I just graduated with my BA in English (don’t even ask me what I’m going to use it for…) And it’s exactly 13 years after I graduated high school. Needless to say, my road to my degree was one marked with a lot of missteps, wrong turns, u-turns, and chaos.
In high school, I was often the student that was, “bright and engaged in class, but never does her homework.” Or “extremely bright, but doesn’t apply herself.” I heard some form of those two comments my entire high school career. And I knew that I wasn’t reaching my potential, but honestly, that’s never meant much to me. I value knowledge and education. So much, honestly. If I could be a lifelong student, I would be. Not for any other reason, but I love to learn. I am inspired when I’m engaged in learning. And I am a research nut. I have a question — I can guarantee you I will find an answer or resources to help me reach the answer. That being said, the idea of some sort of potential others saw in me, never really had an impact on me. It’s nice to feel like people believe in you, but I was always more interested in pursuing things that mattered to me — homework was often not that.
Out of high school, I went straight to college. I loved the new found freedom. I felt inspired by the new friendships I was creating. And most of all, I was enthralled in learning. I loved every moment of it. However, for the classes I didn’t like (College Algebra…) I just wouldn’t go. This was partly born out of anxiety and frustration–math has always been a struggle for me, the large lecture environment for math was not conducive to learning (at least not for me), and I can always find something that’s more important than going to classes I don’t like. After that first school year – I failed out, moved back home, and started taking gen ed requirements at a local community college.
Then I got married.
Then I joined the military.
Then I got pregnant.
Then I got out of the military.
Then I got divorced
Then I had Z.
And started taking classes again. After a ton of life experience, I was determined to finish my degree. First, I tried an online program (one that really failed for me — non-engaging, not a very helpful admissions or financial aid department), then I went back to the community college (which was fantastic, led me to E, and plenty more), then tried a Graphic Design program online – another for-profit school that wasn’t very helpful or strong academically. I felt like I was paying a ton of money for an education I could teach myself. Then I applied for a school that I was over the moon about. I was packed, ready to move Z and I, only to find out 2 days before the move, the school hadn’t received one of my transcripts. And once they did, my GPA did not meet their minimum requirements.
I was absolutely devastated. This was the first program I couldn’t do something to get myself in. So, I went back to community college again…obviously over my credit hour limit, got my associates, then finally decided to go to a local university to finish my BA in English. I could go into a lot more detail about the journey it took to get me here, but I won’t bore you with the details.
So, how did I finally do it?
- Write a ton of letters
I wrote a ton of letters to admissions departments, financial aid departments, and even academic departments. I think the thing that saved me was just being honest. I was honest about how my time management skills were lacking, how I probably wasn’t ready for college at certain points in my life, how I had extenuating circumstances such as a divorce (and before that a marriage filled with turmoil), joining the military, losing a pregnancy 20 weeks in (and mourning for a long time after), and then having a child of my own. Even though some of the programs I attempted weren’t very inspiring, it was still no reason to do poorly in the classes. And I owned that. You will have so much more success if you own your experience — good and bad. After revealing your mistakes (and don’t feel like you have to go into great detail — you don’t…and probably shouldn’t), talk about goals you have, how you plan to repair your past mistakes, what’s inspired you to kick it into gear, and in particular what your end goal is and when you want to have it completed by. They want to know that you have a clear vision.
- Identify your weak spots
My weaknesses: time management, afternoon/evening classes, and focus. It is so important to identify your weaknesses, not to beat yourself up about them, but to give you some clarity on what you need to do to reach success. If you’re a person that tends to dwell (hello!) and harp on yourself, write down a strength for every weakness you have. And if you can’t do that. Take a break and come back to it the following day. Self-reflection and actualization does not have to lead to a depressing outlook. If anything, it should empower you because now you are aware and can plan accordingly. I figured out (after a few attempts -ahem-) that late afternoon/evening classes were just not my cup of tea. I’m a morning person, so I start to hit a wall around 3pm, and it’s incredibly hard for me to focus on anything time consuming or thought-intensive. So, if I was able, I tried to enroll in classes before 3pm or online. If I absolutely had to take a late afternoon/evening class, I tried to schedule it for days that I didn’t have as much going on, so I wouldn’t feel so drained. Plus, one of my favorite classes was an evening class, so be flexible.
- Make sure your lifestyle is ready.
I’m a firm believer that sometimes you just have to take a leap and figure things out on the way down. But you really need to have your life on board for school. If you have kids, a job, or other responsibilities, research and find out all your options. Talk to your employer, they may even pay for part of your schooling, or they might tell you that it just won’t work with their business. I had to leave a job that I really liked because the hours they needed me for just couldn’t work with my school schedule. You have to make those choices and sacrifices and weigh whether or not they’re worth it.
- Be fair to yourself.
I am the queen of biting off more than I can chew. I’m a dreamer and can often be overly-ambitious. This is a reason I’m kind of glad that I hunkered down with school a little later. I knew that I sometimes get myself into situations where I agree to much more than I can actually handle. I finally had to be realistic. Taking 18 credit hours, balancing life with a fiancee and 6 year old, and a job, it led to total and complete burnout. And the semester after, I struggled to even read a page or write a sentence. I’m an introvert, so a constantly spinning schedule and interacting with tons of people on a daily basis is extremely draining for me. Know your limits and honor them. The more you do that, the more successful and sustainable you will be!
If you’ve really screwed academically or changed your mind on majors a billion times, it’s okay. There are plenty of us who have done the same. But you can bounce back! If you’ve ever made a misstep academically, what did you do to repair it?