Completing Unfinished Business

After time away from the college, alumni discover the benefits of returning to fulfill graduation requirements.

Stefanie Gray

Like George Webber, the protagonist in Thomas Wolfe's novel You Can't Go Home Again, many Berklee alumni find that, upon returning to their home territory after spending years away, quite a bit has changed. A number of alumni wish it were possible for them to return to the college and take courses that weren't offered during their time at the campus. And for those who want to complete their degree or diploma requirements, the process of returning is easier than many imagine.

Berklee has a long-standing policy of allowing students to leave for an extended period of time and return without having to reapply for admission. By comparison, several peer colleges limit the amount of time for a leave of absence, and some require students to reapply and be reevaluated in order to return.

While students don't need to reapply, the returning student policy requires that, because of Berklee's continually changing curriculum, returning students who have been away from the college for more than four years comply with the requirements in the fall catalog that has been published closest to the date of their reenrollment.

Students leave the college for a number of reasons. Stefanie Gray, for example, left in 1990 because she felt burned out. She needed a break and decided to work for a while. Gray returned in 2006 to pursue her education again. "I became dissatisfied with my job and realized that if I wanted to change my life for the better, the first step would involve going back to school to complete my degree," she says. "I also felt that after all the work I'd done at Berklee previously, it would be a shame to have nothing to show for it." Gray recently completed the requirements for her degree in songwriting.

Greg Deguglielmo

Greg DeGuglielmo entered Berklee in the summer of 1985 on a full-tuition scholarship, but he left after one semester. "I had been playing a lot and wanted to find a gig where I would actually make some money and enjoy the music," DeGuglielmo says. "I told that to my drum teacher, Joe Hunt, and he told me to meditate on it. I did, and within three weeks I had an offer to tour with a national act that was playing more than 200 dates a year. If I took the gig, I'd have to give up my scholarship. It was a tough decision, but after consulting with my teachers, I knew that when opportunity knocks, sometimes you have to take it." Nearly 20 years passed before DeGuglielmo returned to complete his professional music degree.

The Returning Student Process

"Students who have been away from Berklee-anywhere from two or three semesters to 30 years-can contact me for information on returning," says Hannah Williams, returning and special student group coordinator at the Office of the Registrar. "Those who call well in advance of registration fill out the Returning Student Intent Form, and we send them information to prepare them for registration. The packet includes contact information for the offices of Financial Aid [and of] Scholarships and Student Employment and the Counseling and Advising Center. Students who have been away for more than a year also receive the current edition of Berklee's Bulletin, which contains policies and procedures."

With Berklee's adoption of online registration a few years ago, the reapplication process became much easier. As long as a tuition deposit is on file and there are no outstanding holds, students can register from anywhere in the world. Other recent Web-based self-serve options include the opportunity for returning students to view their transcript and do an online academic evaluation for their original major or another major and program.

Returning students frequently ask if Berklee accepts credits earned for coursework done at other colleges. Typically, Berklee accepts transfer credits for some liberal-arts courses but not for music courses. Credit may be transferred for some music history classes and specific courses taken through Berklee's online school. But transcripts from other colleges should always be submitted for evaluation of credit transfer possibilities.

There are 30 courses offered through the site that may be applied to a matriculated student's general elective requirements in the degree and diploma programs. Students can transfer up to two courses and receive two credits per course if they have earned a grade of C or higher and if the courses were originally taken for credit or were part of a certificate program.

Williams is often asked if it is difficult to return. "No, it's not," she says. "If a student was here a long time ago-maybe 25 or 30 years ago-and their records are not in our current database, they need to be rebuilt. Once that's complete, we do an academic evaluation with the updated catalog to figure out what courses would be required for graduation. Credits previously earned at Berklee don't expire. However, since the course numbers and the titles may have changed, it's not always obvious what the equivalents are in the new catalog." In these situations, Williams directs students to the department chair of their major.

Students often inquire about earning credit for life or work experience. "Some people who have been away from Berklee have been working in the music industry and have kept up with the technology, so they may not need to take certain courses," says Williams. "For example, all students are required to take Introduction to Music Technology. This became a requirement in 1992; but if students are advanced in that area, they can discuss the options with the department chair."

New Skills, New Challenges

During his professional music career over the past 20 years, DeGuglielmo never had to read music. "When I came back, perhaps one of the biggest obstacles was humbling myself and realizing that I was entering a system that is reading based," he says. "Drum teacher Bob Kaufman gave me encouragement and was an inspiration at a really critical juncture for me. He helped me realize that since this is a reading-based system, I needed to go back to square one and learn how to read from the ground up. Basically, I was starting over. It was a tough adjustment at first. But I came back to accomplish the goals of rounding out my musicianship, learning the theory, and becoming a more complete player."

DeGuglielmo discovered that networking is as important as talent, creativity, and technical expertise. "Networking today is different than it was 20 years ago," he says. "Word of mouth and meeting people on the street are still important, but one of my teachers said that the future players who will make it in this business may not necessarily be the most talented or hardworking or the best at overcoming challenges. Those who know how to use current technology to network will get the gigs of the future. I'm glad that I was required to take Intro to Music Technology. I'm on that computer every day now."

After spending years away from Berklee in the workforce, Gray felt she'd become disconnected from music. When she returned to the college, one of her greatest challenges was learning the technology that has become such a vital part of today's music business. "My teachers and others were very helpful and understanding when I told them that a lot of this was new to me," she says. "The Learning Center was a wonderful resource. Classes in Finale and Garage Band combined with private tutoring helped me get a grasp on these programs fairly quickly." While returning to Berklee meant acquiring some basic technology skills, Gray was encouraged by a supportive and friendly learning environment.

There are always a few returning students who express concern about being older than the general population. But in fact, every Berklee student knows that the college's student body is different from those of many other four-year colleges. DeGuglielmo was initially concerned about his age. "I thought about being 20 years older than most of the other students," he says. "But I didn't let it become an issue, and people picked up on that. I was just happy to be here, share my past experiences, and share the youthful exuberance of the other students. I wanted to learn from them as much as they wanted to learn from me." Ultimately, DeGuglielmo says, "It's not about age; it's about the music."

Returning Student Statistics

  • Each semester, between 120 and 260 students fill out the Returning Student Intent Form.
  • Between summer 2002 and fall 2006, the number of returning students ranged from 79 to 153.
  • Of the total number of students enrolled for any given semester, returning students make up approximately 6.4 percent during the summer, 3.4 percent during the spring, and 2.5 percent for the fall semesters.
  • In any given semester, of the total returning student population about 2.5 percent are younger than 20 years old. Approximately 80 percent are in their twenties, 9 percent are in their thirties. Students 40 years old and older have ranged anywhere from 2 percent to 8 percent of the student population.
  • In the summer and fall 2006 semesters, 22 students who returned changed their major, and three students added a dual major.
  • In the summer and fall 2006 semesters, three students who completed a degree returned to complete a dual major.

The Way Back

Here are the contacts and resources for propective returning students:

Returning student questions: Hannah Williams at

For financial aid information:

Office of Student Financial Services: