A fresh start at 23?
March 19, 2006 12:00 PM   Subscribe

For a friend: How do I get a fresh start at college?

Backstory: I'm a 23 year old high school graduate who has been struggling with clinical depression the past several years. During this time I have been enrolled in a Big 10 university, and while I've received good grades in the classes I've put an effort into (even decent scroes in the few I only showed up for the tests in), I've done so poorly in the ones I've not gone to that my GPA is completely marred. I've gone through every possibility within the university to resurrect my GPA, but have hit a brick wall. I finally feel like I have control over my life, like I know what I want, but now that I've dug myself in so deep a hole here that I can't get out.

I would like to get a fresh start at a new school as a freshman, without transfering credits, but it has been so long since I've gone through the application process that I'm unsure of what to do next, especially considering my circumstances.

I graduated high school with a 3.2 GPA and a 1325 SAT score. I was involved in newspaper, band, photography, and the National Young Leader's Association. Also, the past several years I've volunteered with PAWS. I am very interested in travel, writing, art, reading, and theater. I also would not be opposed to going to school overseas (English speaking countries). A school with a girl's rugby team would also be great. I also have no restrictions on schools within the United States. My goal through all of this is to meet new and interesting people while getting a great education.

Questions: How do I do this? I'm not a senior in high school applying anymore, so I'm not too sure what to do. Also, what would be some good schools to look into? Any stories or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Note from Loto: Sorry about the length, just wanted to get as much info in since she does not have an account. I will be posting more info as needed, though.
posted by Loto to Education (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Forgot to mention that she is planning to take some time off and return to school in the Spring of 2007. She'll be working in the mean time.
posted by Loto at 12:02 PM on March 19, 2006

Well, I really don't know how a collage would feel about accepting you. They're definitely not going to just ignore the previous collage experience.

If you don't mention your collage experience in your application, they're not going to be happy.

I know at the collage I attended, our counselors actually told us about a guy who applied, was accepted, and then the guys parents called the consolers to thank them for accepting their son after he flunked out of a bunch of different schools. After the call the kid was kicked out of school.

Now, what I would do in your friends situation is slog through and get her degree. I mean a degree is a degree, and while some places will hire students based on their GPA a few years after graduation, her GPA won't matter very much at all.

Once she has the degree, it will be much easier for her to enroll again at another school as another freshman and get another degree, from what I understand.
posted by delmoi at 12:10 PM on March 19, 2006

Check for schools with "continuing education" or "adult education" or similar programs. Many schools will let you start taking a few classes - for credit - without being enrolled as a full-time student. If you do well in those classes, you can apply for/re-enroll in the degree program.

The real answer to this question will be found by making a list of schools in your area (or whatever area you'd like to relocate to), and calling them up. You'll be directed to whatever department is responsible for adult education, and they can tell you how they like to reintegrate students who have strayed off the rez. (For example: UMass Boston does this all the time, offering a UMass degree to anyone who completes enough credits. Harvard has its own program, which generally ends with a degree from the Harvard "Extension School." But even there, you can apply to Harvard proper if you've excelled in their alternative program.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 12:24 PM on March 19, 2006

Returning to college can be excruciating hard. I returned to college after being away for 5 years. I had previously attended university in London. I had noted on my college application that I had previously been in college but I soon discovered that my old university had lost my records.

Once a US college is aware that you have previous records they won't even consider you until they have transcripts. I eventually had to get a letter from a administration at my previous school saying that they were unable to forward the transcripts, it took two years but I was finally accepted to a US school.

You can try to hide the previous school experience, which I tried to do to get around providing transcripts, but most states (like Texas) have a central application system and differences between applications pop up and forward to the school at which you're applying.

One option is to see if the credit will transfer as credit/no credit. If the previous classes don't match up with courses that the current uni. offers instead of recognizing a letter grade the school may recognize 3 hours of credit applying towards electives.

Best of luck for your friend. Returning to school is definitely worth the effort and wait.
posted by vionnett at 12:25 PM on March 19, 2006

Spend a year at community college. Take advantage of their counselors to help you figure out where you want to transfer and how to make that happen. Use this time to get your grades up. When you do transfer to another 4-year school, your credits will transfer, but your grades won't.
posted by jrossi4r at 12:38 PM on March 19, 2006

Well, my experience is that I completely flubbed my first three years of undergrad, changed majors, changed my life, and somehow managed to get into grad school.

I don't know if the fresh start as a freshman is really what this person needs. She's older than many college seniors after all. My suggestion is that not all colleges are the same. I know some people who did really well in a huge campus environment, and people who transferred to smaller private schools and thrived. I know people who dropped out to get technical certifications and thrived. And let's face it, college is not an ideal learning environment for everyone.

Colleges are going to want to see transcripts, and so will some employers. How much of a liability this might be depends on what type of college or career you pursue. Dropping out and getting some good career experience can help.

But there are some big questions that I think this person needs to be asking themselves. Why is college so important? What is the problem with earlier college courses? What is their ideal learning style? Where do they want to be 10 years from now? What do they want to learn? These will help a lot in trying to find a good learning program.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:17 PM on March 19, 2006

Whoa, this rings a bell—depression and everything. After I annihilated my GPA at the nearby Big 10 school, I went to a few psychologists, came away with a thorough psychometric profile, a diagnosis (depression and a learning disability), and some leads (i.e., the psychologists).

With my psychometric profile and a pretty clear plan—in other words, an expert's take on what the substrative problem is, an optimistic how/why take on how the causes lead to the (then-)present circumstances, and a follow-on to that assessment that spelled out how I was going to deal with things going forward, where I wanted to go via a fresh start in college, etc.—I spoke to admissions counselors at a couple of nearby liberal-arts schools.

The admissions counselors who were interested each struck a deal with me. With that info, I went to the local community college and started hitting the GPA targets that I and the admissions staff at each of the colleges I had approached had agreed to.

I submitted an application for admissions (not transfer), per the discussions I had had with the admissions staff at each college. A couple let me in, a couple didn't. I'm behind a year, but that's a price I'll gladly pay for this clean slate and the shot it gives me at getting where I want to go. My GPA at the beginning of Spring semester was 3.98.
Email address is in my profile, in case there's anything I can do to help.
posted by Yeomans at 2:33 PM on March 19, 2006

First of all, I don't think that any of these problems are insurmountable. Not at all. :)

I think Banky is on the right track.

If it were me, I'd aim for a smaller private college that includes a good portion of older "returning students" -- and is willing to help cater to them. I also think that it would be better for you not to wander too far afield from your support network. Keep it simple. And just tell the truth.

For example, my sister enrolled in a small local private Catholic college in Baltimore (Notre Dame of MD) after taking a course or two each semester over many years while she was raising her child. The school was coed, but heavily female due to having traditionally been a women's college. And they were very interested in helping the older returning student, in addition to their traditional college age population.

My sister loved it and thrived there. My niece ultimately did very well there too taking the traditional college route. And the Cathoilc thing really wasn't a big deal (my sister liked all that,but my niece is a little heathen, bless her heart. And they had some out gay professors too that they loved).

I think the key is to do a college visit. Take the tour but definitely make an appointment to talk to an admissions person. And if they want to throw some credits your way for general requirements from previous courses, take the credits. You'll still need plenty of other credits.

Good luck. I'm sure this will all work out. Don't worry yourself too much. :)
posted by bim at 2:35 PM on March 19, 2006

She has two options-- one, like the poster above suggested, attend a community college for a year. She could even repeat some of the classes she did poorly in and get a better grade. Second, there are many schools out there that have programs for adult students coming back to finish their degrees. These baccalaureate degree completion programs are often designed for working adults, with classes meeting in the evenings and weekends to accomodate a working person's schedule. Many of these returning students have stories like your friend. Or they got pregnant, divorced, moved, etc. Something happened that caved in or interrupted their studies.

DO NOT LIE about attending another school! That is easy to cross check on any financial aid paperwork, even the high school transcript might have schools that transcripts have been sent to, which will lead to an inquiry. What your friend needs to do is own the fact she basically failed, and address it as matter of factly as possible, and that is why those community college classes might come in handy--they show a committment to doing better. Schools do understand that life happens, it's not the end of the world for her academic career by any means. Good luck!
posted by 45moore45 at 2:36 PM on March 19, 2006

Oh...and two thumbs up to Yeomans on that GPA. Mighty fine work! :)
posted by bim at 2:37 PM on March 19, 2006

PS-- when I say baccalaureate degree completion programs, I mean at brick and mortar schools. Many have this option now because non-traditionally aged students are the fastest growing demographic on college campuses. I'd stay away from the fly-by-night online schools. Those are all proprietary schools and most don't have a very good reputation. Again, good luck!
posted by 45moore45 at 2:39 PM on March 19, 2006

Be aware that most colleges will not be keen on funding you to "start all over" if you've already had 3 years somewhere else--not sure how much gift (i.e. scholarship) financial aid you'll be depending on, but there it is.
posted by availablelight at 3:21 PM on March 19, 2006

P.S. Yeomans, along those lines, how long did you spend at the Top Ten school before starting over? In the eyes of admissions officers, there may be a big difference between 1-3 bad semesters, and "doing well in some classes but not in others so I'm not happy with my GPA as a rising senior," regardless of the underlying cause.
posted by availablelight at 3:25 PM on March 19, 2006

I went to Ohio State for a year and their policy at the time was you could have a fresh start after something like five years. If you'd like to go back to the same school it might be worth checking to see if they have a policy of this type.
posted by kindall at 3:33 PM on March 19, 2006

Some previous AskMe threads that are at least somewhat related:

Can I start over fresh at school?

Starting over at US uni after being at a school in another country
posted by SuperNova at 4:42 PM on March 19, 2006

Just some more info, and some questions: It seems like she is leaning more for going to a community college, or an extension school for a couple of semesters to show that she can do the work and then applying to another school. She wonders, though, will she be able to get into a good/competative school like this?
posted by Loto at 5:04 PM on March 19, 2006

It seems like she is leaning more for going to a community college, or an extension school for a couple of semesters to show that she can do the work and then applying to another school. She wonders, though, will she be able to get into a good/competative school like this?

This is why it's a good idea to talk to her ultimate destination (the place(s) that she may want to graduate from) FIRST. You don't want to "put the cart before the horse." :)
posted by bim at 5:15 AM on March 20, 2006

Again, getting in and getting funded with scholarship aid are two drastically different things--if she (i.e. her parents) don't need gift aid, she'll be much better off. Keep in mind that many competitive schools won't admit anyone with more than a set amount of previous credits even as a transfer (Harvard, for instance, won't admit someone with more than 2-3 semesters elsewhere, and some less selective schools have a similar policy) so she'll need to find out specific policies.
posted by availablelight at 6:54 AM on March 20, 2006

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