Thursday, April 04, 2019

Ask the Administrator: A Fresh Start

A new correspondent writes:

Is it possible to start fresh as a freshman instead of transferring?

Two years ago I started at a community college and while I was able to do somewhat well my first semester it became harder the longer I stayed at this specific institution. The school was a mess, and I let myself get pulled in several directions (a job loss and a demanding new job, then I didn't make it through training for that job due to attempting to prioritize both, and had to scramble to find a new job as I'm an orphan trying to pay her way through school and better her life.) While I learned from those situations and have been able to better my career I had to drop out when the online option wasn't truly online. I went through all of the formalities, but there must have been a clerical error or something of that nature as I, months upon months later, received a bill when FAFSA had taken care of it and I dropped during the drop period. I want to go to school. I want to better myself and make a positive impact in the field of psychology. I just don't know how to go about it or even the nature of the person I would talk to concerning this. In High School I made solid grades and ended my senior year on the honor roll, I was even in an incredibly competitive Medical Assisting program. I don't want my terrible community college experience that was just an odd blip in my life to become more than it has to be.

I've already learned many things from this experience, a major lesson was that while college was for me that college wasn't. My plan of action is to get an online Bachelor's of Science in Psychology, study incredibly hard, and then go to Medical School so that I can become a Psychiatrist. I want a fresh start, and I'm willing to pay for one. I would just like to know, how do I go about my second chance at a great education? Please advise.


I’m sorry to hear that your first community college experience wasn’t a good one.  But it shouldn’t derail you from moving forward.

If you started back at the original school, most community colleges have policies with titles like “academic amnesty” or “academic bankruptcy,” in which a student whose previous college experience wasn’t good can hit the reset button and have everything dropped from their GPA and transcript.  Typically, it can only be done once, and it doesn’t apply to lifetime financial aid limits, but it does give you a fresh start on your GPA.

If you come back to a different college, GPA’s don’t transfer.  Even if you left with a 0.0, it won’t follow you. If you passed a course or two, you could get transfer credit for those (depending on the courses and your major), but the grades wouldn’t count.  

You mention wanting to get your bachelor’s degree online.  I would recommend finding a nearby brick-and-mortar public college -- either a community college or a state college -- that has good online programs.  That way you’ll be able to reach out to actual human beings if and when you need them. For example, while it’s certainly possible to go to medical school with a psychology degree, there are certain courses in other disciplines (i.e. Biology) that you’ll need that won’t be included in your major.  I’d strongly recommend meeting with either a transfer advisor (if it’s a community college) or a pre-med advisor (for a four-year school) ASAP to plan your path. You’ve already experienced the frustration of a false start; no sense in adding the frustration of finding your path blocked because you picked the wrong classes.

From the way that the media cover colleges, you’d think that most colleges are either entirely classroom or entirely online.  But that’s not true. If you can find an inexpensive local brick-and-mortar public college with good online programs, you’ll have the best of both worlds.

If that’s geographically impossible and you have to go online first, be sure to Google the school you’re considering before you sign up.  There are some nasty predators out there who are very good at reeling in students. You’ll want to look for “regional accreditation,” as opposed to national, and you’ll want to confirm that the school is non-profit.  It’s not a perfect indicator, but you’ll greatly improve your chances of a good experience.

In the meantime, depending on your circumstances and how much documentation you can muster, you can always file an appeal to your old school to get your money back.  It’s a longshot at this point, but it can’t hurt to try. The point about the online classes not being really online is a good point to cite.

The other piece of free advice is to take a good look at the life circumstances that drove you to leave your first college.  Have they changed in a meaningful way? I don’t mean that to intimidate or to plant a seed of doubt; I mean it in the spirit of making it likelier that you’ll be successful the second time around.

Good luck!  It won’t be easy, but you’re on a path that might actually work.

Wise and worldly readers, what would you add?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.