Monday, July 18, 2011

Transcript Follies update

After a pleasant phone conversation, the nice folks at my undergraduate Alma Mater were pleased to send course descriptions of my long-ago adventures in English, Speech, and Government to Advisor Two. I awaited with bated breath the waiving of those three classes. Little did I know what was in store.

Eventually, I was forwarded an email of explanation from the person who had evaluated my transcripts in the first place. The writer seemed very defensive, saying that, in their experience, anything that had "workshop" in the title wasn't a real English class. Really? Two semesters, three hours per semester, it had "Honors" in the title, but it wasn't a real English class? Okay, how's about you explain this oversight, then, Transcript Evaluator Person: I got a "B" in Legal Writing. From a real, honest-to-deity, ABA-accredited Law School. That doesn't count, either? You going to tell me it's not on a par with the "English for Mouth Breathers" class you want to force me to take?

Moving on to Government: the course was described as being "for education majors, so it couldn't possibly be a match" for Hoth's government class. Again: Really? I can't believe the content was all that different. (Unless I missed the class in which it was revealed that the half-reptilian-alien Illuminati were truly in charge.) And could someone tell me why, exactly, the Government class isn't waived for Paralegal students? How much more about the American government does, say, a Food Service major know after that class than a Paralegal student does after taking "Introduction to Law?"

The email didn't really address why the Speech class was unacceptable. I guess the fertilizer truck didn't deliver a full load that day.

Yes, I'm annoyed. Peeved. Ticked off. The University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople's School of Library Science and Dewey Decimation deemed my undergraduate record worthy of granting me admittance into a Master's Degree program. The Western California State School of Law at Swami's Point thought my five year trip through the halls of Academia was a good enough foundation to build on. But Harvard On The freakin' Highway COMMUNITY COLLEGE says, "Nope. Our classes are too special for you not to take them. We will accept no imitations."

Give. Me. A. Break.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hoops, and the jumping therethrough.

"What a day this has been
"What a rare mood I'm in
"Why it's almost like being
-- with apologies to Alan Jay Lerner

If I ever decide to go back to school yet again, please, somebody: bash me upside the head with a shovel. Okay, if that's too violent for you, at least tell me -- nay, order me -- to burn all of my transcripts and start from zero. Take English 101, embrace Computer Literacy for Complete Idiots, and enter joyfully the classroom wherein Bonehead Math is taught. Because doing otherwise involves pain and aggravation on the order of crawling naked across broken glass through flaming walls of rabid rattlesnakes.

We re-join this comedy of transcript errors where we left it yesterday: on the doorstep of the Advising Office. I got there shortly after 8, and there were already several people ahead of me. After puzzling over which box to check under "What do you need today," I settled in for a relatively brief wait. Right when "Bucket List" was getting to the part of the movie dealing with the actual bucket list, my vibrating coaster went off, and off I went to see an Advisor.

Actually, there was a group of three of us to talk with Ms. Advisor One, all with prior college classes, but with different problems. The woman who was going to study Child Development had a lot of trouble navigating the online registration process. The other woman, who was enrolling in some kind of health care program, had questions about withdrawn classes on her transcript. And then there was me: the big ol' problem child.

If there's one thing I'm going to have to learn (above and beyond math skills I've long forgotten, and, once re-learned, I will never use again) it's to shut up and let people do their jobs. It was probably a good thing that I kept correcting Advisor One, who was determined to type "1997" instead of "1977" in relation to my transcripts. That 20 year discrepancy might have caused trouble. But interrupting Advisor Two and telling him that Advisor One had already checked the Database That Holds All Class Descriptions and hadn't found mine was not so good. He paused, looked at me, and said, very very politely, "I'm looking up the file with your transcript in it to print it out." Oh. Sorry. Shutting up, sir.

After disentangling my foot from my tonsils, I left the hallowed hall of Advisement having learned the following things:

1. Nobody knows why the transcript-analyzing person skipped over my Freshman English class. An email was sent asking that another look be taken so as to give me proper credit.

2. Advisor One thought Advisor Two would be able to decide whether my Government and Speech classes were acceptable substitutes for Hoth's required courses. Advisor Two said, no, he couldn't, not without a copy of the relevant descriptions from my Alma Mater's 1977 catalog. Which I have to hunt down and provide to him. And while I was at it, I'd better get the description of the English class, just in case. (Shouldn't that be his job? I'll do it, but ... c'mon.)

3.  There was no point in taking the computer literacy test, because the results wouldn't matter. The Paralegal program requires its students to take the basic computer skills class, or take a CLEP test to prove they don't need to.  Taking the CLEP test requires visits to three different offices to collect signatures (shades of service sorority rush!), payment of a $25 fee, and the purchase of the software needed to take the test. Total cash outlay: about $50. Total aggravation factor: a plus 6. Not to mention that I might not pass the test, and therefore would be out the portrait of President Grant, and still have to pay for, and take, the class.

4. Not only is there no way out of taking the required Algebra class, I must (the actual words Advisor One used were "I strongly suggest") take a math skills placement test - a.k.a. the math portion of "Accuplacer". This is a non-timed test that starts easy and gets harder and harder until the program decides you've reached your level of incompetence and stops torturing you. For me, this should be right around question 4, or whenever they start asking about percentages.  You think I'm kidding? In my senior year of college, when everybody was getting their GRE results, we'd compare scores. I opened my envelope and saw that I'd achieved the 91st percentile in Language, the 98th percentile in Analytical Reasoning, and [drum roll, please] the 37th percentile in Math. "What does that mean," a friend asked me. I replied, "It means that -- um ... ...uh -- seventy-something percent of the people who took the test did better than me in Math. What? Why are you all rolling around on the floor and laughing?"

So my tasks are laid out for me: call my undergraduate institution and ask for course descriptions, figure out when to fit that computer course into my schedule, and start studying up on how to divide fractions, plot equations, and answer questions like "32 is 40% of what number?"

I just broke out in hives. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Algebra? At my age?

I had some other posts planned, but breaking news compels me to skip them for the time being.

 I seem to be in a good news/bad news ping-pong game.

Bad news: Financial Aid couldn't process my application because I didn't have a valid degree plan chosen.

Good news: I think I fixed that. I went online and found where you specify your degree plan, and chose one. Since it appeared in a drop-down menu, I'm assuming it's a valid choice. Whether it's the "right kind" of degree plan that will let me have financial aid in my situation remains to be seen.

Good news: My transcripts have all arrived.

Bad news: But none of my undergraduate courses have been credited/transferred into my degree plan.

Good news: I wrote the very helpful person in Admissions, and she requested that somebody get my transcripts analyzed.

More good news: Within a couple of hours, she let me know that my classes were all credited.

More bad news: I'm apparently not getting credit for English, Speech, and Government. I have to take a computer literacy test. And my college-math-dodging days have finally caught up with me.

Okay, let's review.  I took (and this is a guestimate here; I don't have a copy of my undergrad transcript) upwards of 120 credit hours and got two (count them! Two!) bachelors degrees. I took freshman English: two semesters, honors level, got A's. I took Speech: one semester, got an A. I took "American and Texas Government" as a requirement for the "Ed" part of my Music Ed degree: one semester, got an A.

And that didn't wipe out the core course requirements at Hoth CC? You've got to be joking.

About that computer literacy test. I suppose I should cut them some slack: I can't point to an official class I've taken and passed that says, "Yep, she's computer literate." But please tell me job skills count for something.

I've been working with computers since database searches were done via phone handset hooked to an acoustic coupler dialing into Dialog at a very high per-minute search charge. I used a dedicated terminal to do interlibrary loans on OCLC. I keyboarded feature stories for an Army post newspaper and saved them on 8-inch floppy disks. (Remember those? Really? Then you're showing your age.) I've used Microsoft products from MS-DOS all the way to Windows 7. (How about another trip down memory lane: remember the C:> prompt? I used to prank a co-worker by changing the "C:" to "What is thy wish, master?") I've used WordStar, WordPerfect, and Word to write entire procedure manuals. So cut me some slack, Hoth CC. I'm computer effing literate, okay?

But then we get to the Algebra requirement. What can I say. "Officer, you got me dead to rights. I was going 50 in a 35 zone. I'll sign the ticket."

I blame a student from my undergrad days for this. Susan had her GPA requirements for Honor Roll, Dean's List, Mortarboard Society, Phi Beta Kappa, and her top graduate school choices calculated out to three decimal places. I found this out the day she asked me what math class I would be taking. Not "did I have to take," but "would be taking." After I stopped laughing and had hauled myself up off the floor and back into my chair, I said, "None, thank heavens."

"What??!?!" she shrieked. "You can't make Phi Beta Kappa unless you take a math class!"

"I guess I'll be doing without, then," I replied.

She then explained that there was a totally painless and brainless math class nicknamed by the mathematics faculty "Math for Morons," and it would satisfy PBK's math requirement.

"Thanks, but no," said I. "I'm a music major because I only have to count up to 6, and that's only when we're not playing a Sousa march in 2."

"Seriously: the hardest thing they teach is how to balance a checkbook," Susan said. "If you can make a Mobius strip without gluing yourself to your desk, you get an A."

And so it was that I took Math for Morons, got my A, and did indeed graduate Phi Beta Kappa. (But don't tell anybody. It'll ruin my reputation. As Linus van Pelt once said, "There's no heavier burden than great potential.") I did not, however, darken the door of anything remotely like "College Algebra." And now my past has caught up with me.

After all of this bad news, I asked the helpful person in Admissions if I could come down and have a chat with her about why some of my credits weren't, well, credited. "You need to see an Advisor," she said. "No appointment necessary; just walk in." So I hied myself off to Hoth CC after work. Once there, I was told it would be a three-hour wait to see an advisor. All of the change I could scrounge had only bought me 50 minutes for the parking meter. And it was about two hours and 45 minutes until the advising office closed for the evening.


I'll be in late to work tomorrow morning, because at 7:45, I plan to be waiting outside the advising office. With a book.

Gotta run.  I need to decide whether "Painless Algebra," "Forgotten Algebra," or "Beginning Algebra, 5th edition" will be keeping me company.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Institutional memory, or, How many transcripts are there in a plethora?

When one decides to go back to school after a long absence from things academic, one discovers many interesting things. (First of all, one finds that referring to oneself as “one” is very annoying, so one knocks that the heck off and reverts to first and second person early on. But one – er, I – digress.) FORMS. The existence of lots and lots of forms that need to be filled out in order to become Fully Matriculated is one thing that hasn't changed. How you fill them out, however, has.

Eager to set out on the road to Paralegal School, I get on the Harvard On The Highway Community College (hereinafter “Hoth CC”) website and find an online application form. Hooray! I can submit my information without worry about my sloppy handwriting. So I fill it out. No problem. Send it out into the ether, and go about the next task: rounding up Official Transcripts.

Getting transcripts from the hands of one academic institution and into the hands of another is also the same but different these days. Again, we have the wonder of requesting them online. Nice. First stop: undergraduate land. My first Institution of Higher Learning subscribes to a nationwide transcription service. I tell them my name, birth date, years of attendance, and who I want the information sent to, and Shazam! off it goes. Just like magic. Free magic. I'm loving this. My second Alma Mater isn't as technologically connected. I fill out their online form, send them my credit card particulars ($8 into the school's coffers), and they promise to mail out my transcript after my graduation is confirmed. (Guys: I graduated. Really. Twenty-five years ago. Trust me.)

I'm a bit embarrassed to request my last transcript. I attended Western California State School of Law at Swami's Point (hereinafter “WCSSL-SP”) part time, and didn't finish all of the traditional First Year classes. I also had a really crappy GPA. And now, I'm going to ask them to send the sorry record of my studies – to a Community College. Oh, the shame. Well, there's nothing for it – it's got to be done, or Hoth CC won't let me in. This time it's an e-mail, but it's free. Small consolation.

Having dotted and crossed all of my transcriptional i's and t's, I head back to Hoth CC's website to collect my shiny new student ID number.

Not so fast, pardner.

Seems that Hoth CC knows me: I already have a student ID. And the previous information doesn't match what I've submitted. Say what? I send an e-mail to Admissions for clarification, and am reminded that years ago, I took a Spanish class at Large Public Library which was taught by an instructor from Hoth CC. This made me an Official Previous Student of Hoth CC, and therefore not eligible to apply online. I must print out the 12-page paper application form, and submit it by fax, mail, or in person. Sigh.

Luckily, I'm able to access my online application, so I can use it to help me fill out the somewhat trickier and less clear paper form. I fill in. I go to Admissions office. I get a lovely “congratulations, you've been admitted” letter from the nice work-study student at the counter. Once all of my transcripts arrive, I can register for classes. I wait patiently. I get one, two, three automatically generated emails that my transcripts are in Hoth CC's custody. Hooray! I can register!


Seems I'm still one transcript shy of a full load. I'm told by a very helpful Admissions counselor that my undergraduate record refers to a class taken elsewhere. I wrack my brain. Ah yes. It's coming back to me: in an effort to get a better grade (and pay much less tuition), I took a required science lab class at a community college back home. Thirty years ago. And I need to submit an official transcript therefrom. You're. Kidding. Me. (No, they're not.)

The way I expected this part of my paper chase to end was with a harried record keeper at St. Swithin Junior College (now called “St. Swithin College” thankyouverymuch), faced with my request for records from the Pleistocene Era (exact semester unknown) to throw up her hands and say, “Forget it sister!” Luckily, SSJC has an online student service system. Type in your last name, birth date, and social security number, and ta-DAH! it spits out your student ID number, no matter how old it might be. Plug that into yet another transcript request form, and Shazam! again: transcript is en route.

Have I mentioned that I love technology?