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Is returning for a 2nd bachelors a good idea?
January 25, 2011 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Here's the deal. I graduated with a useless history degree and am having trouble finding a job. I'm now 24 and need to make some changes asap so I'm not doomed to living with my parents until I'm 90. Question: is returning for a 2nd bachelors in Engineering ever a good idea, in terms of long-term financial stability? Or is going for a masters in accounting or nursing a better choice? I really want to look at this financially and get my feet under me. Refer to the super extended version below for greater detail.

SUPER EXTENDED VERSION IN IT'S ENTIRETY


Alright, I'll try my best to explain this situation without sounding like I'm complaining, because I'm not. I understand I got myself into this, so I simply would like a little advice from the outside on how to get myself out. 

Here's the deal. I started undergrad 5 years ago with the intent to go to law school so ended up graduating with a degree in History after my academic advisors convinced me that this would be the best move. After graduation, I took a year off to work abroad/travel, then I applied and was accepted to Vandy law. Here's where the bigger mistakes took place. Vandy wasn't good enough for me, so I rejected them and reapplied the next year. I spent the interim year working odd-jobs, aka waiting to go to law school. That was last year. This last summer, I was all registered to go to a small law school on the east coast (W&L) but before I enrolled I did tons of research online about the legal market and soon found that if you're not in a top 14 law school, you won't find a job (though you will have debt). I finally decided not to go to law school this last summer, and am now stuck in this world with a History degree, no job, and living with the parents at 24. But it is what it is, and now I need to move forward.

I've had a bit of time to think over these past few months, and have realized how big of a mistake my choosing a history degree was. I've also realized how big of a mistake my not finding steady employment over the past 2 years was (rather than just wait to go to law school) as I now have this gaping void on my resume. I am fully aware of all of this, but feel it is not too late to correct my mistakes and get myself back on course. 

So, I suppose what I'm asking is what would be the best step to take next. According to my research, my options are...

1. Keep searching for a job (though doubtful I could get a good one b/c of the black hole gap in my resume)
2. Go back to undergrad and get a 2nd degree in Engineering (Civil or Industrial)
3. Take prereqs and go back for a MA in Accounting to become a CPA
4. Take prereqs and go back for a BSN/MSN (nursing) with the hopes of being admitted to Nurse Anesthetist school in the future.
5. Take prereqs and go back for a MA in Software Engineering

(NOTE: The last time I took Math courses was in high-school. I want a math-based degree, though am reticent to commit to a course of study that is math intensive b/c of how far behind I would be in Math.)

I would "like" to do the CivE / IndE degree, though returning for an additional 4 years of undergrad at the age of 24 (would be 25 when I returned) just sounds irresponsible. This would mean that I wouldn't begin my work life until the age of 29(!). Alternatively, I could do an accelerated nursing program and hope to work into an admin position, or a masters in Accounting and go for the CPA. I'm not sure which would be the best choice, my biggest preoccupation right now is to escape the poor-house (aka parents house), and I know this is coloring my judgement in terms of career selection. It's exceedingly difficult to change careers at 24 when you haven't started one yet, so I really don't want to mess this one up.

Has anyone else out there found themselves in a similar situation? If so, how did you get yourself out of it? Is a "fresh start" required?

Thanks in advanced for any advice or comments you can provide!
posted by gtothep to Education (71 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
A key question involved in all of this - what's your financial situation? Are you already sitting on undergrad loans? Would you have to take out four more years of loans to make it through one of your suggested plans?
posted by CharlieSue at 10:20 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If seeking to leave your parents house is your goal, you seem to have have missed option number 6- figure out your marketable skills and start looking for a job.
posted by Zophi at 10:22 AM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I read the SUPER EXTENDED VERSION IN IT'S ENTIRETY and I will calmly give you one piece of advice: take whatever job you can get. Even if that job is in Starbucks working for near minimum wage. If you still feel like going to school for another degree in a year, ask this question again.

Your problem is not your degree, your problem is your attitude and the economy. If you had paid attention in school, you would have learned to analyze the reasons you are unable to get a job in the current economic climate.
posted by vincele at 10:25 AM on January 25, 2011 [17 favorites]


As someone once said to me: "A second Bachelor's degree is NEVER a good option." You want an engineering degree? Go get a Masters.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:27 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Be careful about just listing off a bunch of "useful" degrees/certifications and thinking about each one. I'm a year older than you, also with a history degree, who also had a tough time fitting into the labor market (and ended up doing almost 2 years in the restaurant industry before I found my niche). I did the pipe-dream thinking about quantitative/"useful" degrees that would lead me to the promise land of the employed, too. (med school, law school, military, computer engineering, you name it)

But the real and opportunity cost of school is huge. As in, massive. You're likely going to pay at least $20,000 for the Master's degree and do so while not making any money at all.

Have you considered just grabbing a low-paying service job, and save up for what will likely be an unpaid or low-paid internship in an industry you think is cool? That's basically the path to steady employment for people with liberal arts degrees; I did that three years ago and I'm now a consultant making close to six figures. YMMV, of course, but I think under any calculus it's a lot less risky to play the cards you've got.
posted by downing street memo at 10:27 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


*promised land, clearly.
posted by downing street memo at 10:28 AM on January 25, 2011


Currently I'm sitting on $10k in student loans, which ends up to be about $150 a month.

And yeah you are right, there definitely is option 6. However, the only issue I have with this is I feel it wouldn't be a good long-term decision, as currently my marketable skills are things that everyone has, aka interpersonal communication, critical thinking, etc etc. The reason I'm asking this question is b/c I feel, in the long run, it would be best for me to rectify this "history" mistake now, rather than keep going down the path I'm on now.
posted by gtothep at 10:28 AM on January 25, 2011


Well, I am someone who won't be officially graduated from any type of post-secondary education until the age of 31...

I would say that it's most important for you to figure out at this point what you really truly want to do/work at. There are big differences between nursing and civil engineering, for example (and if what you're really interested in is nurse-anesthetist, have you considered respiratory therapy? It may be more up your alley).

Personal example: I figured out about three years ago (after a year working in my current place of employ) that what I really truly want to do is pediatric rehab - this was a surprise to me. So, I continued to work/gain experience in a peds rehab facility, began my college program last year, and am *fingers crossed* going to be doing a different job at my current facility this summer, one that is more directly related to what I am studing now. So, even though I will be graduating "later" than many of my peers in the program, I will be coming out with almost 6 years of experience working with this client group, which will hopefully be helpful in landing a full-time job or contract job.

All this is by way of saying that if you decide to go for something new, I think you're going to need a multi-pronged approach - for example, finding volunteer and/or paid work experiences in related positions, while attending school, to make a new degree worth your time and $$$. And to be able to do this, you need to have a pretty good idea of what you actually want to do.
posted by purlgurly at 10:28 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The world is full of people with 'worthless' degrees who get by just fine. I studied photography at an art school and have never bothered to make a resume in my life because I have never had a 'real' (employee-employer) job. The problem is not your degree or that you traveled after school, it's that you think your degree matters more than whatever skills you have and your work ethic.
posted by bradbane at 10:29 AM on January 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Unless you took college-level calculus and physics, my guess is that an engineering degree is going to take you 4 yrs. If you like numbers and precision (and you'll need to to like being an engineer), perhaps the MA in accounting would be a faster (1-2 yr) avenue to financial independence. A recent NY Times article made accounting seem decently attractive.
posted by elmay at 10:31 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you had paid attention in school, you would have learned to analyze the reasons you are unable to get a job in the current economic climate.

+1

You could save yourself a lot of time, money, effort, and frustration by going to your local community college and seeing what courses they offer to help improve your skill set. It would probably surprise you to see how useful a course in UNIX or SQL would be to your job search and skill set expansion.

Going back to school for a second undergraduate degree or to graduate school with no direction or purpose is a good way to waste a lot of time and a ton of money.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 10:32 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree with the others- you need to get a job. Any job. You need some work experience to help you determine the sort of work you like to do. You can't decide that sitting in your childhood bedroom- you can't forsee how you'll feel once you start working. Once you're working and you have a sense of which way you might like to go, you will be able to start thinking clearly about school.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:38 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know what I'm not seeing in here? What you like to do. What you enjoy doing. The relative marketability of various careers is all well and good, but you seem to be picking stuff from all over the map without really taking your likes and skills and talents into account.

If you don't enjoy what you do even a little bit, you're not going to be as good at it as the bazillion other job applicants who love what they do. So all of your "what's marketable" stuff isn't going to avail you at all, because you'll still have a hard time beating people with passion and enthusiasm for jobs, even in a field with a high opening-to-candidate ratio.

See a career counselor. And if you're unemployed, you can defer your student loan repayments.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:40 AM on January 25, 2011 [16 favorites]


If you don't put your graduation year on your resume, no one will know how long you've been unemployed since graduation. Get a job, any job, pay off your student loans, and then see if you still want to go back to school.
posted by decathecting at 10:41 AM on January 25, 2011


In software at least (I speak from the perspective of someone working in the private sector in Silicon Valley) experience is king. It will be very hard to get a job with a master's in Software Engineering and a BS in history unless you have some work experience that makes it look like you've actually built some software.

If all other things were equal, we'd pick a guy with a BS and two years experience writing software at a company we'd heard of over a guy with an MS and no experience. There is a fairly widely held (but not universal) belief that the reason people get master's degrees in this field is either A) they would let you into the US to go to school and you could start your job search much easier that way, or B) you weren't good enough to find a job with just your BS.

I'm not saying you definitely shouldn't do this, but in software at least, you're going to want internships and published papers (we will read them if we're considering you) and real work for real companies if you want to compete. We've turned down lots of job applicants who's work experience amounted to building "simulated networks" for proof-of-concept stuff in advanced degree programs. Only one person on my team has a masters degree, and he also worked for Microsoft Research and had a strong recommendation from a faculty member who happened to be connected with the company.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:41 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree that you need to get a job, but it's not so easy to get a job right now, even a low-paying, no-advancement job. So if your parents can possibly help you financially to start seeing a career counselor, I'd do that first.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:41 AM on January 25, 2011


And nobody will care how long you've been unemployed since graduation, anyway. It's a tough economy; lots of people are unemployed and underemployed, especially new graduates.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:42 AM on January 25, 2011


How about studying for the CFA exam?
posted by jchaw at 10:45 AM on January 25, 2011


I feel it wouldn't be a good long-term decision, as currently my marketable skills are things that everyone has, aka interpersonal communication, critical thinking, etc etc.

Yeah, and everyone else... is pimping those skills to get jobs! You have marketable skills and a degree, you belong in the job market alongside the other people who have those things. You can't just prolong your larval stage by accruing education, no one is likely to notice and track you down and OFFER you a job -- you have to go out and make your own way. Push, jostle, negotiate. That means taking some jobs you aren't wild about and always thinking with the next step in mind.
posted by hermitosis at 10:47 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nowhere in here do I see any mention of what you want to do. That is, what your real passion is? Is it CivE? I'm not clear if that's your passion, or just what you think is your best bet at making "real money".

So: what do you want to be when you grow up?

Maybe you don't know yet, and that's fine. I have friends who became Lawyers and now have tens of thousands of dollars in debt and feel they are chained to jobs they hate.

I have other friends who are putting themselves through graduate at night while working in IT jobs (which they thought would be lucrative but which they hate) because they finally know what their real calling is.

Your career is more than just the way you make money. Its the way you are going to spend a third of your day, virtually every day, for the next 40 or so years.

So, get some job now. Any job that pays the bills. Find some roommates on Craigslist or through friends and get an entry level job somewhere and enjoy being 24 and spend some time figuring out what you're really passionate about. Then, make a plan to do that thing.

But don't accrue more debt. If you want to do CivE, find a job that will help you pay the tuition to a real CivE course.
posted by anastasiav at 10:47 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I really want to look at this financially and get my feet under me.

...my biggest preoccupation right now is to escape the poor-house.

I have an inkling that you're not actually considering degrees/careers you're interested in and passionate about but rather degrees/careers you think provide the best prospects for employment, high income earning, and respect from your parents and peers. If it's the latter, you'll be miserable for the next 30 or 40 years of your life if you choose a profession you're not interested in and passionate about. Believe me, I understand the pressure to acquire financial independence, but no amount of money or job security will compensate for not being happy in your work.

It seems you're deadest on a white collar profession, but have you given any thought to professions that don't require a college degree? Want to earn megabucks? Become an underwater welder, or a power linesman, or maybe a real estate appraiser (maybe not in the current economy). I'm just tossing things out there, but now is the time to do some more research and find your passion before you handcuff yourself for the next 4 decades.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 10:47 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm kind of perplexed by your whole approach to this. It's as though, having decided that you won't find a job by going to law school*, you took the advice of the first article on "Top 7 Growing Fields!" that you could find, which is a pretty poor way to make a career decision. For one thing, those articles are obsolete almost as soon as they are published--sure, the future's bright for people who are only 1-2 years from completing a degree in $SUBJECT, but as soon as word gets around, the field gets saturated; people who go back to school specifically to get training in $SUBJECT are going to find that it's more competitive 4 years on, because most of those positions have been filled, either by people who got in earlier, or by people who already had training in a related field, and just had to pick up a slightly different set of skills to transition. Additionally, maybe even more importantly, you seem to be totally ignoring if you're at all suited for any of these occupations. No math since high school? And you're seriously considering an engineering degree as one of your 4 most viable options?

I think the most plausible way for you to get a steady job with a minimum of time and work is to look into what the teaching credentialling requirements are in your area, and try to land a job teaching middle or high school.

(*n.b.: everything I've heard on the subject from friends who've gone on to law school, been in law, etc., is that while it's exceptionally difficult to get a job practicing law without a big name degree, etc, most law school graduates do manage to be steadily employed in some field or another. So if going to law school has been a lifelong passion for you, and the only thing stopping you is thinking it'll lead you back to living with your parents, I'd say go.)
posted by kagredon at 10:49 AM on January 25, 2011


I would "like" to do the CivE / IndE degree, though returning for an additional 4 years of undergrad at the age of 24 (would be 25 when I returned) just sounds irresponsible. This would mean that I wouldn't begin my work life until the age of 29(!). Alternatively, I could do an accelerated nursing program and hope to work into an admin position, or a masters in Accounting and go for the CPA.

This sounds like the classic college focus vs. real life focus conundrum. You do know that your career path isn't set in stone. You don't have to do a specific line of jobs to get to an end goal like you do with college. You just work, that's it. Unless you want a job that has specific licenses or certifications, you are done with school. Hell, at this point you aren't even sure what field to go in to, so quit beating yourself up.
.
You finish school, you experience life. Go get a job.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:50 AM on January 25, 2011


You sound really wedded to the idea of a readymade career--by which I don't mean you're unwilling to work hard, it just seems as if your idea of working hard is slogging through another BA or a graduate program and coming out of it with a degree that essentially hands you a career along with your diploma. While this isn't an impossible model of developing one's career, it's becoming increasingly impractical (as you discovered when you researched law school grads' employment outcomes). Depending on your area, you could easily graduate with a nursing or software engineering degree and find that, while organizations are looking to hire nurses or software engineers, you don't yet have nearly enough experience to qualify (a definite danger with software engineering degrees).

Sign on with temp agencies in your area. Go ahead and apply for retail and food service jobs, but bear in mind that your having a BA (even one you think was impractical) gives you an advantage in terms of getting a foot in the door in entry-level corporate jobs, so temping might be more successful. Then, figure out what you actually want a career in.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:52 AM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I second the career councilor - I would also begin applying for low paying/internship/volunteer type jobs in whatever field you actually WANT to be involved with. Going to school blindly has a high probability in you coming back here in 5 years saying "I went back to school, and now I have a job that I hate, what can I do?"

Research low-level business jobs (like call centers) I know 2 people with psychology degrees (speaking of 'useless' degrees...) who started at a call center, worked hard, took the in-office classes and certifications and 10 years later are a Director and a V.P. at fortune 100 companies. There are a LOT of companies that like to train/promote from within you just need to be willing to put your head down and work and continue to work on your skills.

If there is actually something you want to do that requires a degree then that's another question, but you're not talking about what you want to do, you're just throwing darts at a map.
posted by dadici at 10:53 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please stop blaming your history degree. It's a convenient shorthand, sure, but you aren't taking responsibility for having chosen that degree; someone else told you to do it so you could get into law school? Same problem for thousands of economics or English majors who are in your situation. You're discounting the transferable skills you learned in a writing-intensive major.
posted by catlet at 10:55 AM on January 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'd also add: most employers are not going to blink at a spotty employment history from ages 22 - 24. Certainly not in this economy. If you can bear to live with your parents for another year, and you REALLY don't think you can find a job in a field that interests you, take a service-sector night job to pay the loans/pocket money and take an unpaid internship somewhere.
posted by anastasiav at 10:55 AM on January 25, 2011


You can do some career counselor stuff for free online; see this comment I made a couple of months ago.
posted by catlet at 10:58 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the most plausible way for you to get a steady job with a minimum of time and work is to look into what the teaching credentialling requirements are in your area, and try to land a job teaching middle or high school.

Wow, that really depends on where the OP lives and wants to live. In my area (metro Boston), they are riffing teachers with 10+ years of experience right and left. Getting into teaching right now is hardly a guarantee of steady employment of any kind in many, many parts of the US--and even if the OP is up for moving to an area with a teacher shortage, they'll still be competing against people who love teaching and have many years of teaching experience.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:59 AM on January 25, 2011


Don't go back to school! I went back to school after deciding that my original plan wasn't going to work out. I spent a lot of money but I'm not working in either of my degree fields, had to take an entry-level position, etc. My brother has been on an ill-advised carousel of schooling for his entire adult life with the idea that the correct degree will lead him to a desirable job. He's unemployed right now.

If you don't have a strong, strong desire to pursue a particular career which requires an advanced degree, don't get one.

Further, once you've been working for a couple of years you'll know a lot more about how employment works. You may see new opportunities for yourself and you'll certainly know yourself a lot better.

My first couple of years of real adult work (at the age of 27!) were tough. I temped for a while and then held a job I didn't like much. After three years of so-so work, I landed an entry-level job in a situation I liked; I'm currently on the second rung of that particular ladder and hope to stay.

I feel a lot happier and more confident knowing that I can (economy willing!) support myself like a regular adult. I initially felt some regret that I hadn't gone back to school again, but in retrospect I can see what a hideous mistake that would have been.

Just work for a while! Especially if you can take a crummy job initially, live with your parents and save up a little capital.
posted by Frowner at 10:59 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Follow your bliss. What do you WANT to do? Make porcelain dolls? Build bridges in Mogadishu? Sell houses? File people's taxes? Or maybe you really do want to be a lawyer? Figure that out, and go for it. You only live once. Best of luck.
posted by rocco at 11:00 AM on January 25, 2011


soon found that if you're not in a top 14 law school, you won't find a job [so as a result, I decided] not to go to law school (sorry for the mangled quote -- that's just how I read it)

well, first off, you made the right decision by not going to Law School, because if the realisation that you weren't going to walk into a high-paid job straight out of school put you off, then you probably weren't all that interested in the study of Law, anyway.

Listen to purlgurly. What's your passion? Until you work that out don't go spending serious money on pieces of paper (ie. qualifications) that won't, in themselves, get you a job.

Also, 24 is not so old to be living at home -- especially given the current economy; so don't beat yourself up over that.
posted by davidjohnfox at 11:04 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, that really depends on where the OP lives and wants to live. In my area (metro Boston), they are riffing teachers with 10+ years of experience right and left. Getting into teaching right now is hardly a guarantee of steady employment of any kind in many, many parts of the US--and even if the OP is up for moving to an area with a teacher shortage, they'll still be competing against people who love teaching and have many years of teaching experience.

That's a good point. It came to mind because I knew a fair number of people who took that route once they realized they didn't want to go on to grad/law school and didn't like other jobs available in their field, but most of those folks lived in or around Los Angeles (which has had an abysmal shortage, though it's gotten better, thanks to the economy), and yeah, very dependent on where OP is/is willing to go (and still not a guarantee.)
posted by kagredon at 11:04 AM on January 25, 2011


I don't think an engineering degree is the answer; in fact, I think it's representative of your continuing attempt to avoid getting a job (first, a degree you know isn't useful; then, four more years of delay...).

However, when NotMyselfRightNow says,
You want an engineering degree? Go get a Masters.

He isn't being realistic. I can't imagine an accredited engineering college admitting someone into their graduate programs who lacked the core curricula of engineering. It's BS*E (ME, EE, CivE, etc) only.

However, it's precisely that reason why a BS is the wrong choice for you. If you had to go back to school, a BA in business, communications, or similar degree would be much easier, cheaper, and waste less of your life in "retraining".

It's telling that you aren't suggesting a path like that, that would afford you a quicker route to a job.

Go get a job.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:06 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The important part of your history degree is the part that says 'degree'. That's all a lot of employers care about. Get a job doing almost anything you are interested in, but don't expect to make a lot of money off the bat. Degrees really start making a difference once promotions start happening, and you won't get any opportunities for promotions anywhere until you get your foot in the door.

If you don't particularly care what you do for a living, start looking at USA Jobs. Get a job doing anything, even if its filing papers. If you are at all competent, you'll end up being moved up and around until you find something you like.
posted by empath at 11:08 AM on January 25, 2011


Also seconding community college for extra courses you're interested in. If you see a lot of jobs that require some skill (like, I dunno, Microsoft Excel), take a 3 month course in it. It makes a difference.
posted by empath at 11:09 AM on January 25, 2011


The thing about career advising is, the OP in all likelihood has access to the Career Services Center at his alma mater.

They can help orient you toward career paths and reframe your attitude. This "Vandy wasn't good enough for me, so I rejected them and reapplied the next year" approach will not impress potential employers.

Since you're here asking this question, presumably the schools that you wanted didn't work out this year.

So do see or call the Career Center at your alma mater with an open mind.
posted by vincele at 11:11 AM on January 25, 2011


Don't forget something like the Peace Corps, Americorps, Teach for America, WWOOF or other volunteer/see the world/make little money type of thing. It could function as a stopgap job, yes. But it could also open some doors to options that you would never have considered. Note, the selfish need not apply lest they mar the spirit of the program itself.

Oh and the first three also offer a pretty nice student loan forgiveness package if you complete your term if I recall correctly.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:12 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also seconding community college for extra courses you're interested in.

Community colleges (at least in my experience) offer a ton of courses (both traditional semester courses and short courses, some even weekends) that can really enhance your skill set. They can also, as many friends of mine from high school learned, teach you very quickly and cheaply that engineering is not for you.

I can't imagine an accredited engineering college admitting someone into their graduate programs who lacked the core curricula of engineering. It's BS*E (ME, EE, CivE, etc) only.

Me neither, and I would have a really hard time seeing a university that isn't profit driven accepting a student into an engineering program without a significant math background and a passing of the preliminary courses.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 11:18 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


As someone once said to me: "A second Bachelor's degree is NEVER a good option."

I have to disagree with this. I went back for a second Bachelor's degree at 26, and spent three years getting it (in Accounting). It was the best decision I ever made. I make about 4 times as much money as I did before going back to school, and I really love my job now.

I agree with everyone else that you need to find something that you actually like to do, and make sure you have a decent financial plan. I was lucky in that I had no debt before going back, and even had a little bit of savings. (Also, since I live in Canada, university tuition is relatively inexpensive.) It was definitely hard, since I overloaded on classes and took classes over the summers, while working as many hours part-time as possible to avoid debt. But it can be done.

I think the key is to remember that you still are young. When I was in your position, at 26, I felt SO OLD to be going back.... but now I realize that wasn't true. Starting a "real" career at 29 is nothing to be ashamed of.
posted by barney_sap at 11:22 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


He isn't being realistic. I can't imagine an accredited engineering college admitting someone into their graduate programs who lacked the core curricula of engineering. It's BS*E (ME, EE, CivE, etc) only.

I don't know if it's the only program of its kind, but BU is accredited.
posted by Jahaza at 11:30 AM on January 25, 2011


Going back to school full time for 2-4 years is not the only way to gain marketable skills. There are cheaper, faster ways to build a resume. Volunteer for a local non-profit that needs office help and ta-daa! Now you've got skills in reception / data entry / MS Office software / scheduling / whatever. Take a couple community college courses and within a few months you can claim at least basic skills in HTML, CSS, web design, databases, etc. Sign up with a temp agency and you may find yourself on assignments where you can learn new skills or gain documentable experience.

You seem to be relying on the idea that a degree comes first and a job in the field comes next. Actually, I think for a lot of people, things go in a different order: first they get a foot in the door with a low-paying, low-status, non-professional job that allows them to get a feel for the industry and maybe start building a network of business contacts and mentors. THEN they pursue advanced training either on the job or through a degree program, and then they advance into the professional ranks.
posted by Orinda at 11:33 AM on January 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


You don't have a credential problem, you have a marketing problem. You need to change your story when selling yourself to others, and more importantly, to reframe your own personal narrative when thinking about your situation.

You don't have a useless degree; plenty of people have made it in the world on a history degree alone. You don't have a gaping black hole in your resume; you were working jobs and trying to get into the right school. Your story of waiting to get into the law school you wanted can be made compelling if told in the right way. Your situation is far from hopeless. Moreover, there's no point getting a credential in engineering, nursing, or accounting (all demanding and highly-stressful careers) if you don't want to be an engineer, nurse, or accountant.

Here is a rough sketch of a new narrative:
1. Had a passion for the law, and for history. Obtained a history degree.
2. Applied to some schools first round, and was encouraged by getting acceptances to all of them. Decided that it would be worth it to apply for a higher tier of schools and wait another year.
3. During this year, you kept yourself gainfully employed. You did not start a career as you knew you wanted to be a lawyer.
4. You got admitted into a law school you wanted, but something changed in that year. You realized that you didn't have the passion for the law you once did, and you didn't want to get into a demanding, responsible career that you couldn't give your all to. Furthermore, you realized that the legal market had crashed, and that the world didn't need another lawyer who didn't really want to be a lawyer.
5. This brings you to the present, where you are seeking another field that you are passionate about, that lights you up in the same way that the law once did. You have excellent reading, writing, and analytical skills as evidenced by your history degree. You are energetic, a go-getter, and a people person as evidenced by your working odd jobs during your two year stint applying to law schools. Furthermore, you persevere in the face of uncertainty and adversity.

Now it's time to pound the pavement. Apply for any job that looks remotely interesting, and any job that you think you could get (restaurant, retail, customer service, etc.). Talk to all your parents' friends about openings they might have that would suit a smart young go-getter. Attend any alumni events in your city. Get out there, get applying, get networking. Find a job, stick to it for at least 8 months. If it doesn't work for you, find another job. You will find something that excites you eventually, and it's at that point that you start thinking about getting further credentials, as opposed to picking a 'practical' degree at random right now and putting another four years into a qualification that might do nothing for you.

You will succeed! it's just a matter of time and application.
posted by sid at 11:37 AM on January 25, 2011 [23 favorites]


When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
I've read some of the responses so I'll chime in with my $0.02.
I am only a year older than you, and also have a 'worthless' degree of Political Science. Like you, I also planned on going to Law school but (un)fortunately I did poorly on my logic games section of my lsat which prevented me from applying where I wished.
Now, unlike you, I've always worked full time or as close to it since I was 16.
You need a job, as others say, any job.
I wouldn't seek another Bachelors degree, but instead build off the foundation you already have and seek a Masters while you work.
Getting a job is key.
I will be starting my Masters this Summer while working full time. It is completely do-able if you manage your time well. Meanwhile, I am still applying to non-profits and political oriented jobs, but as you stated worthless degree is a problem as well as the market forces at play.
Sum it up, get any job, stick with it and figure out how to build on the skill set you already have. Good luck!
posted by handbanana at 11:44 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't forget something like the Peace Corps, Americorps, Teach for America, WWOOF or other volunteer/see the world/make little money type of thing. It could function as a stopgap job, yes. But it could also open some doors to options that you would never have considered. Note, the selfish need not apply lest they mar the spirit of the program itself.

This is the kind of thing I'd do, if I could go back in time. Not to be cheesy, but look at this as an opportunity: You're young, you have parents nice enough to put you up, and you don't really have much debt. Follow your heart- you can have a great experience, build your resume, and make connections for future jobs in all of the programs listed above.

Also, just to show you it can be done, here is my own condensed career path:
1) graduated with useless BA in psychology
2) temped while building html skills on my own, eventually got temp jobs in html which led to full-time web work
3) Currently working as web developer to support my attempts at the career I really want
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:55 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you considered the military? Air Force, perhaps?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:04 PM on January 25, 2011


Are you seriously interested in the actual work in choices 2 through 5? If not, then they're just another job.

Go to temp agency, take the tests, talk to them, take whatever comes up. They don't care about the gap on the resume. Eventually you will (or will not) find a place that is more or less congenial and where you might actually get an insiders shot at full time work. If you want a CPA, do night school.

29 is no great age. Most people change their work several times in a lifetime.

And stop calling the history degree "useless".
posted by IndigoJones at 12:11 PM on January 25, 2011


Wow. Thank you all for the advice, and for not sugar-coating anything. It sounds like the overarching consensus is to go get any job I can find and work night classes until I can land a job I like. I suppose I'm still stuck in the whole mental conveyor-belt-model of school = job. Again, thank you for all of your no BS advice, it's obviously needed.

Also, in terms of getting that job, what is a good temp agency to go to? I've tried using Volt and At-Tech, to no avail. Any recommendations? (I'm sure it's highly location-specific, so if anyone knows of a good temp agency in Seattle, let me know)
posted by gtothep at 12:22 PM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


You just need to figure out what you want to do, and if you have the skills to do it.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:28 PM on January 25, 2011


And stop calling the history degree "useless".

Yes, please. I'd love to have at least one. Really.

The federal government has a lot of interesting analyst-type jobs and will be experience large numbers of employee retirements in the next few years. I will admit that the process to hiring can be lengthy. The Air Force is not a bad idea, and the Coast Guard would be good, too.
posted by jgirl at 12:31 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


mental conveyor-belt-model of school = job
I think those days are over. More and more degrees bear no relationship to actually getting a job.

I would say, do not go back to school unless you have a very clear plan in mind. Do not spend another $100K on a, this might work, idea
posted by Flood at 12:38 PM on January 25, 2011


So, to go against most advice: you're falling into the sunk-cost fallacy. What you have done up to now is irrelevant. What do you want to do with your life going forward? That is the only question. Decide what program you want most and do that. Sunk costs are lost and should not be used to guide future decision making. You have already pissed away 5 years of your life. Why would you piss away 2 more working at Starbucks and waiting for your ship to come in?
posted by GuyZero at 12:56 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


This isn't sunk cost at all, why would you piss away 2 years working at Starbucks? Because it establishes that you can work, that you can remain steady, and that you can function in a professional environment. If OP had any idea what he wanted to do then it would be great to go full-out towards that goal, but as he doesn't (based on the almost comically diverse list of possibilities) then going back to school amounts to throwing money at a problem that hasn't even been fully identified yet. The advice given above pretty much distills to the following:

1. Get a job - whatever kind that you can
2. Figure out what you want to do with life (perhaps by consulting a career councilor)
3. Take what steps you need to to achieve #2

None of that amounts to basing decisions on what he's accomplished already, it amounts to taking the time to make a measured decision.
posted by dadici at 1:17 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also RE: temp agencies - you might contact your local school system about being a sub, doesn't usually pay all that great, but it would give you practical experience with one possible career path, and would make you contacts that would make getting a "real" job easier should you choose to pursue it.
posted by dadici at 1:18 PM on January 25, 2011


It sounds like the overarching consensus is to go get any job I can find and work night classes until I can land a job I like.

And see a career counselor! Because you clearly don't have a good handle on what a job you will like looks like yet. A career counselor can help you do that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:23 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, job. Do not take on more student debt right now.
True story: after college, a dear friend and I--both with allegedly useless undergrad degrees in the humanities--lived together in what is now a very popular and desirable, medium-sized city. He bumbled into a tech support job at a small company. I also did tech support for a while, but immediately started forging grad school plans to make myself employable.
That was 1998. I moved away for school, piled up debt, got a job in the industry I was chasing, etc. I'm fine, but constantly feeling the weight of that additional student debt.
He just did good work at his job, discovered that he liked the industry he worked in (one which, I assure you, he didn't even know existed before he got the tech support job), and kicked ass every time he got a project or promotion. About a year and a half ago, he was promoted to President and CEO of this little company. He makes roughly 4 times my annual income and he really likes his work. And he doesn't have student debt. Most importantly, he found this work he really likes by letting his work like happen for a little bit before leaping to conclusions about what industries he wanted to be in, whether he was employable at all, what kind of further education to pursue, etc.
Just let something happen for a bit. Then let that experience inform your decisions.
posted by willpie at 1:54 PM on January 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


Wait, do you not want to be a lawyer? Why not just study harder for the LSATs etc. etc., get in where you want to go, and actually do that?
posted by salvia at 2:37 PM on January 25, 2011


Anecdotally, I got my first undergrad in Psych and decided to go back after 6 months and get a degree in Management Information Systems. I can't even begin to tell you how positive of an impact that had on my earning potential / career. Sure, it cost me more money and 2 more years of school, but it was worth it. But........I financed the whole thing by working my ass off so I didn't have to take on debt. It also helped that I really wanted to be in I.T. 15 years later I am enjoying my career in I.T. and making a decent living.

Going back for another undergrad does work for some people.
posted by jasondigitized at 2:37 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd take the engineering degrees off the table, if I were you. If you aren't totally and completely into them, in love with problem solving (and math), you're not going to do very well. These are programs designed to wash out the unenthusiastic and incompetent.

I did compsci for my bachelors. There were a huge number of kids in the program only because somebody had once told them that computers were where the money is. I was in the program because programming was really easy for me, and because I spent lots of time tinkering with my computer anyway. I ran fucking rings around the computers-are-cash kids, because while they did the assignments and passed the courses, I did the assignments, then did about 30-50 hours a week of extra "work" just because I was that into it. I set the curves in every class--except for the couple where there was an even more obsessive geek in attendance. And the cash-kids would ask me what book I read to get so good. Hah.

I have similar stories from my engineering buddies.
posted by Netzapper at 3:05 PM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


FWIW, historian is on this top 10 jobs for 2011 list. I only know this because my soon to be 17 year old son plans to go to college to study history, so a friend sent me this recently. Unlike you though, he is passionate about history. You need to decide how you want to spend you life first, then find a way to make a living at it.
posted by COD at 3:49 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I recently made an about-face on career choices. Have you read What Color is Your Parachute? Silly title, but I found it very helpful.

Think about what you really want to do. Do you want to spend every day for the next 30 years as a nurse? An engineer? Don't rush in.
posted by honeydew at 4:34 PM on January 25, 2011


Look, there are jobs you need a specific kind of degree for, and there are jobs you don't need a specific kind of degree for. There are lots and lots of jobs that fall into the second category.

I majored in history too, but I never really think about it as "my degree in history." It's "my bachelor's degree (which happens to be in history)" which I need in order to get a variety of jobs, most of which care little or at all about what I happened to major in.

Stop thinking "I got a degree in history and it was a terrible mistake" and start thinking "I got a bachelor's degree in nothing-in-particular which qualifies me for lots of jobs, what kinds of jobs might I like that I can get with a bachelor's degree in nothing-in-particular? What skills do I have and what jobs would I be good at?" (the fact that currently my marketable skills are things that everyone has, aka interpersonal communication, critical thinking, etc etc does not mean that those are not important skills you can use that are needed in the job market...)

You might want to try doing some informational interviews... think about some jobs that interest you, ask people in those jobs if they'll meet with you and tell you about their work, and then ask them what degrees, skills, and experiences you need to be qualified to do the work. I suspect that in many more cases than you expect, the type of degree won't be relevant, and what's far more important will be seeing how well you match up against the skill sets used in the job.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 4:55 PM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


As someone once said to me: "A second Bachelor's degree is NEVER a good option."

That's not true for nursing.

OP, can you get certified to teach history? Can you tutor area kids in history? Or can you do volunteer work/internship in the fields you're considering? Because if you spend a ton of money on a degree that leads you into an environment you are ill suited for, you will find yourself without a career once again and your self esteem will plummet.

Have you enrolled at a community college to test drive the courses in the fields you're considering? You could start doing accounting coursework and get a part-time job/internship as a bookkeeper or accounting intern or helper.

I'd be hesitant to recommend nursing because I know a ton of people in the accelerated second bachelor's programs, and some have been terrified of the scenario where they do well, pass the NCLEX, and then end up working at nursing homes. If you don't want to touch people, deal with irritable/irritating people, etc. you should not consider a career in nursing.
posted by anniecat at 4:55 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


FWIW, historian is on this top 10 jobs for 2011 list.

These lists are laughable and should not be trusted unless you're willing to do the legwork of finding out exactly how many openings there are and where and what the job entails and what kinds of degrees and experience are necessary to obtain such a job. Otherwise, don't just plan on becoming a historian because it was on a list careercast.com created for marketing purposes.

There are too many students enrolling in advanced degree programs that are essentially cash cows for universities these days. It costs very little for a university to pretend there's a market for the degrees they're shilling. Keep your eyes open whenever there's a monetary transaction in the making, especially if you're the one handing over money to a university.
posted by anniecat at 5:04 PM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


With regards to a couple of earlier suggestions:
- To get a CFA credential, you need to have four years of work experience. It isn't just passing exams. (Which are reputed to be quite difficult).
- I have a friend who has been an appraiser for 20+ years. It sounds like a very competitive field with low margins.
posted by elmay at 5:20 PM on January 25, 2011


These lists are laughable...

Hence, the FWIW qualifier. The OP already has a history degree that he has decided is worthless. The article provides some, if not much, evidence that the degree is not worthless.

No degree is worthless if you have a passion for the subject. Hence, all the advice above to the OP to get a job, any job, and figure out just what it is he wants to do in life, beyond get out of the basement.
posted by COD at 5:22 PM on January 25, 2011


In case you're still reading, gtothep, let me add an anecdote about a friend who followed the career "path" I described in my previous answer. We graduated from college together and I don't know what her BA was in, but it was almost certainly something "useless" like Italian or anthropology. (There weren't many "useful" degrees at our liberal arts school.) After graduation, my friend moved to DC and took a low-level job in the nonprofit world. It sucked so badly that she quit before I ever heard much about what the job was. Then she took a job leading educational tours of DC, which paid very little and was a mix of fun and frustrations. This experience helped clarify her resolution that she needed to "work for the man" and make better money. So she got a job as a paralegal at a high-powered law firm in downtown DC; they didn't require any qualifications besides a bachelor's degree and a pulse, I gather. (Things are probably different now that there are a lot of unemployed lawyers and paralegals on the street, but my point is about the overall arc of her career.) After scoping out the legal profession "from the inside" and saving up money for a few years, she went to law school and got a job as a government lawyer. She's now very, very satisfied with her job and enjoying enough financial stability to help support her spouse through grad school. I don't know whether her experience as a paralegal at a top firm helped her get into law school or land the government job, but I get the sense that ALL of her work experience helped her figure out her talents and priorities, and choose her next move.

For another one of our college classmates, the path went: a year or so of office temping, doing the crossword while answering phones > low-level program assistant job at a non-profit she hated > not quite as low-level admin assistant job at a non-profit she didn't hate > MPA degree, earned at night and partly paid for by benefits from the latter job > mid-level job at a non-profit where she believes strongly in the mission.

As for me--I went straight from undergrad to a graduate degree program, but in retrospect, I think maybe I shouldn't have. (I now have a "useless" Ph.D. and, since I spent my 20s in school, am starting from near the bottom of the work-experience ladder, where many of my college classmates were 10 years ago.)
posted by Orinda at 12:25 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


My degree is in psychology. I work as a manager of technical staff at the phone company.

The job market sucks across the board right now and that makes it difficult enough to find work without sabotaging your own qualifications.

You should stop focusing on what you think you need to get a job and start promoting the strong points you have.

* You're a college graduate with international experience and a strong work ethic as demonstrated by the "odd" jobs you've had in the past. *

That sounds pretty good to me.

Also, not all law graduates become lawyers. Going to law school might not have been all that bad even if you didn't end up becoming a lawyer. Lots of businesses would gladly hire someone with a law degree for management or analysis positions.

I recently met a guy who went to law school and is now partner in a PR firm.

You're over-thinking everything. I recognize this because I do it too.

Only go back to school if you're really, truly excited about learning and working in a very specific area. This does not sound like you.
posted by j03 at 12:59 AM on January 26, 2011


Just two thoughts, on going back to school for a Masters vs. a 2nd Bachelors. Many schools will have much better financial aid options for Masters students vs. another bachelors degree. Going the latter route, especially if you have a bachelors degree, can be more expensive.

In addition, for some Masters programs, they may make you take prerequisite courses if your background is missing them.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:25 AM on January 26, 2011


Lots of businesses would gladly hire someone with a law degree for management or analysis positions.

This is not true, based on the experiences of friends who attended law school and couldn't branch out until obtaining an MBA or another degree.

Be careful about entry-level masters programs. They are cash cows and universities recognize that career changing is becoming really common. Make sure you question them about how helpful the career centers are and how many recent grads of the program are employed and in what capacity.
posted by anniecat at 6:26 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lots of businesses would gladly hire someone with a law degree for management or analysis positions.

This is bullshit. More often than not employers wonder why you want to work with them because of course, everybody with a law degree could be making tons of money as a lawyer (Also bullshit).
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 10:08 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


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