Getting educated
November 27, 2016 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Please help me approach going back to school.


I'm mid-thirties, US, currently employed in a professional position (that pays about twice minimum wage) at a nonprofit provider org for adults with disabilities. In my late teens/early 20's I earned over 100 college credits in 2 different states, in neither of which I currently reside. The courses I studied were all over the place; sometimes my academic plans would change from one semester to the next and sometimes I didn't have a plan at all. I've taken some maths and science courses, music, English and many interesting electives.

I quit because I could figure out what I was doing or afford to go on as I was.

I was a decent high school student and a flaming hot mess at college.


The actual piece of paper (a degree) is equally important to me as the education itself; I would love a formal education just to have at least a slightly deeper dive into useful or interesting subjects. A degree would help me career-wise, but I'm not a very ambitious person at my current place of employment. I like what I'm presently doing just fine. The positions I'm restricted from due to lack-of-degree (not lack of knowledge, I humbly submit) are positions I'm not interested in, anyway. Career-wise, I could definitely benefit from a degree in anything. Anything. Degrees relevant to my field are human services, business, psychology...

The way I'm viewing it, I have 3 academic paths to choose from:
(A) Get a psych degree. It will provide better job security for me in my field, and psychology is interesting.
(B) Get a liberal studies or lib arts degree. I'll have the best odds for my credits transferring.
(C) Kind of start over-ish, and get a degree that I would apply to something specific. An example: nursing but bad example because I'm squicked out by people's bodily functions. I have, in fact, plenty of bad examples. No good ones.

What would I like to study? Well, I have a whole bunch of interests just like most MeFites. I could enjoy a class on just about any subject. I'm not so different than I was at 18, wanting to study this and that, only I don't want to take on massive debt.


My plan:

I will eventually [within 3 years] complete a BA online. Let's call it OU for online uni. To save money I will complete all the pre-reqs and anything I can at community college ("CC"; also online, when possible).

My specific questions:

(1) Is it typically possible to enroll at CC, and therefore have my transcripts sent to CC, and CC can then furnish OU with my [previous] transcripts? (Asking because the transcripts are from 4 different schools and I could save a couple hundred dollars if I only request one copy of official transcripts.)

(2) Would OU typically allow me to speak with a counselor or advisor before I even apply? Someone who could look at my previous transcripts and help me piece together a plan; what will transfer, what to take at CC, and what I will need at OU perhaps simultaneously?

Any type of advice is appreciated. If it's unclear, I never completed my education and I need to put closure to this. I'd like to learn some shit! and a degree would open doors for me.

Thanks so much for the help.
posted by little_dog_laughing to Education (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I could save a couple hundred dollars if I only request one copy of official transcripts.

Are you sure it is that much? I needed transcripts recently from two schools and both now do transcripts for free as long as you don't need a special international certification. So even if it isn't free at your schools, it should not be in the hundreds of dollars -- I just checked the website of the local university and they charge under $10, for example. But in my experience, transcripts do need to be sent from the original school rather than as some kind of pass-through system, so you are probably stuck ordering twice.

Someone who could look at my previous transcripts and help me piece together a plan; what will transfer, what to take at CC, and what I will need at OU perhaps simultaneously?

Yes, most places that are targeting transfer students should have some version of this available. A lack of support and information at the beginning would be to my eyes a major warning sign about the support you will get once you are a student. The CC should also have advisors who know the transfer options and systems, at least for the four-year schools students at the CC commonly go on to attend, and may well be better informed about how the systems fit together than at the big schools.

There have been previous questions that addressed the issue of selecting a high quality (as compared to exploitative) online university, and might be worth looking at if you are unsure about the options.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:44 AM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a bit older than you and just this week decided to do just about the same thing (different field). My first step is to make an appointment with a counselor/advisor. When I did this before, on my third attempt at being a twentysomething graduate, the advisor was very helpful, and they wanted to be helpful, telling me to come back monthly to make sure things are going well.

For an online-only university, I would research the hell about their reliability and I agree that their intake counseling would be a first indication of quality. Not the only one, but it's where the rubber first meets the road for us. One of the things I remember realizing in my earlier attempt above is that I was misguided in thinking that I should be able to just sit back with a list of classes and cruise through them to the best of my abilities. The reality is that schools have a lot of services for people hobbling their way through to a degree and it's a good thing to take advantage of them, all of them. The people working for the school more or less give a shit, so let them.

Good luck!
posted by rhizome at 10:21 AM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can address your first question. I teach and advise at a CC. Yes, you usually can get transfer credits "converted" to CC credits, but it would be better to have all transcripts sent from their originating schools to OU.

Things to consider:

If transfer credit is above 200 level, CC either won't be able to apply it to a specific class, or will apply it to a 100- or 200-level class. So you might lose out on higher-level credits.

CC might apply the credits incompletely, if there is a difference between quarter hours and semester hours. So you might get 3.33 credit hours from CC toward a 4-hour class. This is a surprisingly common problem, and a pain in the ass to fix, especially if you're not planning to get an associate's degree.

If CC can't figure out what where to apply your transfer credits to (because they don't offer that class or program, for example) they won't use those hours. So OU will see only the credits CC was able to figure out a "bucket" for, even though you may have taken more hours than that at previous schools.

At my CC (not sure how it works at all CC's) applying transfer credits toward CC classes is not an automated process, which means it's performed by an often overworked, underpaid clerk, who might make mistakes. I always double-check my advisees' transfer credits. But not all advisors do, and it's on you, the student, to make sure everything is applied correctly.

CCs will often require you to declare a major/degree before they can apply transfer credits correctly.

If the schools you're transferring credits from are four-year schools, and OU is not an open access school (meaning you might be rejected for admission), it would look better on your application to have 4-year school credits rather than 2-year school credits.

All of the above comes with a caveat - One of the strengths of CC's is their smaller sizes often mean it's easier to get individual attention (which might include exceptions to the rules). You should go to your CC with these questions and talk to an advisor! In fact, you should go see an advisor in the department where you might like to study. If you don't know what you'd like to study, go see several advisors. Bring unofficial transcripts and they might be able to give you a heads up on what will transfer. Ask about proficiency exams and credit for work experience.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:26 AM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I should add that many of the issues I mention above would apply regardless of the transfer situation (CC to U, U to CC, CC to CC, U to U, etc.). You want to avoid the problem of having your credits "converted" and interpreted several times.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:28 AM on November 27, 2016

2nd Dip Flash. Some universities are keen on recruiting non-traditional students, and are pretty liberal in terms of granting transfer credits. (Usually, their website will make this apparent on the "interested applicants" page. There'd be an office dedicated to non-trads or "adults". You'd see lots of online and evening options for classes, if you poked around, as well.)

If you don't plan on changing careers, I'd take the shortest path to any degree, wherever you're granted the most transfer credits. That might be the liberal arts option, or maybe an "individualized studies" program, if the institution offers one. You might be able to challenge credits (sit a test with content equivalent to a course) or get a Prior Learning Assessment and get credit for work experience, if it's related to an existing course, and you can justify that your experience is equivalent (there is usually some help with this, if they do PLA).

Most institutions, where I live, do expect that you complete a certain number of credits at their institution to establish "residency" there (e.g. a full academic year's worth). But you could probably get this done quickly, and I highly recommend doing that.

Because, part-time study with full-time work, when you're an adult with other responsibilities, isn't terribly bad the first year. Year two is tolerable but starts to wear on you. By year three, most people are ready for it to just end so they can go back to seeing family and friends, and not have to get up early or stay up late to do coursework, etc. It is tiring over a long period of time. And that's assuming nothing unexpected happens, like parents getting sick. If you have to stop at year 2 for any reason, having a degree in whatever is way better than having half a psychology or nursing degree plus 100 unclassified credits. (For nursing you'd obviously have to start over, psych too.)

So if you want to stay where you are and just be able to advance there, I say just get the piece of paper asap. (Later, you could audit courses for interest if you wanted, or take stuff through a continuing ed department for a pass/fail or non-graded option.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:30 AM on November 27, 2016

To be most efficient about this, I would definitely suggest you start by identifying "OU" or whatever school you want to be your degree granting institution. Don't discount the possibility of one of your original 4 colleges being a good option for this, it's totally possible one of those schools will have a decent online degree completion option where you could still live in a different state and complete a degree remotely. These schools should absolutely be willing to help you figure out what options you have with the credits you have before you register for any classes there (though at some schools you may need to apply for admission first).

Once you know exactly what classes or requirements you have outstanding at your degree granting institution, then start looking in to how some of those requirements can be met at the local CC. With 100 credits already complete, this may result in there being way less credits at the CC than you are expecting. There is a good chance you will not need all of your transcripts at the CC, probably just the one/ones that show you meet any prerequisite requirements for the courses you need to take with them.
posted by mjcon at 10:31 AM on November 27, 2016

Your situation is very similar to mine! I decided on a multidisciplinary liberal arts degree, particularly because I have specific research interests and want to study things that will help me with them (rather than get a useful degree to obtain A Job, as I already have a job that pays my bills and is providing me with an informal business education). I applied for spring admission in the Letters, Arts & Sciences major at Penn State's World Campus. It's middle of the road in terms of expense, won't jerk me around on accepting credits, and is a recognizable school, so a good balance for me.

From your question, #1 isn't a thing I've come across. I sent PSU high school transcripts and transcripts from each college I attended. #2 worried me quite a bit, but I went ahead and applied anyway. Along with the offer letter, they send you a transcript evaluation. Because I'm in-state and most of my credits were earned at other schools in-state, many of the courses I've taken have been evaluated and assigned direct transfer credit. For the rest, I have until the end of my first semester to round up syllabi which PSU will use to determine what has equivalence and what will be general credits. This applies to all courses taken since 2000, anything earlier than that is general by default, I think. For courses I don't think are offered anymore, and/or the professor has retired and I haven't saved any course documents, I'm going to be contacting advisors at my former school for help to see if they have their own course equivalents worked out (and I also think in many cases they or the department may have past descriptions/syllabi on file, from what I've seen of this school at least).

Similarly to what others are saying: I picked my major and my school while I was still enrolled at CC. I gathered my transcripts, put the courses and credits on a spreadsheet, and then using major plans at various schools, created completion scenarios for different majors I wanted to consider. Once I had eliminated other schools and majors for expense/notability/type of courses offered/number needed to finish, etc., I used Penn State's online credit transfer tool to figure out what else I could take at CC so that I could take as few credits as possible at university cost. I applied while taking two final CC courses, so the last few semesters showed them that I was on track. PSU would probably have let me confer with an advisor in advance-- the admissions folks were great without exception-- but the final, guaranteed credit eval takes place after acceptance.

Which, incidentally, since I have also been a flaming hot mess at a few institutions, I wasn't sure I would be accepted. But the past few semesters came together pretty well, since I had a goal but still a flexible goal (feeling closed off from options is pretty much my cue to academically crash and burn). Luckily whoever evaluated my application read between the lines and decided to give me a chance. Definitely having a solid job and being able to discuss your impact on the organization for which you work and vice versa is important. I didn't write an essay (advice was that PSU rarely reads those) but my work/volunteer resume was as good as I could make it.

Feel free to memail me if you are interested in more specifics.
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:47 AM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

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