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Just found this site and did some searching around but I'm not sure anyone is as nuts as I am. Long story short I've been living with a severe anxiety surrounding school. I'm 29 years old now and am finally getting to the root of my issue, and it's making a lot of sense. Everything except how to move forward. I've always wanted to go "all the way" through a Masters Degree but I'm almost certain any competent admissions committee will reject me without question. Here's my scenario:

  • Community College 1: About 9 years ago I registered for my classes, didn't show up. Dropped by the administration.

  • Community College 2: About 7 years ago I registered for my classes, showed up for a week, dropped by administration.

  • Community College 3: 4 years ago I registered for a fresh start. Did one semester successfully but got a D in one class because I had anxiety surrounding showing up for that class. I retook that same class 5 more times each resulting in either a self-initiated withdraw/drop, or a flat-out F because I stopped going and had too much anxiety to admit that i'm dropping again. I have 1 "ok" semester, and 3 complete failure/dropped semesters. Ending GPA is 1.75

  • Went back to Community College 1. Did well and have a GPA of 3.4. Did not transfer any of the classes from any other school.

Now I'm looking to apply to a 4 year university. I know I need to give them all transcripts from all schools, but I'm really nervous about not getting in anywhere because of my rough history working through that anxiety. I'm mostly concerned about a future Master's program not giving me the time of day. I have an excellent work history because I always put that first but now that I'm learning how to focus on academics I want to go all the way. Maybe even further for a PhD., if I continue to bust my behind the way I have been.

I'm floating the idea of maybe doing a 2nd Bachelor's before a Master's if I have to do that to prove to a committee that I'm worth a shot.

What would any of you do in my shoes?

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    Schools will often consider your "exit velocity" and since your recent experiences are good you definitely have a chance to accomplish your goals. – earthling Jul 26 '14 at 12:53
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    If you prefer learning things on your own to taking classes, perhaps a research master's instead of a taught master's would be worth considering. You have to have a certain amount of self-discipline, but you can focus on a project that interests you. – mhwombat Jul 26 '14 at 17:09
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    First off, congratulations on your persistence and overcoming the anxiety. I have family members who have been suffering from an anxiety, so I understand the struggle and what you are dealing with. Some Universities are more accommodating than others. Choosing a more accommodating school would be helpful. You can also consider attending couple of classes at your target University to strengthen your application. This would show that you can make it in the new environment. And being forthcoming and honest comes along way. – Orion Jul 26 '14 at 22:45
  • Thanks for the optimistic responses. I do like the idea of a research master's and will also be looking into that. I do much better learning on my own since i'm a full-time web developer right now which is all self-taught. I also really like the idea of taking classes at a target university before being accepted. I never knew that was even possible! – BobDole Jul 28 '14 at 3:11
  • If your anxiety is about attending classes why not go for an accredited Open University (Bachelor or MSc)? Going at your own pace, would probably work better for you and you can still have a (part-time) job on the side to support yourself. – Alexandros Jul 28 '14 at 13:47
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Let me come at this from a different angle (and from someone who has faced something similar in the past.)

Why do you want a masters? What is your goal in getting a masters and/or a PhD?

Is you goal "Because I always kind of wanted one"? Is it "Because it will help me with my career goals"? Is it "Because I want to show that I can"?

This is not to be a negative nelly, though it may sound that way, but Graduate course work, especially in Computer Science(an assumption based on your current work as a web-developer), can be very challenging and stressful. Depending on the program and the instructor, it is not unusual for over half a class to have, on paper, a 'failing' grade. Some teachers are great about communicating that this is OK and expected, other's will let you hang out and stress about whether your 'failing grade' is really a failing grade. Some of these courses can involved 20+ hours a week of project or coursework. Some have no 'right' or definite answers.

None of this is to say you shouldn't go for it. Recognizing and working on an anxiety issue(or any mental health issue) takes a great deal of strength and hard work. That you have persevered to complete an undergraduate degree shows that you are a hard working, intelligent, passionate individual.

What I am saying is - analyze your reasons for going to graduate school. Make sure that what you get out of graduate school will actually match those reasons and that you approach it in a doable fashion. I would recommend a multi-step process.

  1. Identify the school / program you are interested in attending
  2. Register at that school(or a school with similar characteristics) to take courses
  3. Take high level undergraduate courses. Look at the graduate degree you are interested in - often they have prereqs that you could take. Take difficult courses that are stressful to get a feel for what graduate courses will be like.
  4. If you have time - get involved in a research lab that interests you. Make some connections with professors(and incidentally the admissions council).
  5. Once you've got a year(ish) of courses under your belt - go for that Masters or PhD!

Doing the above benefits you in many ways. First and foremost it gives you a safe place to fail gracefully. If you're taking a course not for your masters but as preparation then dropping it isn't a big deal. Maybe you'll find you need another prereq, maybe you want to spend some time buffing up on the material. There is a big difference in having the pressure to 'pass right now or fail forever!!!' (well, what you brain tells you is failing forever and what is, in reality, not a big deal) and 'well I could take this later once I do ____....'

Secondly this gives you a little bit of a buffer. This shows any admissions group that you can take challenging classes and pass them. That you can work through the rigors of Masters program. And you can point to this during your statement of purpose as 'proof' that you have improved your reaction to anxiety around school and have a support network/plan in place for the rigors of graduate work.

Thirdly this gives you a chance to get the admissions committee on your side. If professors and admissions officers know your name(in a positive light) it can make a real difference in how your application is received. Additionally some schools have 'backdoors', so to speak, into Graduate programs especially for non traditional students.

Finally, and I hope this goes without saying, make sure you have a support network in place. I would recommend, as someone who has been there and gotten the teeshirt, that you have a local therapist for, at least, your first few semesters. Additionally there's no shame in deciding that graduate school isn't for you(I ultimately decided that PhD papers are the bane of my existence and am not current pursuing a PhD.)

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