Thursday, August 20, 2015

I Torpedoed My Academic Career

During my senior year in high school, the first publically funded community college in the state was established in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. I was accepted into the first class of 150 students. In hindsight, that was a real achievement (and a real surprise) because I was competing with students from all over the state.

At the time, I was about as academically motivated as a chipmunk. I applied for admission only because my dad thought it was a great opportunity for me.

I had been taking business classes during my junior and senior years, so I assumed I would be placed in the two year business education program in college. I was doing well in the high school classes, and I actually enjoyed the one class I took in bookkeeping. However, I wasn’t looking forward to sitting through two more years of typing, shorthand, and business math. I thought those classes were beyond boring.

My acceptance letter came with a string attached. I had to take the SAT that summer. I didn’t think the SAT was required in order to enroll in what was essentially a secretarial training program. I wasn’t happy about having to take the test, but, of course, I took it. And, as I recall, I was a nervous wreck during the test. Way too many of the SAT questions seemed over my head. I took a chance and answered most of them, anyway—unless they involved advanced math.

I really thought I had done badly on the SAT. I never looked at my scores. To this day, I don’t know what they were.

During orientation, I learned that I had not been placed in the business education program. Instead, I had been placed in the liberal arts transfer program. My counselor advised me to take classes that would get me into the University of Massachusetts in two years.


Although I hadn’t been looking forward to two more years of typing and shorthand, I knew darn well that I belonged in the business education program. I couldn’t figure out what had happened to change someone’s mind about that, and my parents didn’t ask questions.

My first semester went well. After a short adjustment period, I settled down and ended the semester with decent grades. And, with the exception of the F in French, my second semester grades weren’t too bad either. Unfortunately, the F was reflected in my cumulative average. However, my other grades were high enough to keep me from being put on academic probation.

By the beginning of the third semester, my mind was on my social life and the new guy I had started dating. I also started slacking off on studying, and sometimes I skipped a class just because I didn’t feel like going to it that day. When grades came out in December, I had squeaked by, but just barely. I don’t remember what my cumulative average was, but I do remember that I was put on academic probation.

If, by some miracle, I eventually completed the liberal arts transfer program, I knew I was not going to get into the state university or any other four year college. My overall cumulative average was too low.

At that point, I figured my academic career was heading south fast. And, to tell the truth, I didn’t particularly care.

But I did care enough to want to quit while I was ahead. I had no idea as to what I would do if I left school. I knew I would have to get a job, but what kind of job? None of my classes in the liberal arts program had prepared me for a job in the real world. During the past eighteen months, my typing skills had regressed, and my shorthand skills had disappeared.

I figured I was going to end up stocking socks and underwear at Woolworth’s or assembling widgets in some factory. But that was okay because the scary prospect of having to find work was better than the scary prospect of flunking out of school.

I tried to convince my parents to let me quit, but they were having none of it. Finally, we compromised. They agreed to let me reduce my course load from five to three classes and then do a fifth semester in order to “catch up” and graduate.

I chose to register for three classes that seemed interesting, yet fairly easy. I decided to take a second literature class because I had gotten a B in the first one. I also registered for an economics class and a sociology class called Marriage and the Family.

By the end of the semester, I had quit going to the economics class unless I felt the need for a nap. I attended the sociology class on a semi-regular basis. I sat in the back of the room and concentrated on doodling and making notes that had nothing to do with the class. I didn’t think I’d need to know much about marriage and the family any time soon. A high school boyfriend, whom I still liked, had dumped me, and my current on-and-off boyfriend wasn't what one would describe as marriage material.

The literature class was the only class I really liked and went to faithfully. On the last day of finals, I torpedoed my B average in World Literature 102 by arriving five minutes late for the exam.

I should have gone to the teacher and begged for mercy. Instead, I went to Friendly’s restaurant—at 8:10 a.m.—and ordered an ice cream sundae with extra hot fudge sauce and whipped cream. I ended up with indigestion, an F in English literature, and a 1.8 (D-plus) cumulative average.

And that’s how I got kicked out of college for academic reasons.

However, a few years later, I resurrected my academic career by taking an evening class at a four year college. After a few semesters of liberal arts classes, I decided I needed to study something that would make me more employable.

I reapplied for admission to the community college. I did really well in my accounting classes and other business classes. With the exception of the French class, I successfully repeated all the previous classes that had ended in bad grades. I graduated with an Associates Degree in Liberal Studies (aka my Associates Degree in Whatever) in the early 1970s.

[Postscript: In the late 1990s, when I was finishing the requirements for my B.A. in English at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, I had a tutee who was on academic probation. She had a 1.8 cumulative average. The same cumulative average that had gotten me dropped from college in the Mid-Jurassic Period allowed her to remain in school in 1996. How times had changed.]

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