could start with the Dean of Students office. They should be able to explain policies to you and/or point you towards he right people.

You could also try the Campus Center for Advising and Academic Services. The website seems to be down right now, but maybe it will be available on Monday.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:55 PM on June 14, 2014

I'm really surprised that if you never paid and never attended that you weren't automatically booted out of those courses

This is not really standard among most major universities at least - financial aid and registration guidelines don't really allow for it.

OP - you need to call your school and ask them about your debt first - find out if it was sent to an outside collections agency, or if it's still on the university's account. If so, ask them how much you owe.

Contact their student services office and ask to sit down with someone from your college and talk about what it would take to be readmitted, because you stopped being a student when you stopped registering for classes.

They will definitely have a process to petition to retroactively withdrawal from that semester of course work. They may have a process to petition to get your tuition refunded.

Either way, they will completely understand your situation, this happens to dozens of students a semester in any large university.
posted by Think_Long at 6:56 PM on June 14, 2014

I contacted the financial aid office, who got me into contact with the collections guy.

It might turn out in your favor, but it absolutely did not for me. In my case, it was undiagnosed asperger's. I appealed, it did nothing. So good luck but this actually is a big deal.
posted by Aranquis at 6:59 PM on June 14, 2014

I am on an Admissions and Appeals committee (which deliberates the academic petitions, chiefly late withdrawals, which cannot be easily decided on the basis of established procedure). I am not on your Admissions and Appeals committee. This is not, uh, Admissions and Appeals committee advice.

Institutions vary, but at mine (the University of Louisville): a late withdrawal will replace grades with "W"s, and they will remain on your transcript but not contribute to your GPA. A late withdrawal will not (here, and probably elsewhere) result in tuition reimbursement, which is dealt with by a separate office and is subject to different criteria.

At our institution, serious life disruption and emerging mental health complications would, with documentation, often be grounds for a late withdrawal. If your case came before our committee, though, we would probably want some sort of explanation for the long delay. Time discrepancies raise suspicion of some sort of skullduggery and are one big reason we deny requests.

Depending on your goals, the specific kind of petition(s) you want to file may vary. I strongly suggest that before you file any paperwork you have a meeting with an academic advisor, and possibly some administrators involved in the registrar's and bursar's office. The university as an institution has no desire to forgive your debt and very little desire to void your grades, but individuals within the system generally, at the very least, will help you navigate your options and present your case in a manner which does it justice.
posted by jackbishop at 6:45 AM on June 16, 2014

I went through a similar situation several years ago. Due to an emotional crisis I failed to attend or withdraw from several classes during the final semester of my senior year. I felt so much shame about this that I hid it for years. At the time, I thought it would prevent me from going to graduate school, but now I’m attending a funded program in the Ivy League.

Jackbishop’s advice is great. Just a few things I would add: First, do not put off resolving this situation. You may need permission from the instructors in the courses you signed up for but did not attend. Academics sometimes move around a lot and often have hundreds of students. I have ‘Fs’ and ‘Incomplete-Fails’ on my transcript that could have been changed to ‘Ws’ if I acted sooner.

Also, do not feel obliged to give a comprehensive account of your personal history and mental health issues in the email in which your ask for a meeting with your advisor. In my experience, it is much better to get into specifics in person. And don’t leave the meeting without a clear sense of the people to contact next and what sort of documentation you need to provide. Good luck!
posted by OhTheHumanities at 8:59 AM on June 17, 2014

« Older Dress me for summer! (Office tattooed-person...   |   Should I tell a prospective landlord that I'm... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.