Graduated with a poor academic record, and don't know where I'm heading
February 23, 2016 6:42 AM   Subscribe

I failed out of university twice, but finally graduated with my bachelor's degree last year at the age of 26. With a 3.3 GPA, no less! :-) For the past 6 months, I've been working two part-time contracts (enough to make rent and food costs, but no savings).

My prior volunteer experiences have been in event coordination and administrative work, so it is the work I am doing now. I keep applying to full time work, but only seem to get interviews for jobs in that field - unfortunately, it's not something I want a career in. My resume keeps going in one direction.

I'm feeling stuck. I would really like to go to school for occupational therapy or social work, but am feeling dismayed that my academic record will lock me out of those possibilities. A 3.3 is not even close to good enough. I want to be able to get my masters, but if I can't get in anywhere, I have to keep doing what I am doing now. Ideally, I would really like to work in community/social policy, or rehabilitation.

My resume keeps getting built in one direction. For me to have a shot at a masters program, I might need to go back to school and do some additional courses in order to bring up my 10-credit GPA, but without any savings, I can't afford tuition.

Everyday, I wake up anxious, with a constant knot in my stomach. I apply to full time jobs in event/admin, hoping that I can get in somewhere, and save enough money to take courses. After getting rejected from my last two interviews ("you were a strong candidate, but we got someone who was even stronger..."), I feel very disheartened.

Can anyone offer advice, a pick me-up? or just thoughts about my career trajectory?
posted by raintree to Education (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A 3.3 is close to good enough for occupational therapy. It's a little low, but it's not so low that I would write off the possibility. Have you shadowed an OT? Volunteered in an OT office? What makes you think that's something that you're interested in doing?

If you decide you want to shoot for OT, then I would look for an admin job at a college or university that offers free tuition to employees. Then take the classes that you need and do really well in them. You also want to get some volunteering experience, because you will need a letter of recommendation from an OT.

Another possible way to do it is to do an OTA program at a community college and then do an OTA to OT bridge program. But honestly, your GPA is high enough that you may not need to take that route.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:47 AM on February 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

In my area, entry level jobs that require a MSW don't pay enough to make the degree worthwhile. You could go for even worse paying jobs in that field that don't require a MSW to try things out and expand your resume a little bit. In my area, relatively less competitive jobs include home health care, child protective services caseworkers, and facilitators at non-profits to assist with applications to assistance programs.
posted by metasarah at 7:00 AM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi ArbitraryAndCapricious! Thanks for the reply. I think my worry comes from the fact that I'd be going to Canadian schools, and wouldn't be competitive below a 3.7 GPA. I have been volunteering with a pediatric OT on and off for the past 4 years, and am thinking of volunteering at a hospital H.E.L.P. program to see if it's a career I see myself in (right now it's a choice between social work and OT). I really like your idea of trying to get an admin job at a university for free tuition.Thank you!
posted by raintree at 7:00 AM on February 23, 2016

It took me a year and a half after graduation to stumble into a job along the lines of what I wanted to be doing. And I consider myself lucky. Six months is not a lot of time (though it may feel that way).

Have you completed the pre-reqs for a program in OT or social work? Are there any? Can you look at free online classes that would help? I don't know the field but generally, a lackluster GPA (and 3.3 isn't that bad, especially depending on your major) can be overcome in the grad school application process with strong GRE scores. Do you need to take the GRE? Have you tried the test? Have you started studying? Taking practice tests?

If you're doing part time gigs, can you find a part-time paid internship that appeals to you? And I definitely recommend the idea if getting a gig at a university if you can. Even aside from the tuition benefits, the other benefits are pretty great.
posted by kat518 at 7:04 AM on February 23, 2016

Are you so sure about your GPA? I know I've said this here before, but I had a 2.4 GPA (I think... May have been even lower) and got into a top 50 law school. Don't count yourself out.
posted by amro at 7:18 AM on February 23, 2016

26 is young. If you don't want to do admin, don't do it. You're right that your resume will keep you in that area unless you force a change. How many courses would it take to get your last two years' GPA up to 3.7 or higher, as a visiting student (taking really just any bird course to bump it up)? Can you take a loan, or save up and move back in with family to reduce costs? I think Starbucks offers help with tuition, maybe Home Depot as well?

Or what about doing a BSW? It'd be shorter, and you'd be able to work right after graduating. From there, you could do the advanced 1-year MSW instead of the two-year program required for people without BSWs.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:22 AM on February 23, 2016

The Canadian part makes this tricky, as graduate programs or second-entry professional degrees usually won't let you use community college courses as pre-reqs. Also, in most disciplines, GREs aren't of much use here.

If you want to do social work, you might want to consider the second-entry accelerated BSW route first. I'd be surprised if you weren't admissible to one of these programs - so long as you have a 78%/3.3+ in your final two years of full-time study or your 300/400-level coursework, you'll stand a chance at most universities, particularly if you have related volunteer experience. The jobs you can get with a BSW won't necessarily pay well, but they may provide good tuition reimbursement for an MSW later on.

OT might be trickier to get into, given that most schools want a 3.6 or 3.7 minimum. At the very least, you will probably have to do a qualifying year. It doesn't need to be done full-time, or at your undergrad institution. In some cases you may be able to take some of the courses online at Athabasca or the handful of Ontario universities that do online courses, but the tricky part will be to find appropriate 300/400-level coursework available online.

Depending on where you're considering, some universities have a sort-of-backdoor mature student entry track for graduate studies. It's meant for applicants who are 5+ years past their undergrad and had significant professional and/or volunteer achievements related to the program they're applying to. It's worth identifying which universities you might want to go to, and talking to their non-standard graduate admissions people to help you create a 5-year plan.

I know my way around this stuff pretty well, so please MeMail me if you want more info.
posted by blerghamot at 7:24 AM on February 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

For what it's worth, as a data point, I finished college with a 2.8 overall GPA (although it was much higher in my majors) and got into the top master's program in my field two years later. I attribute this to high grades in my major fields + good references from professors who saw me do my best work; a decent GRE score; and a good personal statement.

From what I know of the OT path, I think you can bridge some of the prerequisite gaps with coursework at a community college. It sounds like your volunteer experience will be a big help, too.

And remember that admissions officers are looking for students to round out the cohort--think of everything you can bring to the table, consider your "brand," and let potential schools know you're a good risk. You will do well in their program ---> you will graduate on time ---> you will become employed, bolster their job placement statistics, and repay any student debts. That is what schools want, so show them that you will do just that.
posted by witchen at 7:24 AM on February 23, 2016

2nd blerghamot on all points.

Where are you, roughly? I think Ryerson offers degree-level courses through their continuing ed department. Pretty sure you could take 300-400 level courses there without enrolling in a program formally, if you've got the prereqs. (I think they offer many courses online, although yeah, not sure if that'd be the case for upper-level courses.) Check the websites or call the admissions departments of the programs you're interested in, though - some will want those credits to have been done in the context of the degree. Others won't, though.

But as far as approach, imo it'd be more useful to get the GPA up (it sounds like you've got enough volunteering experience) than it would be to try to angle your way into a job that's only vaguely related (and it would really be vaguely related) through admin. Even if it means moving back home and taking loans.

(A pretty far-out way of doing it, if you really wanted to do OT, would be to move to a province with a lower cutoff trend for a year to get residency, so you'd no longer be an out-of-province applicant [with the reduced OOP odds that involves, given quotas]. For example, Dalhousie's minimum GPA for Atlantic residents is 3.0/4.3 - not sure if that's the cutoff trend, though. You might want to poke around the premed101 PT/OT board to get current average cutoffs. That'd be a longshot, though!)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:01 AM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't speak for other Canadian universities, but the one I work for will only give you free tuition for your first degree. However, they do offer free continuing education classes, so you could use that to demonstrate that you can succeed in school.
posted by kyla at 8:10 AM on February 23, 2016

How about investigating Administration or Program Manager jobs but in the field of community/social policy, or providers of rehabilitation services?
At least that would get you familiar with potential future employers as well as the industry of interest, while making money from your established skillset...
posted by calgirl at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2016

I also failed out of university twice, and ended up with an undergrad GPA lower than you. I was able to get into a grad program and complete a masters (in Comp Sci, if that matters). This is what I did:

1. Went back to the same university. This may not be that important, as I didn't make much of a name for myself in undergrad.
2. Enrolled as a "non-degree" graduate student, and started taking graduate-level classes on the track I would have been on if I was a "real" grad student.
3. Did awesome at classes, got the attention of professors, etc.
4. Actually applied to grad school, with my great recent record as proof I could do well.
5. Got accepted, worked under one of the professors I impressed, everyone lived happily ever after, the end.

This approach had its limitations: the non-degree program had very few to no opportunities for financial aid, and you were limited in the number of hours you could take. So I worked a part time job while doing step 3 to pay for classes. Fortunately they were affordable because it was a public university. I'm not sure if this would be feasible in Canada.
posted by zsazsa at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you want to focus on community/social policy, and you're in Ontario, there's another option. You can consider one of the research analyst post-grad certificate programs offered at a handful of Ontario colleges - Humber, Georgian, Algonquin, and George Brown. They're typically two semesters of full-time study followed up by a four- or three-month paid internship, although I think Algonquin's program has a part-time stream. I suspect they're still a fair bit easier to get into than degree-level graduate programs. Also, tuition's much less expensive than for an MSW or an MSc (OT) - they're usually about $6,000-$7,000 for the entire program, and approved for federal and provincial student aid.

While these programs stream most of their grads into market research, I know people who've used their internship to transition into social research positions in government and elsewhere. I'm not 100% on this, but some of these programs should also fulfill the education requirements for becoming a Credentialed Evaluator, too. Again, it's worth talking to the admissions officers at each of these schools to get a feel for which programs would best suit your goals.
posted by blerghamot at 10:21 AM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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