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15 years ago I was young and dumb, now I'm not as young. No way around it, I did poor in college. My grades were abysmal and were part of a period of my life that has long since passed. I'm now at a point in my life where I'd love to go back to school and earn the degree I never did, but I've got my past mistakes looming over me.

Even if I start in a community college and get a perfect 4.0 for everything I'm enrolled in, my previous transcript will bring down my average. Completing a bachelor's is going to be far more of an uphill battle than it would be even just for an adult going to college while juggling a full time career and family. Is there any process to either ignore college work after a certain number of years have passed or a method to have them expunged?

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    Your new GPA won't take into account your grades from previous schools. – Kimball Feb 10 at 14:32
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    If you attend a different school you can always just not transfer a transcript (if you're ok with all grades being thrown out) – Jon Feb 10 at 22:49
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    @Jon, pretty sure that's not allowed, 100% not allowed of financial aid is involved. – gilliduck Feb 11 at 1:13
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    Do they ask you if you've attended before? At my university, all credit transfer needs to be done pro-actively – Jon Feb 11 at 1:32
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    @gilliduck my brother did exactly that (after only 6 year), and he had financial aid involved. – user94036 Feb 11 at 5:17
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That's not necessarily the impediment you may think. The institution where I taught would not accept nor transfer credit over ten years old. Pick one or two colleges you might attend, visit their admissions offices, and ask. There's a good chance you can start fresh.

There are two things to keep in mind. Your transcript from your old institution will still be there, and you will be asked for it when you apply for any degree program. It may lessen your chances of admission, but probably not because fifteen years is a long time.

The other is that you should be honest about your education history on your resume. Once again, fifteen years is a long time. Do well now and no employer will even consider that ancient history.

Go for it!

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    +1. People change. People grow. Others generally recognize that. – Buffy Feb 10 at 13:24
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    People who have understood that they made mistakes in the past and now want to rectify them, are amongst the most motivated individuals one can find. A good school recognises that and will give these people a fresh chance. A school that doesn't think so, is not one you would want to attend anyway. Good luck! – Captain Emacs Feb 10 at 14:16
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    Having read hundreds of grad school applications, I can only echo this: Your case is far from unique, and admission committees know that people change and give them a second chance. Focus on what you can affect (namely, getting a degree now) instead of worrying too much about what happened 15 years ago. – Wolfgang Bangerth Feb 10 at 23:52
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Where I teach, not only would the age of the old courses lead to transfer problems, but our school also has the idea of academic bankruptcy, where newer courses (with some restrictions, almost none would apply to you) can be semi-erased. They remain on the transcript, but are not counted as part of the GPA. So I would say go for it, and as part of the application process check with the appropriate people there to see (a) if those old courses will be considered at all, and (b) if so, whether they have any equivalent of our academic bankruptcy.

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My own undergrad history was fairly lackluster, to be honest. (Without comparing grades, I don't know how it relates to "abysmal", but that's not the point.) When I was thinking about getting a graduate degree, I started by taking classes without being formally part of the degree. (In fact, I did that for both grad programs, now that I think about it.) The nice thing about this is that they'll often let just about anyone sign up. Maybe you need to talk to a professor first and have them champion you a little, but it certainly isn't anything like as complicated as applying for a degree. Most universities are happy to have someone paying the bills for a class. (So, there is that expense, and the extra time.)

Once you have taken a course or two at the university you are interested in, you have a transcript there. Assuming you do well, you can now use that as part of your application process. If you strike up a relationship with the professor(s) of the course(s), you might actually have someone to use as a reference. If you have evidence that you are now a better caliber student than you were as a ~20 year old kid, that also gives you something to talk about to the admissions interviewers.

So, even though you may not be able to expunge old grades, you would have a pathway to start fresh at a school where your old grades won't be part of the transcript.

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There is basically a "statute of limitations" for "old" grades. In most colleges, it's something like 10-12 years. Your 15 year absence from undergraduate work is outside that period.

That means that you can get a "fresh" start in a community college or four year undergraduate program. When applying to graduate schools, you will be supposed to submit your old grades, but they will be mostly discounted. What matters now is what you can do "now."

Even if your grades were say, 8-10 years old, just within the "statute of limitations," they would be heavily discounted. Graduate schools know that people can change, especially from one life phase to another. You have passed the "life phase" criterium.

  • This depends on the school. I had a 25 year break and my old grades and classes were automatically counted at my new school. – Kathy Feb 11 at 15:26
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For completeness, and not because it is a big deal for gilliduck, some schools have a formal process for calling a mulligan on your academic performance.

At the schools where I've taught that have this is is called "academic bankruptcy".

The basic deal is that you draw a line and say "nothing before this counts". So you are starting over, this presumably this time you have a better idea of why you are there, what you want, and how much effort its all worth to you.

Now this is a little strange and at least some place that have this concept will, none-the-less, list your old classes on your official transcript. But they don't use them in the GPA printed on the transcript and they don't affect your degree.


I also know of at least one place that will let you apply an academic bankruptcy to a transfer application.

That is, you fill out a form that says "I got bankruptcy in such-and-so term", and they check that with the registrar at your previous school and then only count your post-bankruptcy performance in determining your transfer eligibility.

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The simple answer is "sort of". Your undergrad GPA can have a tendency to follow you for years in that it is often on the resume. That said, a new program can give you the chance to start anew. For example, I got a 4.0 in grad school and a 3.3. in undergrad.

It's actually unclear if you want to finish a bachelors, improve the current GPA on your resume, or go to grad school. And why? Let me answer based on a few possibilities:

  1. Never got your bachelors: Don't worry about the GPA...transfer credits as much as you can and get the college degree.

  2. Don't like the GPA on your resume. I advise to leave it on if 3 or higher. Just develop your career and resume based on what you do now. Sure a pedegree from CalTech is nice but at the end of the day, if you are doing things in industry, people care about that way, way more. Especially for someone of your experience.

  3. Want to go to grad school, finished bachelors with low GPA. (Why? And in what field? It probably won't increase income. Not I'm not saying not to do it...but just think on why.) All that said, if you want to, it is very doable. If you can show that have the aptitude (good test scores would help here), than people may look past the poor college performance. They will figure you partied a lot and grew up now.

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