I know that someday you'll find better things.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Surprise, I'm a College Drop-out

I don’t like surprises, and I will go to great lengths to avoid them.

This past fall when I decided to re-enroll in college for the radiological sciences degree, I was a diligent scholar of that thirty-page program explanation. I analyzed the course requirements and cross-referenced them with the previous year’s course schedules to determine an estimate of what an average week’s schedule would look like for each of the six semesters of the program.

I hand-delivered the transcripts from all five of my undergraduate colleges and the one from grad school.

I set my alarm for 4:30 am the day of course registration to secure my spot in the limited and desirable Introduction to Radiology course—the key to prerequisite completion and the confirmation that this would be the appropriate career for my future.

In January, less than two weeks before the start of the semester, I received an email from the program. Surprise! 

Our prerequisites have changed, and we've added Radiological Physics to the courses required before candidates can be considered for admission.

Oh, man. Just going back to college was going to be an adjustment. I hadn’t taken a course in over ten years. Three courses at a time seemed like a nice way to ease back into it, especially since one was my old friend Algebra.

Now I would need to take Radiological Physics in order to be considered for admission, and let me tell you—not everything is offered every fall and every spring. This might be my only shot before the fall program application date.

Could I rise to the occasion? Conquer math and three other courses with a 4.0 to qualify for this program? I hoped so.

I registered, paid, and located the textbook, which (of course) was more expensive than the darn course itself.

Ten minutes into the first day of class, SURPRISE! The teacher informed us of another change to the program. Public Speaking was no longer a requirement. This was annoying for several reasons.

1. I’d already registered and paid.
2. I’d already rented the textbook from Amazon.
3. In my enthusiasm for getting a headstart on this new four-course semester, I’d already read the majority of the textbook-- which smelled like a cat, might I add--located the syllabus for the course, and prepared all four speeches that would be required throughout the semester.

Because, as you know, I don’t like surprises.

Later that day after Physics class, I withdrew from Public Speaking—which had not yet met—and mailed the textbook back to Amazon. (The college will graciously reimburse me 70% of the tuition in 4-6 weeks.)

I’ll skip over the surprises from Wednesday’s College Algebra experience, because you won’t be surprised to learn that we started on page 167, and I cried twice.

Fast-forward to Thursday and Introduction to Radiology. 
You guessed it! More surprises!

There won’t be a fall admission to the program this year. The next one will be May of 2015. Since I’m in College Algebra and you’re probably not, I will do the math for you. That is almost 17 months from now.

Seventeen months is a long time to wait to (maybe) be admitted to a program which takes 24 rigorous months to complete. Then, there’s the additional coursework and certification necessary for specialization.

My word.
That’s four years.

They gnawed at me, all these surprises with their sharp surprise-teeth.

Three sections of Introduction to Radiology are being offered right now… then one in the summer… three next fall (presumably) and three next spring… If each class had a capacity for 30 people (and they do hit capacity-- there’s a waiting list every time) that’s 300 potential applicants for 30 spots. 

I believe that's a 1:10 ratio. Or is it 10:1?
One out of every ten applicants will be accepted.

I looked around the room as this realization sank in. Only three people in here, mathematically, would be admitted seventeen months from now.

Would I be one of them?
Could I be one of them?

I’d analyzed the program’s point system for selection several times. (Of course, surely there’d be some sort of surprise between now and when I hoped to get in.)

Out of the potential 43 points, I knew I could secure many—but not all. I couldn’t get the two points for being a veteran, nor would I receive five points for having applied the previous year without being selected.

Again, my mind raced. There were four veterans in my Intro course. I wondered how many would be in the other sections.

And how many previous applicants would there be?

The following Tuesday in Physics, I found out there were more than I could have imagined. I was flanked by previous applicants, and there were a few behind me, too. Who knows how many more were in there?

After class, I thought and thought as I made my way across campus in the bitter, bitter cold and wind (I’m not exaggerating, either—it was 22 degrees!) to purchase scan-trons. The experience felt new. I don't remember ever purchasing scan-trons. It seems just obscure enough to be memorable, and yet: nothing.

But apparently for this course, we needed scan-trons.

Small ones, 15 answer bubbles, supposedly, that would be used for quizzes. Scan-tron quizzes in lieu of attendance.

Not one but TWO signs on the doors of the bookstore announced that scan-trons could be purchased from the vending machine in the testing corridor, whatever and wherever that was.

I found it. It was next to a girl having a very loud conversation on her cell phone. Not particularly conducive to the concept of testing, but controlling details like this are no longer my problem.

I put the dollar into what definitely used to be a candy machine and chose the six pack of stupid scan-trons since I’d need one each week.

For attendance and all.

The machine made some noise, but the dang package didn’t drop. It was stuck to the scan-tron six-pack behind it. I jammed another dollar in and tried again, because if the class was 16 weeks, I’d probably need more anyway.

The same thing happened.

I turned to the loud girl on the phone and said, “I’m very sorry,” and then I whacked that stupid machine with all my might.

(Anything more would have caused a scene.)

Whoever puts in the next dollar will feel like a winner.

I went BACK to the bookstore, where it turns out they DO sell scan-trons, and for 40 cents cheaper. I purchased a fist-full of the small ones and some big 100-question ones, too, for good measure.

Then, I went home and withdrew from that college altogether.

By this time I was on auto-pilot, so when a big voice outside of me said, “You’re not listening. Take the hint already. This is not where you are supposed to be.”

to the computer

And then I felt very, very sorry for myself.

Because I could have done an excellent job.
And because it was really, really fascinating.
And because I wanted to feel important again.

But the pity party was cut short by the other responsibilities of the day. Dinner wasn’t going to make itself. There was homework to be checked and chores to be supervised, bedtime stories to be read and things to clean.


There were moments—at least early on—when I thought maybe these "surprises" were a test of how badly I wanted this career, but eventually, I listened to a voice of reason outside of my desire.

While I am still deeply, deeply disappointed by the way things worked out, I’m relieved that the surprises are behind me. I don’t think I would have been comfortable dedicating my effort and compromising other areas of my life (namely my family) to a program that had so quickly become so capricious.

And that is how I dropped out of college.*

*College Algebra notwithstanding. Different college, for one thing. Also, it has been on my list of things to do, and I am going to overcome that beast once and for all.

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