I sat in her office on Friday morning as she peered over the edge of her glasses at my printed-out transcripts, which I had carried in a pristine leather portfolio I haven’t used since my last job interview, eight years ago. She tapped around on a computer while my hands nervously twisted in my lap until I forced them into stillness by locking my fingers together (here is the church, here is the steeple). Whenever she asked a question I responded with pathetic sincerity, eager to impress.

I was hoping for encouragement, a sense of reassurance. Maybe even, if I’m being completely honest, the sense that she was impressed with me in some way. I wanted a hearty go-get-em-tiger speech that would have me leaving the building with a thousand times more confidence than how I had entered—intimidated, unsure, feeling like I didn’t belong in the crowds of sweatpants-clad students who were younger and smarter and unfettered by children and jobs and mortgages.

Instead, she sighed. She was nice enough, but with that single exhale I knew I wasn’t going to be sent on my way with anything other than a headful of roadblocks.

She explained about the Oregon 3-credit classes I took and how they don’t transfer as well as you’d hope for the Washington 5-credit requirements. She pointed out the gaping math-shaped hole in my education and produced a diagram that illustrated how much work I’d have to do just to meet the base requirements for classes like chemistry and biology. She clucked over my grades, and told me that while she couldn’t officially advise me to do so, I might want to consider starting completely over, so as to not drag my GPA baggage along with me.

“The universities ask for your complete transcripts,” she said, “but to be honest, there’s really no way for them to know if you omit this information.”

Ah, I said.

So lie about it, then.

Just start over. Pretend those years didn’t happen. Start with a fresh slate and do it right this time. No one would know. If a shiny new degree is to be earned, it will be utterly untarnished by the failures of the past.

Fuck that.

I’m a very different person than I was fifteen years ago, but that life is a part of me. It’s part of who I am today. Every bad choice I made led me, in some small part, to where I am right this minute. I’m scared and overwhelmed by all the challenges, but I’m excited to learn and I’m by-god willing to put in the hard work to achieve my goals.

Those shitty grades? They’re mine, just like every other embarrassing or shameful facet of my past. I own them. Assuming I even get to that point, I’m not willing to fool some admissions process into accepting me. If I manage to plug away at all these goddamned transfer classes—if I actually find the time and money to get them done, if I actually pass the sorts of classes with descriptions that scare the shit out of me—I will be shouting my story from the motherfucking rooftops.

Goddamnit, I am not going to lie. And it hurt to have it suggested, even as gently as she did.

Thanks, I told her, and I left. When I got in my car, I startled myself by bursting into tears. Ugly sobs of regret and fear, thinking of this impossible hill in front of me. It’s going to take too long, it’s going to cost too much, it’s going to be too hard.

When I got home, I wiped my eyes. Put my papers away. Straightened my desk. Put the brand-new textbook on a shelf, cover up. Introduction to Sociology, one tiny baby step up that hill.

My class starts January 26th.


179 Responses to “Omissions”

  1. Kristy on January 11th, 2010 11:02 am

    p.s. Congrats on becoming a student! That’s the foremost and most important thing. I’m in my graduate program and will turn 40 before I complete it but I’m happy happy happy. I love being a student.

  2. Joy on January 11th, 2010 11:12 am

    Go, Linda, Go!

  3. Kami Lewis Levin on January 11th, 2010 12:05 pm

    Dude, YOU are a total grown up. In every sense. You, of all people, will rise to the occasion and meet the goals you’ve set for yourself. No matter how heavy your baggage is. And it always looks way heavier when it’s in front of you…

  4. June on January 11th, 2010 12:20 pm

    As someone who was in school from age 5 through age 29 (college, masters, and PhD) – oh, and there was the postdoc that I did after that, so let’s make that age 5 through 31, I commend your ambition. You go, girl!

    It is hard to go back to school at a later age, that’s for sure, but you are also not looking for a mate, looking for a good time, seriously unsure of your future, etc. You could have the luxury of laser-like academic focus, which is rare in most undergraduate circles. (I’m pretending for the moment that you don’t have boys to raise or a job to keep.)

    Here’s my take on the classes:

    1) If you had a lousy grade on a subject that you really need to know well, forgo the previously earned credit and start over. The bottom line is that you need to know the material.

    2) If you have usable credits for shit-for-beans classes, argue for their inclusion so you don’t have to waste time and money taking another fluffer class.

    As for lies of omission… Well, one of my dearly respected professors once said to me that he effed up his first attempt at college. Flunked out after a year or so, I think he told me. He worked for a couple years and then went back (different school). Never submitted the old transcripts, just applied with high school creds and started from scratch. No one asked about the gap between high school and his first job, or if they did, it didn’t matter b/c he was starting from ground zero. And he’s now a tenured professor at a large research university. He laughs about his first college try. Worked for him.

  5. monkeyinasuit on January 11th, 2010 1:44 pm

    Good luck to you. I started over with my mathematics education this year in order to qualify for an MBA, as I think I told you on your last post. I had a 13 year hole, myself. Have no idea about your situation, but I have started filling my gaps in knowledge at reputable Extension schools (UCLA for Calculus and Financial Modeling and UC-Berkeley for Statistics). You can elect for credit or not-for-credit. I am choosing them for credit, of course.

    It helps a LOT that my father is an engineer/physicist and available to painstakingly show me the proofs and building blocks. But I was amazed to discover that I could transfer the skills I learned in law school to learning math much more easily than I did when I was young and my brain was more open. Even before I took the classes, I had brought myself up to speed to earn a high score on the GMAT and get interviewed at some of the top business schools in the country (like Wharton).

    I really think you can do it. It takes a buttload of effort and I pretty much lost all of 2009 to it, though.

  6. Megs on January 11th, 2010 2:41 pm

    As some one who advises college students who are applying to medical and graduate programs, law school, etc. as one of my jobs, I wan to let you know that you *absolutely* did the right thing carrying over your transcripts. Not because of morals or some b.s. about how “they’ll know!” but rather because if and when you write personal statement essays for admittance to degree programs, internships, jobs, etc. in your field you can just explain. You will now go on to kick ass or and get the grades you need and want, and the contrast between your early academic self and the more driven self you are now is what will be impressive. Because you are so right–it’s who you are. Omissions and blanks are a lot less impressive than interesting narratives–yours is, and will be, an interesting narrative that will set you apart from other students and other applicants down the road.

    And if you do have admissions essays to write sometime in the future, feel free to email me and I’ll give you feedback if you like–I do it everyday for people who don’t entertain me on a regular basis.

  7. Kathleen on January 11th, 2010 2:47 pm

    As another person at the other end of the university system (postdoc and instructor): Forget that… and try to find someone different to interact with – every department has multiple advisors, usually a few good and a few… not. You found the “not”. Unless Washington is far different from Colorado, your grades don’t actually transfer (will show up on your transcript as transferred credit only), but any credit you can bring in is something you don’t have to do again.

    I do agree with June that if you need to learn the info and you don’t know it now, do take the time and money to redo it. If you’re in a new class and realize that they’re expecting you to remember something from long ago and you don’t, talk to the instructor IMMEDIATELY about how to catch up. I just spent two weeks trying to catch up a student at the end of the semester, and that’s far too late to be much help. I could have done a lot earlier. The instructors are PAID to teach you. Period.

    I’m amazed that this person you spoke to was this discouraging- we encounter so many students, even in their first pass, but particularly “non-traditional”, who made some different choices than they would now. My own husband got something like a 1.5 GPA in his first pass at college (albeit with a 4.0 in skiing), then changed schools and graduated with a 3 something.

  8. Christine on January 11th, 2010 3:01 pm

    Fuck that, indeed.

    But seriously, this is awesome, and an awesome step, whether you have those grades on your transcript or no. Go Sundry go!

  9. JennyM on January 11th, 2010 3:05 pm

    You go, with your bad self. I’m trying to get up the nerve to do something like this myself and it frankly terrifies me.

  10. Livi on January 11th, 2010 3:10 pm

    Way to go – and sociology is FUN stuff.

  11. *firegirl* on January 11th, 2010 4:31 pm

    Totally, completely, & utterly get what you’re saying. I have two unfinished, completely unrelated degrees with credits that also weren’t transferable. It’s disheartening, to say the least.

    Good for you for soldiering on! you’re one tough chick.

  12. WonderSpot on January 11th, 2010 5:15 pm

    I think it’s great that you’re doing this.

    And, having worked at a University designed for adults returning for whatever reasons, I also call bullshit on the need to retake courses. Your old GPA doesn’t matter at all to a new program, and any school right now should be really willing to work with transfer credits… sometimes it takes an official petition, but we almost always did it (well, unless a student was trying to scam their way through a requirement they really didn’t have).

    Anyway, good luck! I loved going back and getting my graduate degree. Being a bit older and more mature made a huge difference to how much I got out of it.

  13. HollyLynne on January 11th, 2010 6:21 pm

    Spectacular insight by the first commentor . . . yep, those WOULD wind up being classes you’d have to pay for again. Good for you: for going back AND for fighting to keep your credits.

  14. Niki P on January 11th, 2010 6:47 pm

    I just finished my first class after being away from it since 1993. I have a full time job and 3 teenagers. It is NOT easy but when I opened up at A on my final exam I was so proud of myself. I have a long way to go and plugging along at 1 class per semester will be hard but I am going to do it. So will you.

  15. shygirl on January 11th, 2010 7:37 pm

    Oh, Sundry. You knock me out. You’re not just going to do this– you’re going to do it fully, wholely, as yourself. Without jettisoning the hard pieces of your past, as so many of us are wont to do.

    This post made me cry. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, and you just continue to kick SO MUCH ASS, in so many new and amazing ways. You are a triumph, did you know that?

    I want to be just like you when I grow up.

  16. Jessica on January 11th, 2010 9:03 pm

    you know what the right steps are for you. I work for a university and no, we can’t just dig up transcripts for students. We have to have your permission to obtain transcripts from any other institution. Besides most universities are too busy to even attempt to do something on the sly like that. While I’m sure you’ll have a great GPA, it doesn’t sound like you are one of those people who are going to school to have a great number on your transcripts. You are going for the knowledge that the degree will give you. Transfer in as many classes as you can! The school should be upfront and provide you with a copy of the evaluation so you can map out your degree on your terms. Go Linda Go!

  17. 3 Stinky Boys and Me on January 11th, 2010 9:50 pm

    You can do it! You can SO do it!

  18. Karen on January 11th, 2010 10:01 pm

    Delurking…. just to say:
    Fifteen years ago, early in our marriage, my husband similar conversation with various advisors. Not owning his past grades (shitty) wasn’t an option, but there were lots of sighs and hmmmms and fairly pointed comments about the kinds of grades that one would really need to go anywhere…. ANYWAY, he’s a doctor now! One of the things that got him in was the AMAZING leap on his transcript, from 60s and 70s, to 2 years straight of 95s, it was clear to anyone who looked at his transcript what had happened. The past is part of your story, and it makes the next chapter all the more amazing when looked at as a whole.

    You go. I know you will.

  19. Ashleas on January 11th, 2010 11:33 pm

    I’m 23 years old and I have a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Digital Arts, Cum Laude (With honor). I always wanted a fine arts degree. I can call myself an artist.

    However, I’m considering going back for a BA in Physics. Specifically Astro Physics if I can. Why? Cause I love it and I love learning.
    I miss the atmosphere. :D

    You’re gonna love it. Also, Sociology is a fun class. I took two classes, one an Intro the other Cultural Anthropology. I hope you enjoy it!

  20. ErinM on January 12th, 2010 11:05 am

    OMG! I can’t stop thinking about this post! I am going back to school for nursing. Started my first prerequisite yesterday. Previous degree in Journalism so I have some prereqs to fill before nursing school. Nursing program gets 600 applications per semester and they accept only 60! Losing my shit about it! Got my work cut out for me and totally feeling the fear right now. Thanks for sharing your journey. It definitely keeps me sane and motivated!

  21. Nicole on January 12th, 2010 4:14 pm

    It took me 12 years and a lot of um “interesting” life decisions before I finally earned my BS in Business at the age of 30. The last 3 years were completed in an extremely intense night school program while I was working full time. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done and the thing I am hands down the most proud of. Better than the degree and the education is the sense of power and confidence that the whole experience injected directly into my soul. That feeling is still there telling me every day that if I set my mind to it, I can accomplish anything. And that alone is worth every penny (and there were a lot of them!) and every sacrifice and every exhausting moment. You can absolutely do it and it will be everything you had hoped it would be and so much more. Congratulations on taking the first step! And for making no apologies and keeping it real!

  22. Brenda on January 12th, 2010 8:09 pm

    I applaud your integrity!

  23. Cookie on January 13th, 2010 9:31 am

    Congratulations! I know its hard. I finished my Associates Degree the day before I had my second child. I’m scheduled to finish my Bachelor’s Degree at the end of the year. I also work full-time. It’s hard. But it is so worth. And I’m glad you’re not shying away from bad grades. They may not be the best, but they’re still yours. I wish you all the best.

  24. Cookie on January 13th, 2010 9:33 am

    Congratulations! I know its hard. I finished my Associates Degree the day before I had my second child. I’m scheduled to finish my Bachelor’s Degree at the end of the year. I also work full-time. It’s hard. But it is so worth. And I’m glad you’re not shying away from bad grades. They may not be the best, but they’re still yours. I wish you all the best.

  25. Amy on January 13th, 2010 12:24 pm

    You. Go.

  26. Karla on January 13th, 2010 2:18 pm

    Kudos to you for going back to school. You should do whatever feels right to you. I wonder though why you feel like you have to let those bad grades from the past haunt your fresh start. I went that route when I went back to school because I had no choice. It made an already difficult task feel nearly impossible. Those old grades aren’t some scarlet letter you have to wear forever. New state, new passion, new beginning. Why make it any harder for yourself than it has to be? That said, this is your journey and you need to take the road that feels right to you. Just be sure that you’re not being unecessarily hard on yourself.

  27. Jenn @ Juggling Life on January 13th, 2010 9:42 pm

    I had a whole lot of baggage myself. I went back at 42 and graduated Cum Laude at 45. I enjoyed every minute of it.

    Good luck!

  28. Jenny on January 23rd, 2010 11:40 am

    I’m chiming in late to say that I was in the same situation when I went back to finish my undergrad degree. My first attempt at college was an utter failure and I dropped out before they could ask me to leave. When I returned, I actually wanted to learn and knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had developed an attention span. My mentoring professor was impressed that I went from being on academic probation to being on the honor roll. My crappy early grades didn’t keep me from getting into law school later, either.
    You will be okay.

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