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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Becky
Becky
13 years ago

Rock on Linda!

Just think…in a few years this hill will be like the hill you envisioned when you started running.

KICK ASS AND TAKE NAMES!

Felicia
Felicia
13 years ago

Hey, email me if you ever need any help with your math-shaped hole. (Ha ha, that sounds so dirty!) I have two degrees in engineering and I’m pretty good at math. Even though I’m not really putting it to use in my current jobs as an editor and a childbirth educator…

Kelly
13 years ago

Way to go!! My husband is going through a similar experience right now — it seems Minnesota and Texas don’t share a lot of similarities when it comes to credits. But luckily for him, and I have a hunch you too, throwing out the roadblocks just makes him all the more determined to reach the finish line! Good luck sorting it all out. :)

Jen
Jen
13 years ago

Those sweatpants-clad students may be younger, but they’re no way smarter. And you want it much more than they do — you’ll be great! Baby steps, as you say. You Go Girl!

Rebekah
13 years ago

Good for you, Linda. I’m so impressed! I’m trying to get up the courage to go back to school myself (for teaching; my undergrad is in accounting), and your story is really inspiring to me. Thanks for sharing it.

becky
becky
13 years ago

awesome! you are really kicking ass at life right now!
and school will be hard and you will regret it at times, but it will also be so awesome, even if the rest of the students are a bunch of sweatpants wearing teenagers.
right now, 15 years after graduating highschool, after years of working, 7 years of nightclasses at the community colleges, 2 years off to have my little boy, i am finally at the uw studying art, exactly what i have dreamed of doing and didn’t think possible until i was finally here. and while i struggle to keep it together, to spend enough time with my son, to live with being broke all the time, despite the sacrifices my whole family is making so that this can be possible and the fact that i have been older than half of my teachers so far, this is one of the most worthwhile decisions i have ever made.
i can’t wait to hear your stories!

psumommy
13 years ago

YOU CAN DO THIS.

It will be worth every penny.

You will be so much more focused this time. You will appreciate your professors so much more. You will get fantastic grades because you will CARE and you will try that much harder because you understand the worth of the money being poured into it.

I’m not saying that all undergrads out of high school don’t…but many, if not most, really aren’t prepared for college. I certainly wasn’t. And I can’t tell you how glad I was that I went back later. I was married, I had a child, and I ended up graduating on the Dean’s List for 3 semesters straight. This is after nearly failing out of college completely when I was younger.

YOU CAN DO THIS. You are awesome.

Courtney
13 years ago

Linda, that admissions officer sounds like a twat. Yep, I said it. Her job is to create opportunity for people, not throw up roadblocks.
Make sure and send her a thanks for nothing card when you graduate! Because if reading this website has taught me anything, it’s that hell hath no fury like a determined Sundry.

(Mixed metaphor, yes. I think the point comes across.)

Kate
13 years ago

There you go again, inspiring me all to hell. Way to go, taking that first step. You’re gonna do great. And love it.

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

You’re inspiring. Thanks for sharing the emotional vagaries of starting something new.

Shin Ae
Shin Ae
13 years ago

Good for you.

I don’t think there’s any “too long” (unless you’re in a desperate situation). The time passes anyway, may as well have it passing with you moving toward your goal. Baby steps are steps.

Enjoy your class :)

cbrks12
cbrks12
13 years ago

You’re doing right…but most important — you’re doing it!

Michelle
13 years ago

Holy crap, girl. You never cease to amaze me with your bravery and your refusal to take no for an answer. I can’t wait to follow you along this new adventure.

Erin W
13 years ago

I’ll start with this: You rock! Of course its a big hill, its huge, but remember that first mile you ran and how you thought you’d never make it? Well you did and then you ran another and another and faster and faster and then you added in hills and sprints and, and, and!

When I went back to school I had very similar hurdles. Terrible math and science holes and really terrible early college grades. but, I got through the math and science (much easier than I expected, actually) and I have great grades and I’m two terms from graduating.

It WILL be hard and you WILL think of quitting but just know that I’m, we ALL, are proud of you.

Bridget
13 years ago

Sundry, you are going to do FINE. You are going to do AWESOME. You are smarter, more responsible, and more motivated now than you were then. You are going to rock sociology, and then, eventually, you are going to learn to be comfortable with math. I swear. You can do this. It isn’t as hard as you remember. It isn’t as hard to the things you’ve done since then.

And when you’ve finished, no one is going to judge you by your grades from 15 years ago. They will evaluate you by who you are now.

Hilary
13 years ago

It’s true — your grit and drive are inspirational.

Have you talked to anyone who has your dream job? I’ve always found it incredibly helpful to seek out someone who has the career you want, take them out for coffee, and pick their brains. People love to help, and they may have advice about the type of schooling you need and the best way to go about it. Because I think a new career is a goal, right, not just a new degree? Just a thought that might give you more ideas and strategies as you embark on this exciting new path.

Jenn
13 years ago

Oh man, I don’t know why exactly but that gave me chills. You’re going to have the best damn story to tell when you earn that degree. All the best.

rd
rd
13 years ago

As a former student of the WA community college sys, a couple of tips:

1) transfer gpa shows up on the transcript separately than grades from the degree-granting institution. BCC cannot stipulate to prev grades b/c they reflect the grading philosophy of a different entity. Trust me, the differences will become apparent after your first midterm.

I found this out when applying to grad school – confused the h** outta the admissions people b/c *no where* did my transcripts list a cumulative gpa

2) unless you’re absolutely dead set on the UOregon program, check out the public colleges in WA…the direct transfer agreement guarantees admission (to college, not program) for any WA resident who graduates with an AA/AS-T and a 2.75 gpa. If there is not enough space at the 4-yr college, they will grant you a *waiver* to transfer more than the max 90 cr into your program. This could end up saving you $$$.

3) check transfer equivalences religiously. For example, your AA/AS degree may require 5 cr of “quantitative” (math) but not care what specific course. Your actual degree program (at UOregon or wherever) may actually have a specific math they want. Use this handy tool: http://registrar.uoregon.edu/tce/index.php?state=WA&school=Bellevue+Community+College to make sure the classes you take now really count. Also expect some of the requirements for the AA/AS to be worthless at the 4-year college (like speech, bleargh)

***
Good luck!

lucidkim
lucidkim
13 years ago

I find a lot of people in university settings to be snotty for no apparant reason…I understand how she made you feel, tears and all. You’ll do great.

Meagan
13 years ago

College GPA matters not at all unless you’re planning to go for an academic type advanced degree (as in, you want to get a Phd to teach classics or something) or you want to get into med school or similar. As I understand it, you are trying to enter into an area that should look far more at your in-subject GPA than overall, as well as your essays, recomendations and practical experience. Any transcript will also make it obvious that the bad grades occurred 15 years ago, giving a clear reason for the gap. Some programs actually prefer working with “non-traditional” students because people returning to school or starting later are often better at time management, life balance, and generally more determined than many 18 year olds.

To me it sounds like she’s trying to get more money out of you. Don’t let her get you down. Once you get your final degree no one will care about the GPA.

Jenn Perryman
Jenn Perryman
13 years ago

As an academic advisor for a local University, the one that reviews transcripts and suggests courses of action for adult students who are going back to finish (or even start) a degree, I’m pretty horrified at her suggestion. I hate telling people that their GPA’s will transfer in exactly the same as where they left off. I hate telling people they will have to retake certain classes. But it’s academic honesty at stake. If I’m going to require my students to be honest, then I have to be honest as well.

I know you’re not looking for actual advice on colleges and programs, but if you ever want to talk over options in the area, let me know.

Playstead
13 years ago

That’s the best post I have ever read on this blog. Very well written and a killer tone. Good luck.

Jenny
Jenny
13 years ago

I think it’s okay to say that mistakes in your past are part of you, but are in the past now and don’t have to make up part of your current GPA. I don’t know what the legalities are (if you’d really have to lie, obviously don’t do that) but if you’d have a regrettable tattoo removed, you could start over with a clean-slate GPA. It’s just youthful indiscretion, either way.

Lisa Rae @ smacksy
13 years ago

I am looking forward to reading about your school adventures. I have plans to return to school one day and you are an inspiration. That guidance counselor has no idea who she was dealing with but we all do.

I think about how very long it seems it will all take and then I tell myself this: It may take me 4 or 5 a few years – but eventually those 4 or 5 years are going to pass whether I go to school or not – so I might as well go for it.

You will kick ass. And it seems you will have a host of people cheering you on. Myself included.

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

Dude…college classes in your 30’s are cake. Take a few and be amazed at how easy it they are. GPA sky rockets and your spending an hour or so tops. My transcripts were D D D C C W W W W W and now after a couple of online semesters i’m in the 3.0’s. Don’t be discouraged. AT ALL!!!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous
13 years ago

and just because my spelling and or grammar is wrong in the post above – means nothing.

rd
rd
13 years ago

@Meagan – gpa matters up until the point of getting into a major. Sometimes there is a min cutoff that the dept cannot waive, or there may be limits on the number of students admitted each year. What Linda might also be seeing is the impact of the DTA (direct transfer agreement) in WA; essentially, if you aren’t a high-school senior, the possibility of being admitted to any state-run 4-year school is ridiculously low without an AA/AS-T + 2.75 gpa. Low to the point of discrimination.

@Linda

Best advice will come from the UOregon people; make *absolutely sure* that you know what they expect. Your status as a returning student may allow you to skip some of the admissions hoopla.

I went to Highline CC while in high school and the admin kept pressuring me to take the speech and other AA requirements (the ones that wouldn’t transfer) and I just ignored them. By only taking classes I knew that transferred to UW, all my coursework at the junior college counted towards my final degree, which would not have happened if I met the AA distribution. In contrast, a classmate who chose the AA route took a total of 6 years (full-time) to get their bachelor’s degree.

Also, make sure that whatever 4-yr school you go to actually accepts transfer students. When I applied to out-of-state schools, I was told that priority is given to high-school graduates, with the exception of the direct transfer agreement. Essentially if you wanna get in to a public 4-year school either be a high school senior or get your AA within the state. I don’t know how OR handles admissions, but their staff should be able to answer those questions.

The counselor has a vested interest (her job) in maxing the number of students that achieve a degree. A college’s rep in large part relies on its matriculation rate (the percentage of entering students that graduate), so there’s added pressure from admin. A good counselor will balance your needs with that of the institution, and it sounds like this woman hasn’t reached that level of competence.
###

Just tackle this like you have the running: identify the necessary elements for success (coursework, admissions) and find the best route for *your* success….The path less taken, makes all the difference, no?

Frannie
13 years ago

Hey, I just took sociology last semester and aced it. Good luck. I completely understand where you are coming from..I had a lot of promise in my formative years and yet I crashed and burned at times and didn’t go to art school despite a full scholarship..now I’m 29 and a nurse, who is still in school. It has been a hard road. My parents didn’t help me through school, and looking at my loans-I CRINGE…but I also know it was either that or have a menial job. This will be the first semester in three years that I have not been in school full-time–I’m having a baby next month. Anyway, it’s a hard road, but keep focused at the finish.

College is a business, they’re there to make money, yet they’ll turn around and scrutinize you about your past, grades, etc. like your counselor. Don’t sweat it. The past is the past. It’s an education just going through the whole college process unscathed and not screwed over. Good luck!

Lesley
Lesley
13 years ago

Btw, you know what this school journey means. All the people who think education is for elitists are going to say you’re trying to shame them.

Sorry, couldn’t resist. Hehe.

(Running marathons AND going to school…the nerve!)

sas
sas
13 years ago

writing this is really brave.
and when you graduate make sure you link back to this post and remember to give yourself a big fuck-off high five.
you rock!

Bethany
Bethany
13 years ago

I don’t have any advice to offer, as many other people seem to, but I just wanted to tell you how much of an inspiration you are. I have no doubt that you will kick ass at this.

Janssen
13 years ago

Good for you! This is just so so impressive. Your life inspires me in so many ways.

Carolyn
13 years ago

She is a hag, and you are my hero. I’m so glad you didn’t let her obvious disregard for the non-traditional student stand in your way. You can totally do this, and once you start taking classes, you’re not going to believe how quickly it goes. And you’re going to aboslutely love feeding your brain in that way. I have been an adult student in a very traditional student world, and walking into that first class was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Totally worth it though.

And it will be totally worth it when I finish. :) I’m taking a little time off, and unlike the first time I took time off, I fully intend to complete my degree.

You are amazing, you will go and finish and I can’t wait to read your book about it. Me and about 2 million other people.

Merrily
13 years ago

Education is wasted on the young – at least some of us. i was in no way ready to recognize the responsibility and long term effects and OPPORTUNITIES of my schooling back them. And I am a product of my failures and triumphs. You go get ’em Girl! Battle scars and beauty marks and all.

Kim
Kim
13 years ago

I work at a university and one of the benefits is that after a year of employment, we get to take one free class per semester. I had a similar experience you did, including the math-shaped hole in my transcript and finding out most of the credits I took at various schools elsewhere wouldn’t transfer. But I had 63 credits that DID transfer (including Public Speaking thank god), and I figure it’s better than nothing. One step at a time is better than one more regret is how I’m looking at it.

Antropologa
13 years ago

When my husband went back to school he did not try to transfer any of his credits from previous schoolwork (also with not stellar grades, and in a different country) not because he was embarrassed about them, but because he felt they just weren’t relevant anymore. He’s scrupulously honest and it never seemed like lying to either of us, rather streamlining, since, furthermore, the process of getting them transferred would have been stressful and uncertain anyway. Really to him trying to use those credits would have been more disingenuous since they don’t reflect him now. But you do what feels right to you, of course. Just another way of looking at it.

As a university instructor myself I really prefer adult students–they’re often much more conscientious and of course more motivated–so that’s in your favor!

Marie Green
13 years ago

I’m cheering for you, just absolutely smiling at your guts, your determination. Me, I would not spend one single penny or one single second on a class that I didn’t absolutely need to meet my next goal. Those other, younger, students are at a big disadvantage because their future is all question marks and what if’s etc. You know exactly what you want, and you want the shortest, quickest path to your goal… the scenic route is for those looking for parties or tail. =)

So, I’m going to keep cheering for you. Go Linda!!!!

Wendy
13 years ago

I have to throw in my .02 cents as a former community college advisor and university admissions person.

I don’t exactly agree with her advice but I don’t think she was judging you or trying to put up a roadblock. In my job as a community college advisor, I worked with literally hundreds of adults in your situation and nearly 100% of them were dismayed to discover that the GPA they earned when they were not taking college seriously the first time still counts. But how much it counts depends on the person and the career path. For example if “A” wants to come to the community college and earn a nursing degree here, “A”‘s previous college work (say a 2.0 GPA)is probably not going hurt her or him as long as they meet all the degree requirements at the community college. But if “B” who also has a 2.0 GPA and wants to transfer to the university and then to grad school, that 2.0 is going to be a potentially big problem if the university or grad school is competitive.

There are a bunch of variables of course but I would think this woman was just trying to be as honest (in a way) as possible when she was telling you the past grades could be a problem later on.

That said, as a university and grad school admissions officer, I was always impressed when adult students returned to school and could show me A) an upward grade trend and B) a great written statement that explains the past performance and articulates why they were starting this challenge now. I am 100% confident you’d be able to do both of those things really well.

Jilian
Jilian
13 years ago

I love goals that can be measured. Like crossing the finish line after 13.1 miles and that college diploma. You’re going to kick ass! At both.

lisa
13 years ago

You go girl! I’ll be paying on my education from beyond the grave, but it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was hard, and took me seven years, and I’ll probably never make a lot of money with a BA in English, a BA in Art and an MFA in Photography, but all of those make me feel fulfilled and whole. Even though taking requirements and math classes SUCK, you won’t regret it. I look forward to seeing photos of you in your cap & gown in a few years!

cara
cara
13 years ago

You can DO this! When I was in high school, I was an honor student, that scraped by on test scores, got pregnant, dropped out in 11th grade, bored to tears, went back to an alternative school. I graduated before my class. Then took 15 years off. Never took the SATs, ACTs or anything. Decided in 2005 I was going to college. Like you, math is not my strong suit. I did so badly on that part of the test that they thought they had the scores mixed w/someone else. I muddled through the remedial classes and went on to get my associates graduating Magna cum Laude. Sadly had to take 2 years off but I am back at it again. I start classes on Jan. 19. I am much older than 95 percent of my classmates but dammit I’m doing it.
Don’t let the past grades bother you, don’t lie, it will catch up to you. Just forge ahead and do it because you CAN!

Joanna
Joanna
13 years ago

I am really, really impressed. That’s all.

Mel
Mel
13 years ago

You will never like an advisor. Ever. I still feel like crying whenever I run into mine in the hall. :)

You’re awesome and you can do this!

Ruth
Ruth
13 years ago

I’m a lurker–I’ve been reading for years but have never posted because in so many ways you are intimidating (and because, lets face it, I have nothing of any real value to add, right?).

But I guess I thought maybe I did have something valuable to say today? (And maybe I’m wrong) So, just in case it makes one iota of a difference, know that I teach one of those frustrating transfer classes at a local community college and it is the students like you who make my job worthwhile. People like you make classes like mine more real, more enjoyable, and so much more rich than they would be if I had to stare out at a class full of 18 year olds who have always done everything “right”.

So, on behalf of all your future professors (who may be to busy or preoccupied to say it) Thank you for being brave enough to do what so many others aren’t. Congrats on taking the first steps. And good luck. I hope the journey takes you where you want to go.

Leigh
13 years ago

Hey don’t et this get you down. It’s one class at a time. I graduated from college when I was thirty; after dropping out of high school. I graduated from aw School at 38. So I know what it’s like to face a long road.

Remember this: as an older student the journey itself is so much richer. I felt so lucky to be in that University, years after I had given up on myself. And I did very well. After all, I didn’t have to go out and figure out how much beer I could drink.

I went to Law School as a single mom with a 2 1/2 year old. Crazy! I loved every minute of it and graduated with honors. My life experience made me a better student. And I managed my stress better than the young single non parents because my boundaries were clear: school was getting x amount of time, the rest was for my son. Period.

Don’t let anything or anyone deter you. This is the land of second chances.

Jill
Jill
13 years ago

Yay! you won’t be sorry. It’s going to be a great experience.

Susan
13 years ago

Good luck to you. That’s a big task, but better to live big than live scared.

I took a theatre course in university that would count as my required English credit. Might be more fun to see a bunch of plays and write some reviews, I figured, rather than read a year’s worth of weird old literature. Bad idea. A year’s worth of crappy plays is just as bad, and likely worse. I had to go to a play just about every freaking week. College and local community theatre – terrible stuff. I often wept with boredom, or nodded off, while sitting by myself in some back alley theatre on a Friday night. I don’t know what degree you’re pursuing, but that course is not recommended.

Becky
Becky
13 years ago

That conversation is precisely what has kept me from going back to school. Thanks, once again, for talking about it. You may just inspire me to stop being afraid and just do it!

Tina
13 years ago

You rock…but I am sorry it seems so daunting. I fucked around my freshman year (actually this guy used all his jedi mind tricks to fuck with my head). I got so behind I failed basic algebra and had to do my sophomore year twice. I ended up getting my shit together and graduated with honors. Even with all that on my transcript I was accepted into the advanced standing program at the best university in my field. But, I don’t think I would have tried as hard if I didn’t have all that heap of crap to overcome. You are right…that is part of who you are and what got you to this point. Embrace it and start running up that hill. Before you know it, you’ll be at the top and telling the naysayers to suck it! And every time it starts to get really hard, take a look at that old transcript and remember who you are NOW! That took guts to go in there, by the way. If you can do that, you can do anything. And your kids will think you are a rock star too!

Kate
13 years ago

You can do it!!! Having worked in Admissions for a number of years, I can tell you that you should seek out some other schools. Perhaps even consider classes online? If a school in Oregon granted you credit, perhaps they have a program you can complete remotely or at a satellite/affiliated campus?

I did this myself and while it took me 4 years to complete the degree while working full time and dealing with life, those poor grades of the past have taught you more than any textbook ever will.