Jake Bontrager-Singer logs onto his Skype, and is connected to a campus several hundred miles away. Even without Skype, Singer, a senior engineering major at IUPUI, or Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis, usually feels connected to his first college, Eastern Mennonite University, “All my friends are at EMU, my girlfriend is at EMU, I still miss it.”
Singer is entering his second year as an undergraduate senior, and plans on taking between two and three years to earn his degree in engineering; a degree which his peers will earn in only four years. However, for a minority of students, college becomes a twisted odyssey more than a straight path, consisting of changed majors, untransferable credits, and several different schools.
When Singer speaks of his plans his voice always has a note of certainty; yet, Singer’s future, or at least the path to it, is not as clear cut as he hoped. Instead, it has assumed the form of a winding road, which has taken him from Indiana, to South Africa, to Virginia, and back, costing tens of thousands of dollars along the way.
I knew that I wanted to be an engineer like my father, but there was no way I could get into Notre Dame, which was my first choice.” Instead, Singer chose to take a trip to South Africa, which would boost the strength of his application and improve his chances of being admitted to Notre Dame.
When Singer returned from South Africa, he found that he was still unable to enter Notre Dame. He did find that a small school in Virginia, Easter Mennonite University, would honor his trip with thirty credits. However, EMU did not offer an engineering program so Singer opted to complete a partial math degree as part of the school’s pre-engineering track, “I thought it was a good option, and I really liked the campus, so I chose to attend for a year or two and see how it would go.”
The problem was that academically, EMU was unable to provide Singer with the engineering program that he craved.These problems were not enough to force Singer out of a community that he had grown to love, and so he continued until he completed the pre-engineering program.
What Singer did not realize was that the program was rarely finished, and students did not always transfer. Often students became mathematics majors and later pursued a master’s degree in engineering. This would mean that credit transfer would not be as easy as Singer hoped.
Now Singer has returned to his home state of Indiana, and lives only an hour or so away from home. He still has not been able to realize his dream of attending Notre Dame, but on some level he seems unconcerned by this, “it would be nice, but I’d probably stopped thinking it was possible,” said Singer. Instead he studies at IUPUI, and lives in an off campus apartment to save money, partially due to debts accrued from years of attending college.
Singer is also having trouble transferring credits from EMU to his new school, and worries this might mean his stay in college will eat up the good part of a decade.
While Singer is worried about transferring credits to other schools, Chris Bates is more worried about taking credits at EMU. For Bates, a second year senior at Eastern Mennonite, college has been complicated by the problems associated with transferring credits, but more complicated by a change of heart.
Following high school, Bates opted to pursue a career in social work, inspired, he said, by his ability to help others. Bates immediately attended Blue Ridge Community College, where he spent three years, and earned over 80 credits. Bates then transferred to EMU where he learned that he would lose a year’s worth of credit due to EMU policy, and poor advice from his advisors at Blue Ridge.
Cameron Parks, a sophomore pre-engineering student has avoided it, partially to save money. He realizes that by attending EMU, he has already created a challenge for himself. This will lead to a minimum of one extra year, and quite possibly two.
Parks realizes that finding the right school at which to continue his education, could be a problem, “I don’t mind the idea of transferring. I feel as though I’m more of a big school person anyways. I’d go somewhere in the state and I know that there are plenty of good engineering schools in Virginia. The only complication is will all of my credits transfer.”
Bates can now identify with Parker’s money saving decisions. During his fifth year in school, and second at EMU, Bates attended a cross cultural that took him to Guatemala. Although necessary for degree completion, this trip would only further complicate the already prolonged road that Bates was taking to a degree, “while I was in Guatemala, I realized that I still wanted to help people, but I wanted to be working with kids.”
Now Bates is looking at a college journey that in the end could cost eight years of his life, result in a significant amount of debt, and only earn him a single undergraduate degree.
Yet, Bates, like Singer is not resentful, “The most important thing for me is that I end up doing what I want. If I have to spend a few more years in school to get a job I like, then I’m fine with that.”
However, even with all these setbacks, Bates tries to stay up beat, “they say that college is a journey,” Bates says jokingly, “well I must be going to, like China, because it’s taking a long time and costs a lot.”
-David Yoder, Co-Editor in Chief
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