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.

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L
L
13 years ago

Good for you, Linda. That’s crap about leaving behind all those clases that you have already done. Fight to have them transfer over. (and it may well be a fight). Be proud of what you have done regardless of what the grade says. There was learning that was accomplished. Besides, every class they do not transfer is a class that you have to pay for — at the new school (aka more money for them). I do not generally find higher education to be that heartless, but they often have the bias that classes from another school equals substandard education. Take your new baby steps and don’t let anyone take away the ones you have already taken.

Anne
13 years ago

All I can say is go for it. At least you’ll be moving forward, even if it feels like it’s a big hill ahead of you, one day you’ll look around and you’ll be at the top of that hill.

My dad went to college when he had a full time job, a mortgage and NINE children. Took him 10 years to graduate, but he DID graduate. What an accomplishment. You can do it too!!

Sharon
Sharon
13 years ago

You are an inspiration to all of us! Keep your head up and your pride intact.

beach
beach
13 years ago

I want to kick that lady in the teeth. You are on your way. Our past is what brought to where we are now. You are gonna kick Ass.

Rebecca
13 years ago

In one way, starting completely over would be good: If you really got as shitty grades in your base classes as you’re saying, you probably didn’t take much knowledge away from them, either. If that is the case, taking those classes over will give you a much firmer foundation to build your more advanced learning on. That is assuming that it’s not knowledge that you’ve already learned from other sources, like job experience. But, I know if I was embarking on a new science curriculum, I’d want to take basic science classes again, even though I got good grades the first time around, simply because it’s been YEARS since I’ve had to use those concepts in any real way, and it would make the later classes easier on me if I refreshed myself.

Julie
Julie
13 years ago

It won’t cost nearly as much as all you end up spending because you’re unhappy where you are (retail therapy does work, short term). Also, don’t buy new texts!! Try gettextbooks.com

willikat
13 years ago

HELL YES LADY!!!

Sometimes starting over IS good, I have had friends who had not-that-bad grades do it, but shit, you do WHATEVER you want, because you OWN it.

P.S. The one thing in my life that I was really, really, really good at was school. Let me know if I can ever help.

Emily
Emily
13 years ago

Congrats on going back to school! As a social science PhD student and a long time reader of the site – feel free to message me if you need ANY homework help! :)

Christine
Christine
13 years ago

YES!! You’re on your way. It may be a steep hill, but you’re on it now, and you’re gonna get all the way to the top. And screw that admissions lady, or whomever she was. You are gonna do this and be great!

Emily
Emily
13 years ago

I know how it is. I’m starting full-time school again this semester after eight years off for the military and traveling, and I know how frustrating the initial process can be. It’s especially hard if you’re finishing in a different state from where you started, I’ve found. But stick with it and feel free to get pissed off at The System on a regular basis, and you’ll find that once the wheels are in motion, the vehicle runs pretty smoothly.

Emily
Emily
13 years ago

P.S. If you borrow your textbooks from the library, take pictures of the assigned pages with your iPhone and then upload the images to your computer, you won’t have to buy the books.

Erin
13 years ago

You are so awesome. Congratulations, Linda. How frickin’ marvelous. Woo!

Betsy
Betsy
13 years ago

AWESOME! You are awesome. Congratulations.

Nicole
Nicole
13 years ago

I don’t know if there is one in Seattle, but I returned to college as an “older student”, and had a wonderful and supportive experience at an private women’s college. They are much more understanding about returning to school, changing career paths, etc. And private schools don’t have to have the same by-the-book rules that public universities do. You would also be surprised at how much financial aid they offer to offset the cost of tuition! Good luck.

Eric's Mommy
Eric's Mommy
13 years ago

Go get’em Linda!

ElizabethZ
ElizabethZ
13 years ago

What an unsupportive bitch. Don’t let her get to you. I have been back in school for almost 2 years now at the ripe old age of 36 trying to finish my finance degree. With 3 kids (none past preschool yet)and a FT job it made sense for me to do online college, doing it with U of Phoenix. It completely ROCKS – class at 1am after I have been up with the baby anyone? It is super expensive (as in $500/c.h.), but my workplace reimburses 75% of it and I get grants and loans for the rest so that is the ONLY way I could swing it.

It is so empowering to go back to school so don’t let her discourage you. Don’t let anyone discourage you, even yourself. Each class you put behind you will motivate you for the next one and as you get closer and closer to the finish line (running reference thrown in for good measure) it is like a snowball effect, there will be no stopping you.

You will do great, and it is not too difficult to bring up that GPA with some A’s under your belt, so take whatever credits you can get unless you really need the review. Wishing you the best of luck, but I don’t think you’ll need it. Go girl.

Alli
13 years ago

If I could find them, I would send you my Sociology 101 notes. I LOOOOOOve sociology (it was my final major).

You go girl, you can do it!

April
13 years ago

You can totally do this, Linda!

Does your community college have a transfer agreement with UofO? I had a transfer agreement with UC, so I was basically guaranteed admission at junior level when I was ready to transfer. I went back to community college after my divorce and finally got my BA at age 30, it was hard sometimes but totally worth it! Also, take everything the counselors say with a grain of salt, and double check everything. They are frequently wrong.

Laura
Laura
13 years ago

Actually I don’t even think she’s right. I think the universities CAN find out about it, and it would be a basis to kick you out if they did. I have a close relative who works for a state university, and it is AMAZING how much information they put on shared databases.

Mico
Mico
13 years ago

In my opinion, I would follow her advice not to transfer the grades and to start over. I am not sure how much time/money that re-taking those classes will take, but it will be worth it to learn those subjects again now that you have a goal, you can see why the lessons are valuable, and what you learn will stick like it never did before.

I just finished an MBA. I always earned decent grades, but I was a year behind in math/science in high school, and therefore avoided them like the plague as an undergraduate and earned the oh-so-useful English degree (which was actually great for my writing/editing career that after 10 years bored me to tears). Undergrad requirements included an economics class, and it was the most difficult class of my entire 4-year experience. I barely passed with a C, and the confusion and frustration that accompanied during that econ class is still fresh in my mind 16 years later. That said, having managed to convince a business school admissions committee that I could figure it out this time around, my econ classes were the most fun, enlightening, and interesting classes during my time at biz school.

So I guess my lesson learned was that now that I give a crap, the subject actually makes sense and I “get” it now, whereas before it was just some scary lectures, homework, and exams that I had to survive.

So, just sayin’ — she delivered her advice badly, making you feel like a defeatist if you take it. But I think with a different attitude, you’ll appreciate her advice in the end.

Lesley
Lesley
13 years ago

Universities – and post secondary education, in general – are more of a business than they used to be and want you to buy as many courses as possible. In short, they want your money. Make sure you’re not being hoodwinked, and don’t feel bad about this process. It’s a negotiation like everything else.

Don’t study shit you don’t need. You’ll know when or if you’re in over your head and what to get assistance on once you get going. Don’t forget there are tutors out there, too.

I’m going to hazard a guess and say that for most students, English and writing are hardest. Clearly, you’re not going to have any difficulty completing term papers. And comprehension isn’t difficult for you.

Also, you’re smarter than many of those youngsters in the halls. Believe it. Plus, you’ve got life experience. That counts for a lot and makes attending university all the more pleasurable. You know what you want and you’re not filled with adolescent angst and doubt.

What’s most fun is getting to know your profs. When you get a really good one, learning is so enjoyable.

Don’t feel bad. You’re on another new path. Own it!

sarah
13 years ago

Well, Jan. 26th is my birthday, so I’d say that’s a fine day to start your classes.

Also, some people need to be a little bit less-freaking cold-hearted. That woman was probably on some power trip … crushing dreams of people everywhere.

I’m glad that the experience didn’t get you down. You can do it!

Keaton
Keaton
13 years ago

Just an FYI from a one broke student to another: half.com is a great place to get cheap textbooks – you know, for your next class ;)

Jamie
13 years ago

My god I wish I had balls as big as yours! Congratulations on working toward such a huge goal. And Congratulations on all the shit that got you here!

Anne
13 years ago

GOOD FOR YOU!

I wish I could bottle the inspired feeling you, uh, inspire in me and so many of your readers and send it back to you. I am positively floored by your drive to better yourself and grown and change and learn and do new things. I hope you don’t get tired of hearing it, because I feel like I leave this comment on your blog a lot. But it is important, and very true.

Go get ’em, Tiger. :)

Kari
Kari
13 years ago

Two things:

1. Although I cannot really describe exactly how this works, your previous GPA is really only relevant to getting in and transferring credit. It will not become a part of your final graduating GPA, so, in some way, you get a fresh slate now. At least, that is how it was for me, many moons ago, when I transferred to UW, and yes, I got the same advice about omitting prior coursework. Like you, I decided to own it. I couldn’t afford, financially or morally, a do-over.

2. I hate to generalize, but I have rarely had a positive experience with a transfer counselor. For inexplicable reasons, most have always spoken in terms of obstacles, not possibilities. Also, it needs to be said: rarely did any two counselors have the same advice or information about transferring credit. It pays to get a second or third opinion on the best way to navigate your chosen degree.

To that end, I would strongly recommend speaking with someone at the UW, perhaps in the Evening Degree program, assuming that UW is where you intend to earn your final degree.

3. (Okay, three things) This is a kickass decision, no matter what.

Victoria
13 years ago

Good for you. Just. Good. For. You.

Rhea
Rhea
13 years ago

Lurker here! I went back to school at age 32 with 1 year of school and a 1.125 GPA under my belt thanks to partying too much my first time away from home at age 18. I graduated this past August and it was THE BEST decision I ever made to go back and finish. I applaud you taking these courageous steps to start school again. You will not be sorry!! Good luck in your new endeavor! It is so much easier as an adult, even with kids at home….hard to believe I know….

OmegaMom
13 years ago

Two thumbs up. I’m glad you’re doing it. Don’t let people get you down. And Kari’s right–your GPA for final purposes is only calculated on the courses you take at the last college.

kalisa
13 years ago

When I moved to Memphis, I was 20 years old with only had one semester of community college under my belt. After living here for a year or so I rustled up all my courage & applied to the U of M.

The day I had to go up to school to register for classes was harrowing. When I FINALLY found the right building, I walked in & no one would help me. I couldn’t figure out what to do. I walked out in tears saying aloud, “I don’t know whatever made me think I could do this.”

My brother convinced me to try again & a couple hours later he accompanied me back up to campus. As soon as we walked in the door, a student worker approached me & offered to walk me thru the process. Completely different experience than I’d had earlier in the day.

It wouldn’t be the first hurdle in my pursuit of a college degree – including alcoholism & an unplanned pregnancy. I walked across the stage when I was 30. It remains the proudest moment of my life. I DID THAT.

And you can too.

Katherine
13 years ago

Good for you.

My husband just recently went back to school. He sat in classes full of kids half his age, who spent the weekends partying instead of paying bills and raising kids. I’m proud of him, despite how hard it has been.

You did a triathlon…you can totally do this.

cynthea
cynthea
13 years ago

YAY!!! Yay yay yay yay!

Alina
Alina
13 years ago

Momentum, baby. Just keep plugging away, and in a couple of years you’ll be able to see how much you’ve done, instead of still sitting there staring at the starting line.

Lori
Lori
13 years ago

You are fucking awesome, and an inspiration to me. I feel stupid saying that, but it’s true.

ColorCodedC
ColorCodedC
13 years ago

Who doesn’t have things they’d take back from their college experiences?? Don’t be discouraged. She was just trying to make you feel small (for reasons that, I’m sure, had absolutely nothing to do with you). You’re not small. You’re determined. And SMART. Give ’em hell.

Amy
Amy
13 years ago

Oh man, good for you! I think you will love it.

I was a horrible student because I thought I was a horrible student. I flunked out of college because I was too busy trying to find fun and Mr. Right. See? I told myself, you are a bad student.

Then I turned 25 and actually wanted to do something with my life. I went to the local tech school but had to start in the remedial math that wouldn’t count towards anything other than getting me into basic college Algebra 1. I worked hard and actually found I enjoyed learning. I liked my classes and not all the students were young kids. I made some friends. And I made the Dean’s List. Every semester until I earned my AA and admission to my coveted 4-year school. I did well there too and would have graduated with honors except too many of my tech school grades transfered and I didn’t have to take my 4-year school’s classes so I didn’t have enough of their credits to qualify. Yeah? I don’t know either.

Finally, last year I went back to tech school to get some photography classes under my belt. I once again made the Dean’s List. And this past December I was invited to join an Honor Society. Even though I no longer attend any school, I paid the fee and joined that Honor Society just in case anyone ever builds a time machine I can go back to the horrible student I thought I was and say, “See? You’re NOT a horrible student. You CAN do this!”

Good luck and I know you’ll rock.

Cara
13 years ago

No advice here. But, I have absolute confidence you’ll do this, one step at a time. And, like your races, you’ll do it at your pace and make it to the finish line one way or another.

Amy
Amy
13 years ago

Oh, and it took me until I turned 40 before that first BS (ha! I know!) degree was finally mine. It was a long, hard road but well worth every modicum of pain and hard work.

samantha jo campen
13 years ago

I’m frankly shocked she suggested that. I don’t know about your state reqs and whatnot but I’m an admissions advisor in IL and if you were to lie to me about your past grades I’d still find out if you were applying for financial aid. So I can see her saying that, I GUESS, if you were paying cash. But dude, if you lie and they find out you could be expelled. So good for you on a number of levels. I’m literally scratching my head at the kind of advisor you have.

Donna
Donna
13 years ago

Damn I hate it when people make you feel that way….
(signed having spent some time crying on my steering wheel too)

But, by the same token? The reason you cried is because you know you are better than that and are surprised that no one else can see it just by looking.

She shouldn’t have judged your book by it’s cover, your cover says cute mom type, looking for something to do, but inside, where the jelly is?
YOU ROCK, CAN DO ANYTHING YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO, AND HAVE THE BEST FAMILY SUPPORT, AS WELL AS BLOG SUPPORT YOU COULD ASK FOR, JUST TELL US WHAT WE NEED TO DO…MAD PROPS? YOU GOT IT, ENCOURAGING WORDS? YOU GOT IT. RETYPING YOUR NOTES? (One of us will do it, but you don’t want my skillz, lol)
The point is, it’s scary, but you can do it. Just tough it out, and the first day of class will suck and be strange, but swear, by the third class, you’ll have your feet under you….

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

Just a lurker, but I’m super proud of you. Starting over is completely terrifying and more difficult than most people understand. Bring your old transcripts with you – combined with your new successes they’ll show how you’ve grown and changed, and through that you’ll show them how kick-ass you are and how much they NEED you in their program!

Wishing you the best of luck with Soc!

Jenn
13 years ago

Go get ’em Tiger :)

Going back to school as an adult is 100x more emotional than you can even imagine. But it’s so worth it.

Kat
Kat
13 years ago

^ I’m anonymous… whoops :)

Tina G
Tina G
13 years ago

I agree with Rebecca- because that is just how i think- I went back to school at age 26- a single mom – it was a LONG ride, but I did it. I have a degree in teaching with about 31 credits in Psychology….I even graduated Summa Cum laude with my 4.0 at age 32- BUT- I’ll be damned that now at age 44, I can’t really tell you much about those courses I took and aced. But good for you- you are registered! Do what feels right for you- you will succeed- adult students ALWAYS do better!

saveyoursanity
13 years ago

Good for you, Sundry!

I too am going back to school; my classes start on Monday and I am TERRIFIED.

Penny
13 years ago

Damnit, WHAT are you going to major in?!?

The whole GPA thing is kind of a game, so maybe talk to someone else about the pros and cons, but be careful about letting your pride shape your resume (said by someone who’s workplace pride routinely interferes with her progress).

Good luck. Starting over is scary stuff. Thinking about doing a bit of the same over here too, and I’m just stumbling over a 2 hour, one time class, for crissakes.

Val
Val
13 years ago

School admissions – oh the joy. I went last week to re-enroll. What I did not realize were that classes started the next day (who starts classes on a Wednesday?) and previously was technically on the their on-line campus and it would take several days to get the records. Yada, Yada, Yada. So I start in March. But, since I’m currently a “dislocated employee,” I decide not to waste the next two months so I hit the local tech school. I signed up for a couple of classes. I feel like I’m moving forward.

Congratulations to both of us. God help us survive.

bibliogrrl
13 years ago

Ugh and Yup.

I was basically told a big hearty FUCK YOU even though I’m old and female and Mexican (cards I never ever play, to be honest) when I tried to enroll in a real university a couple of years ago, because of my past transgressions. From 20 years ago.

I was furious.

So I dusted off, and went to a city college.

And in doing THAT, discovered that what I thought I’ve wanted to do all this time… not so. The career I’ve thought I wanted, I don’t. 10 years of school and probably 100k in debt in a field where there ARE NO JOBS? Um. No. Just No. (mind you, I’ve dropped out 3 times. Twice at 18/19, once as a grown up. hah)

Instead, I’m going to go to school to do something that brings me as much joy, even though I won’t get as much respect. But I’ll have a JOB. And I’ll be doing what I love.

GO YOU.

Too Frizzy
13 years ago

Tons of advice up there, but I just wanted to throw my own in. I work in college admissions, actually, and can’t believe that woman. Is she a transfer counselor for a college, or does she work independently? Sounds like she’s a free bird, so I’d reallyreallyreally encourage you to go straight to UW (assuming that’s where you want to end up) and talk to them. They’ll help lay out a plan with exact what you need (and don’t need) to transfer. And they’ll be right, since they’re the bosses. Of themselves.

Anyway, congratulations. It will be sososo worth it. Shoot me an email if I can give any admissions insight. Good luck! :)

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