Preparing for College

Making a Fresh (and Stronger) Start After High School

Question: I took a couple years off from school to get my life in order and now I'm ready to commit to a four-year college. My problem is that while I was in high school, various personal problems hurt my ability to focus on school, resulting in a low GPA. Are there any ways around this problem? Also do you know how I can convince admission officers at good colleges to accept me?

Your eagerness to get back on track with your education is impressive, but you will have to prove yourself academically before you can be admitted to the type of institution you seem to wish to attend. One way to do that is to enroll in a local community college for two years. If you earn good grades there, your high school record will be almost entirely ignored, or at least forgiven. Many community colleges even have “articulation” agreements with four-year colleges. What this means is that, if you maintain a certain GPA and include certain courses in your program of study, then you will automatically be accepted as a transfer student by participating colleges or universities after you finish your two community college years. Often these agreements are made between a community college and the local state university, but many community colleges also have ties to private institutions (sometimes, even elite ones) that help facilitate a transfer to the four-year school.

Community colleges typically have counselors on staff who assist with the transfer process and have information about opportunities at four-year colleges that are specifically geared to “non-traditional students”â€"that is, those who, like yourself, are a bit older than typical undergrads.

Community colleges, of course, will not offer you the same type of residential college experience that many four-year schools do. So, if you are eager to get yourself onto a four-year campus, rest assured that you still have options. Pick up one of those fat general college guidebooks (stores sell them for about 25 bucks each; libraries have them for free). Look for listings of colleges labeled “less competitive” or “noncompetitive.” (Each guide has terminology a bit different from the next.) You may even be able to wangle your way into a college that is somewhat more selective by telling admission folks what you’ve told us and providing some details about the problems you’ve overcome and your determination to continue your formal education. Ask them if you are at least in the ballpark before you spend the time (and money) applying.

Even so, don’t expect to be admitted to prestigious colleges right off the bat, but once you’ve proven yourselfâ€"whether at a two-year school or by spending two years at a less picky place that will take you in spite of your high school recordâ€"then you will be able to trade up to a far stronger school than the one you started out at.