Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Westwood College Postmortem

   Most of my friends and family know that for the last several years I have been attending Westwood College Online to earn a Bachelor's Degree in Game Software Development. On December 12, 2010, my classes were officially finished. I am now the official holder of a Bachelor's Degree. Over the course of three years, many things happen. Therefore, it is only natural to reflect on some of the good, the bad, and the ugly of my educational experience.

The Good
Learning Feels so Good

   It is very rewarding to know you are doing something to better yourself. Education can be a great step in the road to prosperity. Westwood offered a well-rounded curriculum. I had course in all of the general education areas as well as many specialized courses that catered to my degree. Best of all, I learned that I have a true passion for learning. The feeling of having knowledge gives a large boost to self-confidence, which I never had much of. I was happy to get back on an educational track and plan to continue my education even further.

Goal Setting
   I have never been great at setting goals. Most of the goals I have set, I have not followed through on. Having such a strong focus over the course of the last three years has taught me the importance of goals in three degrees. First, you need to have short-term goals. Those would be the type that you plan to accomplish anywhere from the next few hours to the next few; maybe even up to six, months. Medium-term goals are the ones you hope to accomplish within a year, or possibly two. Long-term goals are the ones you hope to do beyond that period. It is always important to do goal setting. I would recommend each person do some conscious goal setting each day. This allows you to take an inventory of where you are at and where you want to go.

Degree in Three Years
   The degree programs at Westwood College are very intensive. You earn what is the equivalent of a Bachelor's Degree in three years. It has been my experience that many people are not cut out for the format. I was determined. As such, my lowest grade in any course in the three years was an 85%. I had no course withdrawals as well as no incomplete courses. I am very proud of myself for making it out as well as I did.

The Bad
Intensity Takes its Toll

   The format is a semester is five, ten week long semesters a year. That is fifty weeks of school throughout the year. Fifteen semesters in all. You get your assignments on Sunday night at midnight, Mountain Time. They are due the following Sunday at midnight, Mountain Time. The instructors are very unforgiving of late work; regardless of the excuse. This being what it is, you are either all in or all out. If you are halfway there, you can expect half a grade, which we all know is failing. During this time, I have missed out on a lot of family life. My kids went from ages four to seven and six to nine. I have missed birthday parties, family vacations, social outings, and much more. It is not only hard on yourself, but it is hard on the people around you. When a particular topic presents troubles, you can expect it to be very hard to find the solution. This leads to stress, which causes grumpiness, which ends in innocent victims. Even I cannot deny it will take time to fully mend the holes I have put in some of my relationships.

Pay for a Grade
   A particular concern of mine with Westwood College was the fact that it seemed I could not get a bad grade on a written paper. Just about every course required that you wrote at least one paper. I never received a poor grade on a paper. Some might contest that I just did that well. However, it is a deep understanding of mine that writing is not a strong point for me. At first, I always did my best. Without a doubt, you can never call me out for not doing my research. I am also a master with spelling, grammar, and syntax. Therefore, just on a mechanical basis, I should get at least a passing grade on a paper. However, the content of my writing is generally lacking. I am not the greatest at forming a point and staying on topic. I tend to ramble on when I make my points. Also, my conclusions are horrible, at best. If I were an English professor, I would have a very hard time giving my papers a better grade than a solid B. This is being honest. However, at Westwood, when you write a paper, you will get an A so long as it meets the length requirement. This made writing a pointless endeavor, but guaranteed that so long as your tuition was paid, you were getting a passing grade. I know for a fact that many of my papers were never read by anybody; not even myself, after writing them.

Not Enough Focus
   One thing anybody would expect when going for a degree in Game Software Development is to be doing a lot of game development. Unfortunately, this was not the case. In fifteen semesters, I had four courses dedicated to programming games. There were several courses dedicated to developing game ideas. There were also several courses devoted to planning a game software project. However, only four courses involved actually making a game. This was a large disappointment. The shortcoming showed badly when looking at the Senior Projects of my colleagues. While my project was not the best, I easily voted mine as better than most of the rest. Unfortunately, after all of that, I still do not know how to make a redistributable package with my software. Every time I attempt to run my game on a non-development computer, I get a side-by-side configuration error. Who could miss the thought that a game development student might want to be able to give his product away to his friends? This is really a sad truth about Westwood College: you will not be able to stand on your own two feet with the experience you earn at the school.

The Ugly
Bachelor's Degree in Three Years?

   For Westwood College to claim the degree you earn at their school is a Bachelor's Degree is a flat-out lie. The credits you earn at Westwood College are not transferrable in the least. I knew going in that I wanted to be able to take my degree to a university when I finished. I was told that I would be able to. Turns out that this was completely wrong. The thought that Westwood ever had accreditation or was even in consideration for other accreditation was part of a large scam that allowed them to drain students and the government of money. Bachelor's Degree? More like a certificate of completion.

Wait, How Much Did That Cost?
   Supposedly, the total cost of attendance at Westwood College is approximately $75,000. As the admission representatives say, most of which can be covered by federal and private grants. This is a lie in every respect. First, cost of attendance was more close to $100,000. Second, I applied for many private grants. I received none. As a matter of fact, I did not even get the courtesy of a denial letter for most of the grants I applied for. Bottom line, you will receive no private grants to help with the cost of attending Westwood College. Federal grants will work for those that are eligible; however, due to maximum limits, these barely cover half the attendance costs. The rest is loans. Paying that back is not going to be easy either. When you have loans so high, the monthly bill will also be high. Good luck to anybody in the same position as me, because I know repayment will be a major hardship on my house.

Industry Ready from Day One?
   The hardest fact to accept about Westwood College will not come until it is too late. The skills you learn at Westwood provide a great foundation for your career path; however, it will take much more work on a personal level to get from graduation to game developer in the industry. The school presents the curriculum as highly specialized, but it simply is not. You spend much of your time copying code from book. After that, you have little to no practice on your own. Those that would do best either have previous programming experience or have enough time on their hands to do lots of extra work with the material on the side. The highlight of distance learning is supposed to be the ability to do it at your pace; however, balancing a job, this curriculum, and a family will leave little time for anything else. When you graduate, you will understand that you could have done just as well on your own with a few books. Bottom line, the school will not prepare you for a job, you will have to do that on your own.

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