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Future prospects with a horrible academic record

  1. Jan 10, 2015 #1
    Hi everyone. I am hoping to get your opinions on what my future prospects might be as I've had a really rough struggle with school and any advice you might have for me.

    For background, I joined the military right out of high school. After five years I got out and attended a local community college. My grades were pretty good, but nowhere what I can do - I was struggling at the time and didn't really understand why. There I found my love of science, especially geology and physics, and decided to complete a double major in both to go into geophysics. I transferred to a state university with a very good geology/geophysics department and then everything fell apart. I found that I have very severe depression, anxiety, dysthymia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from my time in the military; however at the time it was undiagnosed and untreated. I struggled for two years, kept taking classes while failing the vast majority of them before I was taken to the hospital and finally got treatment. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough and after several different hospitalizations, I left school completely and entered a long-term program with the VA. Now, a few years later I've improved greatly and have been stable enough to hold a decent and demanding job for about a year and a half.

    I desperately want to leave this job, return to school and study geophysics, but I'm not sure how much my past record will limit me. I have four semesters of almost exclusively Fs or Ws followed by a three year break from school, after which I'll be returning to at 29 years of age. I'm still thinking about doing the double major, which will take four years since my failing out completely screwed up the sequence for my physics classes. On one hand I hate wasting even more time on the degree, but on the other maybe the extra time will give me more classes and time to help repair my GPA. My career goals aren't huge. I don't want to become a professor after getting a Ph.D fron an Ivy League school - I just want to get into a decent geophysics graduate program and complete a Masters, then hopefully get a good job in industry. I'm still accepted at the University, just on academic probation, so I don't need to reapply. On the plus side as well, I have great evaluations, references, and awards from both my military service as well as my current job, which is in the Mining industry (so something somewhat relevant to a geophysics career). I also find the material relatively easy to learn and keep up with, at least when I'm healthy. Of course, on the down side I still have several severe mental illnesses and while I have gotten treatment for them, I'm have almost a 100% chance of going into a severe episode again, although I now have tools and medications that have helped already to prevent the really bad falls.

    Even if I get fantastic grades from now on, do I have any real chance at graduate school with that record? Or a decent job? Especially if they find out my failures and absence was from mental illness? How can I fix this? I know without a doubt that I'll regret not going back and finishing this for the rest of my life, but, on the other hand, I don't want to set myself up for failure again. Thank you for any advice or help you might have for me.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 10, 2015 #2

    Stephen Tashi

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    One thought is to take some technical courses without enrolling in a degree program. That would show you were back on track. They don't have to be courses that would count for college credit.
  4. Jan 10, 2015 #3
    Most graduate school applications allow you to explain poor past performance. Yours is not an excuse, nor is it a mistake, it is a poorly-timed disease that caused you to have to take a break. Any graduate school that doesn't take that into consideration can go %&@* themselves.
  5. Jan 10, 2015 #4

    I would talk to an advisor. Explain to them what happened if they don't already know then explain to them your plans on what you ultimately want to achieve. I feel they would want to start you off with a lighter semester to see how you feel at the end of it, then increase it. After a few semesters of doing well I would then talk to a graduate advisor on what you need to do. The good news is that if you repeat most of those F's the grade will be replaced (if you have the grade replacement policy I'm thinking of). Those would significantly increase your GPA and put you back where you want to be.
  6. Jan 10, 2015 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    I think you are focusing too far down the road. Your problem will likely not be the opinion of a graduate admissions committee on some 6 or 7 year old grades. Your problem will be getting good grades from here on out. Given your past performance, is it really wise to take a challenging course sequence like a double major in 4 years? Especially since some of those F's and W's are in foundation classes that the next classes will build on.
  7. Jan 10, 2015 #6
    Thank you everyone for the replies. I really appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Stephen, I actually enrolled in a few courses this spring and summer. I figured I could take the general education requirements I failed online while I still work and save up some more money. My job has very odd hours, which does leave me with quite a bit of time off and I do have down time there to get a little studying done with. The only somewhat technical courses they offer online are things like Intro to Astronomy and Intro to Statistics, but I still might take one or two of them just to get back into the study habit. I'm thinking then of moving back down and taking a full fall semester, but without any physics classes and just focus more on the geology with a math class. I would start the physics up next spring.

    samnorris and Charles, I'm glad to hear that they should take the circumstances into account and I think my University does a system where they take the latest grade of a retaken class and use it for calculating the GPA. The previous grades still stay on the transcript, so even if they do get replaced, they can see your past performances. I have talked to my advisor, but he hasn't been much help. I mean, he's been very kind and supportive and has offered to help me with understanding things if I need it, which has been wonderful, but he hasn't been able to give much advice for either my schedule or for what to expect and how to fix things for grad school.

    Overall, I am very nervous about having to explain this. I don't think I can just say I had "health issues" and leave it at that, but what will they think if they find out I'm certifiably crazy? I'm really worried that everyone will decide I'm too flaky and unstable, no matter my performance from here on. Of course, I guess all I can do is try and even if I don't get in, at least I'll be further along then I am now and I should just enjoy the next few years of studying something I love, regardless of the outcome.

    Vanadium, the workload is definately something I am very worried about. I did completed an AS with a math focus from the community college and everything transferred fine, so with the classes I'm retaking this spring I won't have any general credit requirements remaining, hopefully easing some of the workload. I'm ahead of the typical physics schedule as far as math goes and also ahead of schedule for the geology. It's the physics classes that are limiting me - Physics II was one of the classes I failed and now they only offer it in the spring, which means I'll go back this fall, but then still wait until next Spring to get back on track. On one hand, I could drop the physics major and just do the geology, allowing me to graduate earlier, but then end up with weak math and physics skills in graduate school and perhaps need to take them anyway once there to make it up. On the other hand, I could drop the geology major, but I really don't want to - that's primary science I want go into and those classes are just plain fun! The university does offer an applied physics BS, which cuts out some things like Electricity and Magnetism II, Complex Analysis, and the upper division Differential Equations, and then would allow me to substitute several classes in Geophysics towards the physics major. I talked to my advisor about it, and he suggested I just go with the full course sequence to get the most out of it, but that still remains an option if I need to cut back a little bit.

    I'm really not sure what to do. The problem has never been the material, as I seem to get it fine, although it does take me longer then many others, maybe because I'm so out of practice with it? The problem is 15 straight hours of unending flashbacks, the problem is losing so much energy that I can only find enough to eat once a week, the problem is becoming suicidal and ending up in the hospital for weeks on end - it hasn't seemed to matter how light or heavy the workload was, because when things got really bad, I couldn't even live and anything and everything else simply becomes impossible. Things have been much better now that I've gotten treatment and I haven't entered a bad episode for a couple of years, but I'm terrified of what might happen again if I do. Oh well, sorry about the long rant and thank you all for replying - your thoughts are definately helping me figure this out.
  8. Jan 10, 2015 #7


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    Fizz Bomb, that's a tough situation to be in and at very least I'd like to convey my empathy.

    PTSD is a lot more recognized today that it was even one generation ago. So you don't have the stigma associated with it that, say the Vietnam era veterans had to deal with. But that doesn't mean there's no stigma.

    In terms of competition for graduate school, I suspect that admissions committees will generally be sympathetic about such issues, but there is a strong provision that goes with that. You need to demonstrate that you're capable of succeeding in a demanding academic environment. Usually there are more applicants than there are positions, and admissions committees are charged with deciding who is likely to be the most successful in the program out of the available applicants. If you do very well from this point on, effectively demonstrating that your health issues are now under control, most admissions committees will be happy with that.

    At this point though I agree with the advice that it's most important to focus on the present - get yourself to a point where you can do well in your chosen program and earn your education. This is not a forums for advice on dealing with PTSD or other medical issues. We can give tips on how to be more effective with your studies though. Usually first and foremost of those on my list is taking care of yourself - get a proper amount of sleep, eat well, get lots of exercise, focus on positive social relationships, be constructive with your down time, and of course, involve the professionals in dealing with any medical issues. Essentially you want to set yourself up for the the greatest focus on productivity that you can when you hit the books.
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