Is it a good idea to return to school when you are in your 40's?
June 10, 2010 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I am considering returning to University at the age of 42, and would appreciate some feedback on how it was for you as a mature student.

I have been thinking about returning to University to pursue a career in Nursing. Up until now, the majority of work that I've had has been in Accounting. Years ago, I took two years of courses with the Certified General Accounting program. I have never had any desire to continue taking accounting courses, because honestly I can't stand it.
Twelve years ago, at the age of 30, I quit work and went to University full time and obtained a Bacherlor of Arts degree with a major in psychology. The idea was that I was going to return to school to get my masters. However, lack of finances and debt put an end to that.
I was fired from my job a few weeks ago because I didn't have the knowledge/experience to do the job without training. It was in accounting, and my manager had originally told me that the position would be a great opportunity for me to learn and that she would train me - blah blah blah- but she later decided it would best for her to hire someone that she didn't have to train.
Since then I've been applying for work, and have registered with temp agencies. I just have this feeling this could be a new chapter in my life and that I should take advantage of it.
Ever since I was in University in my 30's I've always felt that at some point I would return to school. Now I feel like this is the opportunity that I've been waiting for. I am now living in the same city and province as my family, where previously I was living very far away and didn't have any emotional support, which made it that much more difficult. I'm living in a city with a much lower cost of living, as well as lower tuition fees.
So, what I want is to hear about experiences returning to University and starting over when you are in your 40's.
Any regrets?
I'm just trying to figure out if this is a crazy idea, or if I should just go for it.
Thanks for in advance any advice given.
posted by cleo to Education (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
do it. I'm 41 and am finishing my teaching certificate, having just gotten my B.A. 2 years ago. in my cohort at EPI (educator prep institute - a comprehensive condensed course for post-baccalaureate career-changers going into edu) are several retirees, along with a boatload of all-ages nontraditional students. in about three weeks, I have to go look for a job in my new field. mrdoodley is also pursuing his B.A. at the same age as me.

most important - pick the right school. I went to U.F. (Florida), which is not the most friendly place for students over their 18-25 target. However, many other schools are, for the most part, much more career-changer, returning student, older student etc friendly.

that said, I loved my time at UF, because I was studying what I loved and getting credit and recognition for it. I was always good at my specialty - now I have the paper to prove it, and nobody can dispute it.

in four more years you will be 46 years old, whether or not you go back to school. may as well go back and get what you want.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:11 PM on June 10, 2010

Go for it!

I was in my 30's when I did this. My nursing school ranged from 20 year olds to a woman in her mid 50s. There were a number of people in their late 30's and 40's. Nursing school is like that. It's a great diverse field that needs a diversity of people going into it: men and women of various ages and different backgrounds. It's all good for the field. The patient population is diverse - we need diverse caretakers.

And now I love my job. I'm fairly well paid. I've been able to pay off my student loans pretty quickly and my job is rewarding in ways I never thought it could be.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:25 PM on June 10, 2010

I had a number of non-trad students when I was a prof at a small school in CA and I loved them all. They tended to work hard, understand the value of education, and had just the right combo of academic modesty, inquiry, and experience. Every colleague I talk to about it feels the same way. I don't know about the student side, but from my side of the room you'll be in good company.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:40 PM on June 10, 2010

Normally I would say go for it. I went back for a MLIS in my early 40s and it was fine. However, note that everyone and their brother is going back to school for nursing during this recession. I have a good friend (in her late 40s by the way) who has just finished taking all of the preliminary science courses that she needed before she could even apply to nursing school. She got straight A's, test scores so high that she blew the curve for her classmates in some cases, and she didn't even get into the one affordable local program. It was a state school, in the same metro area that she lives in, but she's across the line in another state. Basically they had so many applicants that they didn't even look at anyone from out of state. And the sad thing is that she's got a decent job now so she's not doing this for money or job security. She's looking to change careers because she really wants to be a nurse and I think that she'd be a great one. She is just the type of person that you'd want looking out for you in any sort of health crisis. She is incredibly smart, empathetic, but always keeps a cool head. I have a feeling that at least some of the people who got into the program that she wanted to get into, as well as others across the country, are going because it's being drilled into everyone that health careers are recession proof. That's true to some degree, but it looks like there's going to be a real glut of nursing students coming out in the next few years.

So I don't know what to say. If you really want to be a nurse, go for it, but know that it might not be as easy to get a job (or even to get into a nursing program) as it would have been just a few years ago. At the very least, you probably have a year or more of preliminary classes to take (biology, chemistry, anatomy, etc) before you can even apply, so you can start there and see how it goes before you make a major commitment to nursing school. But all of these things would be relevant whatever your age. That's the one bit that you shouldn't worry about.
posted by kaybdc at 7:42 PM on June 10, 2010

My mother went back to school in her 40s. She ended up with a Master's degree and a great job.

At my workplace there are a lot of adult students. They tend to be a very conscientious and successful bunch, as long as they approach it with an open mind (I like monkeymadness's 'academic modesty'). There are always some adult students who want affirmation rather than learning - they'll try to teach the teachers, but they're so busy talking they don't actually take anything in. Don't be one of them, and you'll love it. It really is one of those life-changing experiences.
posted by Paragon at 7:43 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in my early 30s and 6 months from completing my teaching qualification. I'd completed a BA about 6 years ago, and started by teaching diploma via distance ed. in 2009. It meant I was able to continue workng, and earning a fulltime wage, whilst completing my studies at my own pace. The only tricky part has been arranging time off work to complete my compulsory student teacher experience. It was easy enough to negotiate with my boss to have the time off; harder to make sure that I had enough $$ saved to cover my mortgage etc for 8 weeks of teaching unpaid. It also helps that I've got an amazing wife, who is willing to put up with a little bit of discomfort and stress on my part, knowing that we'll be much better off in my teaching career than otherwise.

My only regret is not doing it all years ago, but I was a different person, in a different headpscace back then.
posted by robotot at 7:45 PM on June 10, 2010

Great thread. In my 40s and was thinking of going back to school after 14 yrs.
posted by 6:1 at 8:20 PM on June 10, 2010

I have taken biology, chemistry, nutrition etc when I went to University ten years ago, so I'm hoping it will be transferable because I did get good marks. Looking at what is required in their University 1 program, it looks like I'll need to take their nursing course, but other than that I'm fine. I could do that part time in the following year, and apply for nursing for 2011.

What is ironic is that when I was 19 I applied for nursing and was accepted, but decided to move to different city and move in with my then boyfriend who was doing his Medical Internship.

I have no regrets about the decison I made then, because I wouldn't have had the amazing life experiences I've had.

Thanks everyone for their input, and I look forward to reading more.
posted by cleo at 8:39 PM on June 10, 2010

I went back to college in my early 40s, got my MA and part of the way through a PhD, and am still happily pursuing the career that this launched me on. A few random thoughts:
--The whole venture was made much simpler by being single/childless, i.e. having no one dependent on me except for the aged cat.
--Also making it simpler was having lived low-income for my adult life up to that point, thus not having to change lifestyle much.
--Of course, having someone else around to help pay the bills would offset much of the above.
--I found the rigors of being a student -- focusing on intellectual tasks, managing time, staying motivated and self-directed -- to be vastly easier in my 40s than in my 20s.
--It really, really helped to connect with other adult students in my cohort, for both social and study purposes. (Try if at all possible to enter a program with people at various ages.)

Moving beyond these generalities, kaybdc has some excellent cautions above about returning to school at this particular time for that particular degree. Your success in the preparatory science coursework will likely be a major factor in determining the realism of the plan, given how competitive nursing programs have become.
posted by Kat Allison at 8:44 PM on June 10, 2010

Whoops, posted before I saw your comment, and the one thing I'd add -- and you've likely already thought of this -- is to be sure to talk to admissions staff and advisors at schools you're considering about how your ten-year-old science coursework is likely to be viewed. And also, to be realistic with yourself about how much of the content you retain.
posted by Kat Allison at 8:48 PM on June 10, 2010

Do It!!!

I'm not a mature/nontraditional student, but at my university I've had classes and made friends with many and have found that they tend to be more focused and in the right mindset for college than many students entering/coming back to college at my age.

As a BIO major I also have to agree with what kaybdc and kat already stated, the science courses seem to make or break a lot of students. So if you're feeling kind of wary about those classes make sure to look into all your available resources for your given school. My school offers supplemental instruction in all introductory and "gateway" courses, and several types of labs for general and specific types of tutoring (already paid for through tuition). Most students who utilize these tend to do better than their peers (by whole letter grades), so if you have these resources try to use them.

It is a risky decision to go back to school for a highly competitive field, but I think it's worth it.
posted by Shirley88 at 9:05 PM on June 10, 2010

Mine was law school and a fair amount younger, but my classmates were mostly much younger than I was. I found that even having a few years under my belt made school very enjoyable. I think I had some adult perspective on school and life (i.e. I won't die if something goes not according to plan) but also more focus.
posted by Pax at 9:08 PM on June 10, 2010

My dad is graduating from Drexel tomorrow with an engineering degree, after 14 years of night school. He's in his mid-50s. He's never been happier, that I've seen. It's never too late.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:28 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm 44 and last Fall started back in school to chase a BS in Math. I had to get used to walking into a classroom and everyone assuming I was the instructor, but aside from that, it's been all good.

A couple of noteworthy changes from my previous experience as an undergrad:

- Most everything is done online. Registering for classes, emailing instructors, downloading podcasts of lectures and oftentimes submitting assignments. A most excellent change.

- Amazon is your friend for ordering and reselling your textbooks.

- As an older student, I find I am much less intimidated by my instructors. I'm much more likely to "break the silence", ask questions, chat them up after lecture.

Enjoy it!
posted by browse at 10:03 PM on June 10, 2010

Do it. I'm in your situation and I'm in my early 30's. I just finished my second semester back in school (I fucked around for 4 years in college out of high school but didn't make real progress towards a degree thanks to my inclination to take SUPER AWESEOME classes and a lackadaisical advisor. I. Love. School. And I'm good at it, as are most people over 27. You'll love it, and if not, you'll know soon enough. Fucking do it.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:07 PM on June 10, 2010

Among my friends, several have recently started or returned to school in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Each one is so focused and engaged with their studies, and they truly appear to value the education they're receiving as both learning/personal enrichment and a means to an end: grad school, a new career.

While I don't have much more to add to the great responses you've received thus far, I still wanted to send a message your way: do it. Really! This is nowhere near a crazy idea. If you need a little push to take the leap, consider these responses a big ole' nudge. You sound so ready and hungry for this, and your personal circumstances could not be more auspicious.

You can do this! You will kick academic butt! And I suspect you'll have a lot of fun... and a wonderful new career ahead of you.

I'll be 35 this summer and I'm returning to school in the fall to resume the B.A. I started (and flailed about in) eons ago so that I can make the career switch I've wanted for some time. I'm looking forward to our questions a few years hence when we're seeking advice on how to handle the shortage of tickets to go around to loved ones at our graduations :)
posted by vespertine at 11:31 PM on June 10, 2010

my apologies for the use of the blink tag. if a mod wants to fix that, you have my blessing.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:19 AM on June 11, 2010

This is a great idea. Don't let this discourage you at all, but please keep in mind that most universities are not going to accept your ten-year old coursework as transfer credit. If you really feel you know that material then definitely fight to make a case and they may budge, but in my experience working in Higher Ed Admin, it would be a very rare instance for credit taken that long ago to be accepted (and usually in the program or admissions info online it will state the guidelines for transfer credit).
posted by Polychrome at 1:56 AM on June 11, 2010

I don't know what it's like in Canada, but here in the UK a lot of nursing students are mature students, and yes, some into their 40s. So you'd not be in any way out of the ordinary in your class.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:58 AM on June 11, 2010

Thank you all for such great responses!

I've checked online, and it looks like they will transfer credits up to 10 years, and I graduated 2002, hopefully that will suffice.

The feedback has really given me the courage to look further into this. Thanks everyone for your input, and feel free to add your experience!

posted by cleo at 4:04 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I went back to college 5 years ago to start a part-time PhD, sixteen years after doing my undergrad in the same field (fine art). I'm handing in my first draft of my thesis on monday and planning to finish next year. It has changed my life in so many ways that I never could have imagined, including getting me started in teaching, which I love much more than I ever thought I would. My outlook and confidence has also improved drastically. I have never looked back.

Go for it!
posted by Chairboy at 4:14 AM on June 11, 2010

Oh, and I'm 43 now.
posted by Chairboy at 4:15 AM on June 11, 2010

...looks like there's going to be a real glut of nursing students coming out in the next few years.

I'm not trying to dismiss kaybdc's thoughtful comment, but I don't think this will be the case with bachelor nurses anytime soon. There are still more jobs then graduating RNs.

So don't be intimidated by the volume of people applying to nursing school right now. A lot of the programs are about following rules and I was surprised how many people tried to not do this. You can be ahead of those people who don't fill the forms out right, don't take all their pre-coursework, etc.

For example I got into a nursing class with 20 spots that 1100 people applied for. Sounds exclusive but not really - I talked to SO many people who hadn't finished all the things on the application yet. They didn't take an entrance exam the school required, they wanted the school to consider all sorts of special circumstances.

From the school's perspective - they just wanted 20 people that would do what they were asked. Older students were the majority of that class.

Oh course it is hard to get in. But it is not impossible. Like kaybdc's friend you may have all the right stuff together but may need to apply to multiple schools multiple times. It's a numbers game to get in.

That 20 spot class I started in now has 400 spots. Schools are expanding programs to accomadate demand.

It's an endurance game to finish. Paragon makes a great point about some older students wanting affirmation instead of actual learning. Those that were determined to prove the prof's wrong about this or that generally did not do well.

Good luck!
posted by dog food sugar at 5:42 AM on June 11, 2010

Cleo, my brother (in his 30s) went back to school for a nursing degree and it is tough - he's had to learn that sometimes you just have to do X and discuss later. I've also gone back to school (in another fied) and all I can say is take the chance now.
posted by canine epigram at 6:54 AM on June 11, 2010

I've gone back to college twice - once when I was 30 (ish) and a couple of years ago when I turned 41. I have a BA now in English.

The first time was easier because I lived in a bigger city and there were more non-traditional students in my college. The second time wasn't *as* easy socially speaking because most of the students in the college/town were much younger than I am - read: my children's age - and it took some time to find friends or even people to talk to. But I still do not regret going back. As a matter of fact, I'm considering going back for my MA.

I think it's easier academically to do this as a mature adult, but there is one thing I noticed. If you've been in the working world for any amount of time, you've probably gotten into the habit of going to work then leaving work at the door when you go home - that makes it *very* difficult to do homework sometimes. I had to find ways around those habits...
posted by patheral at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2010

Thanks again everyone for sharing your experiences. If I could mark everyone's answer as the best answer I would!

You have definately given me something to think about!
posted by cleo at 1:46 PM on June 11, 2010

« Older Win7 file copy slow from DVD   |   How to get rid of migraine without nausea Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.