I am 26 and want to continue my education
May 4, 2010 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Is it too late to start college again at 26 years old?

Two semesters ago, I graduated from college with a Bachelors degree in Psychology. I had a 2.45 cumulative GPA. I messed up during my freshman and sophomore years because I was immature. I watched movies and listened to music instead of studying. Now, I'm working as a lab technician. I would like to become a social worker, mental health counselor, or something having to do with animals. I am 26. I want to continue my education and earn better grades. Now, I am older and more interested in studying. Do I have a chance of getting into any Masters program with a 2.4 undergrad GPA? Or would I need to start college from scratch?
posted by annalem to Education (49 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I started college again at age 53, after messing up my freshman year and getting pregnant during my sophomore year. It is never too late to start college again! Good luck!
posted by Lynsey at 9:35 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

No, not too late. I know someone who will be getting around to finishing his undergrad at a real, live, physical, well-known university at 28.

It's not too late, but I can't speak to your ability to get into a Master's program.
posted by Night_owl at 9:35 AM on May 4, 2010

Never too late! And one option may be to "do over" some classes (and/or take some new ones) at a community college; a few solid As will help show any programs that you've matured and are serious now ... and if you do end up doing your BA over, at least you'd have knocked some requirements off!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:36 AM on May 4, 2010

26 is still young. Not everyone starts higher education while still fresh from highschool.
posted by Goofyy at 9:37 AM on May 4, 2010

My doctor started medical school at 40. Go for it!
posted by Carol Anne at 9:39 AM on May 4, 2010

Give it a shot. If it doesn't work, volunteer or try to find work in the field you want to be in. I recently got into a pretty good Master's program despite a mediocre GPA, thanks largely to spinning my decade and a half since then as hard as I could toward "experience." And now I'm the second-oldest person in my class. The oldest got his undergrad degree when Eisenhower was president.

It's never too late to go back to school, and it's never too late to start shaping yourself to be ready for it.
posted by Etrigan at 9:40 AM on May 4, 2010

You're going to be 30 in four years either way, so you might as well be 30 and have a college degree.
posted by something something at 9:40 AM on May 4, 2010 [7 favorites]

Eyebrows McGee has good advice - my almost-30-year-old boyfriend recently decided to get his second bachelors after slacking through the first one (also, who hires math majors? nobody.). He's just completing his first semester at a local community college, and is totally rocking it - he might even get his first straight-A semester ever.

So no, definitely not too late to start from scratch.
posted by kerning at 9:42 AM on May 4, 2010

It's definitely not too late. I started college three years ago at 27, and each of my classes, thusfar, has had at least one person in their 40s or 50s.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:44 AM on May 4, 2010

A large number of students in my department (Electrical Engineering) are in the 25 - 28 range, either from failing a few semesters, changing majors, or going to collage after military service. Go for it, with the job market as it is now is a great time to boost your education if you can.
posted by token-ring at 9:46 AM on May 4, 2010

Never too late, I started at 22 and was the youngest of all the mature students.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:50 AM on May 4, 2010

26 is not even remotely too late for college. I didn't get my BS until I was 33 and my MS until I was 41.
posted by octothorpe at 9:50 AM on May 4, 2010

It's not too late. I went back at 26. BUT, it is highly unlikely (not impossible, but...) that you could get into a master's program with that GPA, so might want to consider a second bachelor's.
posted by bolognius maximus at 9:53 AM on May 4, 2010

Both of my parents and both of my stepparents got college education after the age of 30; three of them got their first undergraduates degrees after 30, and all of them went on to at least some kind of graduate school. I graduated from undergrad at 25 and I'm looking at graduating from grad school when I'm 29.

It is never too late.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:55 AM on May 4, 2010

It is seriously never too late. My stepmom went back to school when she was 45 to get a bachelor's degree in occupational therapy. It was a total career switch from what she had previously done (bookkeeping). My stepmother said she actually found it to be a far better experience since she was doing this because she truly wanted to and not because it felt like an obligatory next step after high school.

Remember, your undergrad transcript is just a small part of what admissions will look at. Study hard for the GREs, get some great recommendations, and find other ways to beef up your application (volunteer work in a field related to what you want to study next is probably a good step).

Here are some past AskMes that cover getting into grad school despite a low undergrad GPA:
Dealing with a low GPA on a grad application
Can I get into grad school even though I screwed up in college?
Getting into Grad School with a substandard GPA
posted by tastybrains at 9:56 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nthing that you are not too late to start college at 26. Or at 36. Or at 96.

Many colleges offer programs specifically for adult undergrads. I've seen these programs referred to as "Professional and Liberal Studies" or "University College" or something similar. If you are not having any luck finding information about applying as an adult to an undergraduate program of your choice, ask the admissions office of that school. When I worked as an admissions counselor, I often had adult students ask for information about becoming a student. Just let them know right away that you wish to apply as an adult student - some schools will not take adult students in their day populations.

As for the master's degree with a low GPA - it is very possible. Seriously look into the program to which you wish to apply. Consider their requirements. Check if you need to take the GMAT (business) or the GRE (liberal arts). If there is a minimum GPA, it might be 3.0, it might be 2.5 - but it is not unheard of for schools to accept students with lower GPAs and higher GMAT/GRE scores. Some programs will even accept students on a provisional basis, seeing how you do after your first few courses. Talk to the Graduate Admissions department at your intended university. Talk to the people who head up the department to which you are applying. See what they think of your situation.

On preview, what tastybrains said.
posted by kellygrape at 10:02 AM on May 4, 2010

My college had a special program for "non-traditional" aged students; many of these students were in their 30s and 40s, coming back to school after having children or realizing they needed a (second?) BA to pursue the next degree, be that medical school or what have you. Definitely doable and welcomed.
posted by emkelley at 10:04 AM on May 4, 2010

My husband took his third whack at college at 28, after doing pretty poorly the first two times around. He graduated with a near-4.0 GPA and is heading off to graduate school in the fall. At 32. It's never too late.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:09 AM on May 4, 2010

Perhaps your hesitation comes because you went to a school that was full of students who moved from high school directly into college? In the second year of my undergrad course, our major class size doubled, because of students taking other routes in life (some returning to school, some life-long learners, and one college prof who wanted a new profession).

Depending on the type of credential you want, you could get much of your coursework done at a junior/community college, which will save you money, and you'll be in smaller classes than many major universities. Plus, the courses are often offered at times to fit a working schedule, if you want to work part- or full-time.

As noted by others, some colleges also offer continuing education tracks, either with the goal of a degree, or for personal enrichment. I've seen that the latter might be cheaper as you might be able to pay per-unit instead of part- or full-time tuition.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:14 AM on May 4, 2010

As someone who just got a BA at 30, I can tell you how much better college can be when you're older. I failed out of college at 18, went back and failed out again at 20, but this time, I was so excited to be there and focused and determined... Dean's List every semester and grduated magna cum laude. I did go to the urban, adult-focused campus of my university (although there was a good number of traditionally aged students, too) and it worked out really well. Go back, it's not too late, and it sounds like you'll be able to appreciate the experience this time around.
posted by Ruki at 10:16 AM on May 4, 2010

I got into grad school with an undergrad GPA in that neighborhood. Part of my strategy was taking grad level courses at the university as a "non-degree" student, paying out-of-pocket, kicking ass at them, and impressing the professors.
posted by zsazsa at 10:25 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Go. I wish I had the luxury of know why I was going to college as opposed to just going because that's what I was supposed to do after high school. Focus and purpose are nice things to have in college and it sounds like you have them now.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2010

I went back at 28 and finished my bachelors. Because it was a different school, they credited my previous hours but not the GPA. So basically I was able to reset the GPA and graduated with honors. Grad school in some fields is not as competitive as others, although vet school is supposed to be harder to get into than med school. I even went back fifteen years later and did my masters. It's entirely possible and lots of people successfully return to college.
posted by tamitang at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2010

A lot of Master's programs only care about your grades in the final year of your Bachelor's. So, if you're like me, and you didn't start to give a shit until year four, you're in luck!

Another option is to obtain a graduate diploma from a community college or similar, and then, if the diploma hasn't solved your problems on its own, apply for a Master's with that under your belt.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:30 AM on May 4, 2010

I'm another one who started college at 26. I'd left school at 16 and worked in manual trades until taking my undergraduate degree in a language - completely changed my life and no regrets. This was in the UK though, where my fees were paid and I got a small maintenance grant and access to low interest loans that I've yet to have to pay back.
As others say, it's probably better as a mature student too in terms of focusing on your subject. I passed with the highest grade awarded at UK universities, which was not what I'd expected given my patchy academic background.
posted by Abiezer at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2010

I'm just finishing my Master of Social Work and when I started I got a scholarship for "outstanding undergrad GPA" with a 3.67... So apparently competition is not as stiff as say research-driven psych programs. Go for it! I'd say hardly any of my MSW classmates were academic superstars. It's more important that you're geniunely interested in social work and being open to learning and changing. In my case this meant focusing on people skills rather than academics. For some of my classmates, this means learning how to write a research paper. Good luck!
posted by ShadePlant at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2010

Mrs. Doohickie studied retail management but never really liked it (nor did she finish her degree). She finally went back and got a degree in history, graduating 25 years after finishing high school. She is teaching history at a high school and loving it, and working on her Masters. She was about a 2.0 student the first time around.
posted by Doohickie at 10:37 AM on May 4, 2010

Just n'thing that it ain't too late. I have a friend that just got into a great Masters program with a lower-than-average BA GPA. My advice is to talk to as many people involved as you can face-to-face. Emphasize your real world experience and how that can be applied to your continuing education. If they offer you ways to display your new focus take full advantage of them. Meet as many of the staff/faculty associated with the program you want to enter as possible and ask them questions... not just about your situation, but about theirs as well.

What I gleaned from my friend's experience is that in post-grad education your age can actually be an asset. The bottom line for colleges manifests as graduation rates and I think older students are a safer investment in most cases. I've also known another re-asserting student that ended up boosting her pre-grad GPA by taking the pre-reqs she'd need for her post-grad program before applying.

There are lots of options. I'm excited for you and wish you the best of luck.
posted by Gainesvillain at 10:39 AM on May 4, 2010

Is it too late to start college again at 26 years old?

Oh my god, NO. It's never, ever too late, as everyone else has said. I have a friend who just turned 40 this year who is basically starting from scratch (she has an undergraduate degree but it's not in the field she's pursuing now) to be a psychiatric nurse. And she has three kids under 12! So no, it's not too late at 26 to start over.

You might not even have to start over. Pick some schools you're interested in and make an appointment to speak with the head of the program. Find out what they're looking for, what you'd have to do to get in. You might be surprised to find that all you have to is take the required exams (GRE, MAT, whatever) and score well to get in.

Good luck!
posted by cooker girl at 10:41 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I regularly have students in my undergrad classes who are your age or older. Make the decision you need to make because it's right for you, the age is irrelevant.
posted by kch at 10:41 AM on May 4, 2010

I fucked up undergrad at the traditional age -- twice. I got my B.A. at age 34 and my M.A. at age 50.

If you can swing it, rather than take classes at a CC, take a soc or psych class at a school with a grad program of interest to you. You'll be in the department, know a professor, and have the proverbial foot in the door.
posted by jgirl at 10:55 AM on May 4, 2010

Oh lord, you are *young*. Don't worry about it. I live in a city where it seems like half the people in their late 20s and 30s are in college. A friend of mine went back to school last year at age 32.
posted by medeine at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2010

Echoing what cooker girl and tastybrains say. Don't assume you have to get a whole 'nother bachelors. Make some appointments with program heads at grad schools you're interested in. Meet them face to face. When they see for themselves what a smart capable person you are and how interested you are in their program, they'll be more likely to help you out. That kind of personal connection can count for a lot more than grades do in grad school admissions.

The vast majority of the people in my grad program were older than you.
posted by doift at 11:18 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

College is often wasted on the young. There are many non-traditional students who go back to college even older than 26. But, know what you want to study before you start. Investigate and make a committment to a career and you would not feel like you made a stupid mistake come 2014. Get a feel for the job market in the field and talk to professionals doing that work to get an idea what is required and the schools they attended. If you know exactly what you want to do and get recommendations from professionals who know how hard you work, then it shouldn't be too hard to get into grad school.
posted by JJ86 at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would also consider which college to go to. For instance, I went to a large liberal arts public school in a college town where anyone over 20 in gen-eds would be out of place. OTOH, the other large state institution in the "real" city had a lot more non-traditional college students where you might even be on the young end for some classes.

I also recently took some classes at the community college, and at 27, I was almost the youngest person there. At least at my CC, it seems catered much more towards the older crowd.
posted by jmd82 at 11:21 AM on May 4, 2010

Your age is a non-issue. There are a couple of problems that can certainly keep you from pursuing your dreams, however.

Your low GPA. You will have a hard time getting into a decent graduate program with any sort of funding with a 2.4 undergraduate GPA. However, you say that your grades are bad due to slacking off in your freshman and sophomore years. What is your GPA for your last two years? While nobody is going to ignore your cumulative grades, improved performance, especially in the two years prior to graduation, may make things easier for you – it's not uncommon at all.

GRE score. You don't mention them. If you haven't taken it, make sure that your scores are nothing short of spectacular. If you have, and they aren't, take it again. You can start studing for the GRE right now; you don't even have to get up from your computer.

Post-baccalaureate coursework. You will have to raise your GPA. That's a given. Rather than pursuing a second bachelor's degree, which I would consider absurd, you can take classes as a non-matriculated student at your local university.
  • For any other purpose, community college would be good enough. Not in your case – you need to take courses at the most prestigious local institution that will allow you to register. The good news is that most if not all universities let non-matriculated students sign up for courses on a space-available basis.
  • Take upper-division and graduate level courses in the field you want to pursue. Nobody cares whether you can get an A in Psych 101 or Introductrory Bio. Admission committees want to know that you'd do well in graduate school, not that you could do better this time around you had another chance at your undergraduate coursework.
  • To get into courses that require the instructor's permission, usually all you need is a brief email explaining your situation. Professors have no reason to reject people from their classes.
  • Having said that, if you did get anything lower than a C in courses important for your graduate program (i.e. Introductory Bio for a program in the biosciences), do retake it.
  • Don't even think about online classes unless you have a very good excuse. As in, are you bedridden? In Kabul? Didn't think so.
  • Some universities have formal post-baccalaureate programs. Those are very hard to get into (most schools like to focus on students who are actually pursuing a degree), but you should still look into it.
  • You have missed most summer semester/quarter application deadlines, so the earliest you could start taking courses is Fall 2010. That means time you should have a full year of post-baccalaureate coursework (and your GPA from that year had better be a 4.0) and fresh letters of recommendation in time for the Dec/Jan 2011 application deadlines to enter graduate programs in Fall 2012. I think that any shorter timeline for getting into a respectable program would be naive. Of course, you could try applying as early as this winter if "respectable" is not imperative to you.
  • You will not be able to work a full-time 9 to 5 job while taking post-baccalaureate coursework. Courses are scheduled during the day, and you will need plenty of time to study in order to do well. Decide just how important this is to you. (My bosses were generous enough to let me go to school during the day and set my own hours – perhaps this is something that you could discuss with your employers?)
  • Students not pursuing a degree are not eligible for state or federal financial aid. Expect to pay for post-baccalaureate courses out-of-pocket, and start planning your budget now.
Feel free to contact me regarding this – I'm currently raising my GPA above 3.5 for the purpose of applying to grad school, and it's taken a lot of sacrifices.

Any of the above might not be a factor depending on what sort of program you are looking into. There are plenty of open-enrollment master's programs. Which brings me to:

You don't know what it is you actually want to do. To me, that's the biggest issue at hand, and no-one can help you with it. A good way to determine what you feel passionate about is to get involved in your community. Interested in social work? Become a tutor for at-risk youth or go volunteer at a shelter. You want to be a mental health counselor? Any larger town will have a community psychiatric clinic, and they are always in need of volunteers. Sure, you'd be filling out paperwork and answering phone calls, but you'll get to see up-close what the work is like, shadow some of the workers there if they like you sufficiently, and, most importantly, have something to write about in your personal statement. While a very rewarding experience, a solid history of community service is something that will be expected of many applicants to the programs you seem to be considering.

To sum things up, yes, you can go to graduate school, but if you want to get into a program that will really open doors for you, don't expect the process to be a breeze. The good news is that you can get started today.
posted by halogen at 11:32 AM on May 4, 2010 [8 favorites]

Don't enroll in a second undergrad program just yet. Consider finding a few graduate programs you might be interested in--do enough research and thinking to be familiar with the programs and have a sense of what you plan to do with the degree. Then, contact each of these programs and set up appointments to chat with either the program coordinator, a faculty member on the admissions committee, or an admissions advisor (depending on how the program is run). Ask those people what you would need to do in order to get into their program--talk about your strengths and successes as well as your past mistakes.

I used to work fairly closely with the coordinator of a Masters program (similar in some wayys to an MSW, but not exactly the same), and in that particular case, she was very willing to be open-minded with notraditional students and seemed willing to let a low GPA slide in some cases (improved school work later in undergrad, strong GRE scores, relevant work experience) but was frustrated when people called her with zero idea of what the program was or why they wanted to do it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:58 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I started college (undergrad) at 26. I would nth checking out grad programs first, just because you had a low gpa doesn't necessarily mean you can't get in, especially if you do well on any entrance exams and have a good interview/essay.

If you are going to redo your undergrad I would absolutely start at a community college (I did) but be aware of one thing: At CC you will not feel or be old, at University you WILL feel old, don't let it get you down. Just remember that you are better adjusted and probably have more drive and ability to finish, your personal experience/age can make you a better student if you embrace it.
posted by magnetsphere at 12:27 PM on May 4, 2010

IANYGC, or even your F(uture)GC, but I am a GC. We would not admit someone with your GPA, *but* we would encourage you to demonstrate that you've matured by taking graduate courses as a non-matriculated student (which allows you to bypass the GPA requirements). An A in a grad-level course atones for much at the undergraduate level. Taking this route has a further advantage: you can often transfer such courses into a regular graduate program.

However, I'll second halogen's warnings about GREs (take them, do well) and finances (you'll have to provide your own $).
posted by thomas j wise at 12:33 PM on May 4, 2010

Depends on a few things, not least your GRE scores. I got into a good grad program (one, I might add, whose admission standards clearly stated a minimum GPA I did not have) with an undergrad GPA not much north of yours. It helped that my junior and senior grades were much higher than my freshman and sophomore ones (I was ... listening to less music ... those latter two years), and my GRE scores were very good. Those factors, along with a good essay and good recommendation letters did the trick for me. I wouldn't say you'll get into every program you want, and you'll get little in the way of fellowships, assistantships, etc., but there is almost certainly a way forward from where you are without going backward.
posted by willpie at 1:44 PM on May 4, 2010

1) I went to grad school at 27, and understand why you might be self-conscious about being around other students several years younger than you; of course, it all seems silly to me now, nearly 20 years later.

2) The school(s) that you're interested in should be able to tell you what, if any, classes you might need to do over.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:05 PM on May 4, 2010

It's absolutely not too late. I did it at 26 after dropping out and doing a hitch in the army. And I had grandmothers in my class.

It can be the best time of your life.
posted by KRS at 2:31 PM on May 4, 2010

I started back at school last fall (at age 28) after struggling and failing with college and university repeatedly throughout my 20s (depression and undiagnosed ADHD). It's going to be an all A/A+ year I think (final marks for this term come out on Thursday), and I'm studying for a field that I know I really want to work in, having spent several years now doing related work. I'm going to be finished my diploma right around my 31st b-day, aim to finish undergrad between the ages of 31 and 40 (taking my time, allowing for work and one or two kidlets) and I'm hoping to do my grad degree in OT at around 40, which, health permitting, should leave me with 20-25 years of practice as an OT. It's never too late! :)
posted by purlgurly at 2:54 PM on May 4, 2010

I got my BA at 35, my MA at 37. This was two decades ago. Best thing I ever did. Yes, I racked up student loans, but I repaid those long ago. Meanwhile, my earning power increased threefold.

My work today has nothing to do with my area of study (English Lit), as is common, I think. As I like to say, it doesn't matter what you study so much as THAT you study. Well, and people are pushovers for the piece of paper that says you graduated.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:31 PM on May 4, 2010

Guy I know went to college at a normal age as a music major, dropped out and joined the Navy, went back to college and got an engineering degree. I think he was around 26 when he came back. There is very little overlap between music and engineering degrees so he basically started over from scratch. I think it can be done.
posted by Green With You at 4:45 PM on May 4, 2010

I have worked in graduate admissions (in history), and one thing that I recommend to prospective applicants who have a distant or checkered undergraduate career is to try taking one or two graduate courses as a non-degree student. Many graduate schools allow those with a B.A. to do that. Of course you have to pay full tuition, but if you do well in a grad course, you've got (a) a grade proving you can do well in a graduate course, (b) a professor who can write a recommendation based on recent work, and (c) a course you may be able to transfer to your degree program.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:09 PM on May 4, 2010

Not too late at all. I finished my bachelor's degree at 28, after taking a long hiatus. (I joke that I was on the 10 year plan!) It was a much different experience being there at 28 than at 18. I was much more focused...since I was older there wasn't all the temptation to go out partying every night.

Plus after working 8-5 for several years, a 9am class didn't faze me at all. : )

Good luck!
posted by SisterHavana at 7:30 PM on May 4, 2010

I'm 34 and I'm straddling my 1st and 2nd year. I dropped out a few times during the years since highschool, but now I'm in for the long haul. I'm lucky in that I essentially trained myself to do the job I'll be qualified for when I'm done (so I can pay my way, etc.) but it's never too late.

My grandmother was 53 when she graduated, as far as I remember.
posted by klanawa at 8:21 PM on May 4, 2010

I too restarted college at 26 (after being kicked out at 20 for insufficient academic performance), graduated at 28, and then went on to get accepted to several excellent grad programs, and eventually got my PhD (before 40).
posted by norbulator at 6:10 PM on September 19, 2010

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