• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Starting Over

Advice for a student looking to return.

May 5, 2021

A new correspondent writes,

Can I get some advice in starting fresh again in community college. I graduated high school back in 2013 and I’ve been going to my local community college up until 2018. I dropped out the mainly because I was unfocused (combination of procrastination and foolish choices), during my studies and they were selling some really bad grades and some classes and in others, I we should limit of the number re-enrollments for those classes. And now I highly regret my foolishness during those years would you give me a really bad looking and transcript and a bad GPA. I’ve learned from mistakes and I’m willing to try harder to actually be able to transfer and go to four year but, my bad record so far is most likely going to keep me from it. Can I please get some advice?

Thanks for writing.

Most community colleges have some version of a "fresh start" or "amnesty" program for students who attended years ago, did poorly, walked away and then returned older and wiser. Typically it involves eliminating every prior class from a transcript, including any that you might have passed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t affect financial aid lifetime limits, so if you used financial aid for any of the earlier semesters, they’d still count against your lifetime cap of 12 full-time semesters or the equivalent.

Alternately, you can do a fresh start of your own simply by starting at a new college. GPAs and grades don’t transfer, so any F’s or W’s you got at the first college will be filtered out by the second one. Yes, ultimately a four-year school to which you transfer might want to see both sets of grades, but if you’ve done well at the second school and there’s a significant time gap between the two, it should be easy enough to convey that you’ve turned things around. Nothing succeeds like success.

For what it’s worth, I’d advise taking some time to reflect on what will make the second attempt different. Focus matters, but it can mean a lot of things. It could mean the lack of distractions, whether due to personal growth or a more stable job/family situation. It could also mean knowing what you want to do or study. Students almost always perform better when they care about what they’re studying, whatever that might be.

Many colleges have a version of a student success course. It goes by various names at various places. I’d recommend talking to an adviser at the college you want to attend and finding out if it would be a good option for you. The better ones often include a focus on career interest identification, so the students work on developing study skills while researching the careers they want. It works like a twofer: they improve their study skills, which makes the rest of college easier, and they gain or strengthen a sense of purpose, which makes it easier to stick around when things get difficult. If you already know what you want, it’ll be that much easier.

I’d also advise doing what you can to ensure that you’re able to balance life and work with college. When students drop out, it’s more often because life gets in the way than because they aren’t smart enough. Will you be able to keep yourself fed while taking multiple classes? If that’s an issue, ask the adviser at the college about help with what we call student basic needs. Colleges are getting better about helping students with food, transportation and various other supports. We’ve just seen too many capable people walk away when life got too complicated. With financial aid and basic needs support, you may be able to get some momentum going. And if you do well at the community college level, many four-year schools offer transfer scholarships. Community college can be a springboard.

Good luck! I hope you’re able to get back on track and shake off the mistakes of years ago.

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


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