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October 19, 2006 9:00 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to go about going "back" to school after dropping out and taking a few years off? Of course, there is a ton

I did a brief stint in college (one year at the University of Minnesota) before being lured away by the Dot Com frenzy. I was studying Computer Science and would have probably gone for a minor in Philosophy or Journalism if I had stuck around.

It's now several years later and I'm finally considering going back to school. What's the easiest way to go about doing that? I took a ton of AP classes in high school (CS, Chemistry, Physics, English, etc) and had excellent test scores (34 on the ACT and 15-something on the SAT) and a decent GPA, but I'm wondering if any of that even applies at this point?

Having said that, I totally slacked off in college. I basically barely attended the second semester, because I was hired for a programming job during the winter break and juggling the two and my partying wasn't really possible. I didn't fail any classes, but my GPA wasn't exactly impressive either.

So now I have several computer jobs under my belt and a semi-successful music career (which might have to get put on the back burner since mixing touring and college could put me back in my current situation). I've also taught myself some languages, lived in Europe for a year and read a lot, but I don't know if any of that counts for much either.

So how do I go about applying for schools? I thing I'm ready to try harder at school if I decide to go back, so I'd like to go to a higher quality school. I'm not entirely positive about my majors, but the things I've considered are Philosoophy, Economics, Linguistics, International Business, Political Science or Law.

Is this reasonable? Can I apply to a school like Columbia, the London School of Economics, the University of Chicago or UC-Berkley and explain that I just screwed around for a few years because I just didn't know what I wanted to do?

More importantly, should I even do this? I'm only 26, so I don't feel like I'm too old for school, but I wonder if I'd do it better the second time or just get lured away again.
posted by atomly to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My wife finished her bachelor's last year at the age of 42. 26 is not too old!

She started by going to a community college and taking classes. That's one way to get back in the swing of things, especially if your school record the first time around was less than stellar; you can crank out several A's and then start looking at four year schools.

You can start by applying to those schools you mention, but you may find that you need a better track record in a community college to erase your inattention to classes the first time around.
posted by Doohickie at 9:13 AM on October 19, 2006

I would call the admissions offices of places where you'd like to attend - many programs actively encourage "non-traditional students," especially those with lots of life experience.

I would also reccommend looking into less competitive programs, perhaps in geographical areas you've always wanted to live.

Doohickie's suggestion is good, too.
posted by muddgirl at 9:23 AM on October 19, 2006

Best answer: Speaking from experience, yes, it's easier to go back the second (or third) time around. You're more mature now and understand that slacking off is just a huge waste of money. I too slacked off like crazy my freshman year of college and flunked out. I was/am a smart kid too. I was just lured into the social aspect of college way more so than the whole "go to class" part. I think a lot of colleges understand this as it happens all the time. The only thing to do is start applying and you'll find out who will take you back. In my case, the second time around I applied at the local public university just to get a good track record going so I could prove a 4.0 was something I could do. Once I established that, I applied to harder schools as a transfer student. It can be done. Just prove to them you can do it. You've obviously got the brain as your SATs and ACTs show.

Go online, find the universities you want, and request applications. Get on the phone. If you really want to do this get going. Oh and you don't need to know what you want to do yet. Hell, I still don't. Major in something you know you like. But the first two years are just repeats of classes you already took in HS.

Should you do this? Yes. Even if only for your own personal satisfaction, as is my case. I merely want to prove to myself that a bachelors degree is something I can handle, because I know I can. Since you're already a busy guy, just go part time. Take the 8 year track. Two or three classes a semester. You can still keep doing what you're doing.

A degree is a good thing to have. I'm of the mind that you don't *really* need college to succeed, but to have as a fallback if you don't make it in the areas you want to is probably the best thing you can do for yourself.

And as for the things you've learned since then. Surprisingly, some schools will give you credits for other things you've done. I took some writing classes at Second City and found out I could get credits for that at school. If you know some languages, you can probably test right out of having to take any of those classes too.

Good luck. And just do it. And oh yah, the contacts you make alone may be worth all the tuition you'll fork out.
posted by smeater44 at 9:32 AM on October 19, 2006

After college-hopping (read: 'finding myself') for 4 years after high school (started at a small private college, transferred to a state university, eventually landed at a community college) I dropped out with a shitty GPA and substantial college loan debt.

Over the next five years, I moved accross the country, obtained a job managing a well-known copy chain, and paid off most of my loans.

In 98, I decided to return to school. The local state university had no problem accepting me, but most of my previous credits were lost, as I had more than a few Cs and Ds. Basically, I started over again as a 27-year-old freshman. I got my bachelor's degree at 30. For someone like me, who needed a bit more time to mature after high school, this was the best decision I ever made. I had a whole new perspective on college, and did very well. I sought contacts and internships in my field of interest, and now work in that field (journalism, btw). I also kept working the whole time, lived on the cheap (though an all-ramen diet doesn't work as well in one's late 20s as it would in one's late teens!) and paid for most of it in cash. It can be done.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:58 AM on October 19, 2006

In some ways, I'm doing what your asking about right now.

I went to college for a year, got a job and left ;)

I went to the local community college and banged out a quick associates degree. The 4.0 was nice and every school I applied to as a transfer student accepted me.

One thing I would be careful about though. If you have some target schools to finish up your degree in mind, check their transfer requirements first. 2 schools I was interested in were out of my reach unless I took another semesters load after getting the Associates.
posted by petethered at 10:28 AM on October 19, 2006

just screwed around for a few years because I just didn't know what I wanted to do

You're joking about this part, right? Even if this is what you did, it's not what you tell them, duh. You have to have a story, I mean, narrative, about why you were lured away and did what you did, and why coming back to school (their school, their program) is the right thing to do now.
posted by whatzit at 11:35 AM on October 19, 2006

Best answer: you may find that you need a better track record in a community college to erase your inattention to classes the first time around.

Yes. I partied and flunked out of college at 19, went back to a community college about 5 years later, and took my 4.0 from there plus some strong letters of recommendation and was accepted as a transfer student at the University of Chicago. They even gave me a full ride. I went on to grad school and today I am a professor.

I think that with you life experiences and a few semesters of good grades at a community college, you will be a strong transfer candidate at an excellent school. Go for it.
posted by LarryC at 1:19 PM on October 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

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