Should I go back to school and get a professional degree?
January 18, 2013 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm 30. By living rent-free with my parents, I should be debt-free by early next year. Is it worth it to go back to school and get a professional degree?

Even if I wanted to, I'm not sure I have the grades - I'd probably need to do at least a year in undergrad before starting a four-year professional degree program. I'd graduate with at least five times as much debt as I have now. At the moment I am making a bare 'living wage' and am unlikely to see this grow very much (some, and typically the career path for people with my qualifications is to move into management). I'm not completely crazy about the field I'm looking at, but it seems like it would be interesting most of the time, and the money is decent.

Has anyone done this at this age? What was your experience like going back to school full time at 30+?
posted by srs airbag to Education (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Worth it for what? What sort of professional degree? What do you want to do? In what way do you think a professional degree will help?
posted by brainmouse at 8:04 PM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

We need serious clarification here. First, do you have a B.A. already? Second, what kind of professional degree are you looking at that would take 4 years? Many masters only take 2 years. Third, what do you hope to do? What field are you in? The worth of further education is extremely variable by field.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:12 PM on January 18, 2013

So... You have a list of reasons not to do it, and your positive reasons are "it seems like it would be interesting most of the time and the money is decent?"

If you're just going into it for the money, sure. Otherwise it doesn't sound like you really want to do it, so why do it?
posted by Autumn at 8:13 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay, serious clarification. Sorry mods - I'll keep it non-chatty.

I'm a veterinary technician. I have a BA (in history). I'm thinking about going back to school to be a vet.

I'd make twice as much money to start (according to some vets, though some say it is less). I'd have more decision-making power, and a more interesting job. But I'd also be in my mid-to-late thirties before I could start practicing, with a nightmarish debt load. Remaining a vet tech, I'd be making money instead of going to school for five-ish years, not incurring debt, and seeing a slow and modest salary increase. I can specialize and pursue continuing education as a vet tech to a certain extent. The usual career path for vet techs is into practice management.
posted by srs airbag at 8:22 PM on January 18, 2013

I'm at the finishing end of having done something like this. I'm 32, and I was made redundant in 2011; I went back to uni to do a full-time Masters (an 18-24 months course) in urban (town) planning, of which I've got one subject left. It's been universally a positive experience. The course is full people in the same position---adults in white-collar jobs wanting a change of career, a required degree for promotion, and international students. Once you've been in the workforce, I've got to tell you, studying is a delight. I'm far better organised and motivated than ever I was the first time I was at uni.

That said, student debt for local students in Australia isn't nearly the barrier it is in the United States (where I assume you are), and I wouldn't have been able to do this had I not been saving and planning to do it for two years or more before I started, or had I not a very supportive partner.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:27 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you need to do prereqs? I did my prereqs for pharmacy school at a community college and some of my classmates were vet techs working FT and doing their prereqs at the same time. You can do that. You're going to be in your mid to late thirties no matter what, so why not just go to school to get a degree that helps you get what you want?
posted by discopolo at 8:27 PM on January 18, 2013

Ok, well I don't know much about your field, so I'll give you my general rules.

1) If money wasn't a factor, which job would you choose (vet vs. management). Do you have a strong preference for one or the other?

2) If there's a way to keep working while you go back to school, do it. Also, living at home -- can you still do that if you go back to school?

3) Age doesn't matter. I'm in a non-traditional program with students aged 21-60. The average age people start is around 30 (for bachelor's and grad degrees). You're still young.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:29 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

That kind of debt load in your mid-to-late thirties is probably not something you will ever get out from under, unless you make a LOT of money.
posted by twblalock at 8:36 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, how much debt would it be if you went to an in-state school?
posted by discopolo at 9:17 PM on January 18, 2013

I'd also be in my mid-to-late thirties before I could start practicing, with a nightmarish debt load.

As someone in a nonprofit career, I was in my mid to late thirties before I was earning anything to speak of anyway, and had debt anyway. If you have a chance to leap up and double (or nearly so) your income after that point just by adding to your education, that's kind of fantastic.

I think it's about long-term trajectory. When you're 50 or 60, do you want the career and life of a vet or of a practice manager? Does family figure in, and if so, when/how? And does location matter? Or autonomy? Figure out what sort of life would feel better to you overall, and work back from there. You're going to hit your late thirties either way, and you can either be on a professional trajectory to be a vet, or doing what you do now, only more so. One of those will suit you better - figure out which it is.

Be aware, though - getting through graduate school is difficult, and if you really don't care that much about the outcome you'll have a harder time forcing yourself. You do need to want it. So figure out whether you want it or not - don't do it just because it seems like a good idea on paper. That's not enough to motivate you properly.
posted by Miko at 9:49 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do it! Your life will be much better as a vet -- you will have more options, more fulfillment, more knowledge and prestige. And then, if you decide to go into practice management, you can always do it later. This is making your life better. You are getting older anyway. Do something valuable with the time.
posted by 3491again at 1:23 AM on January 19, 2013

If you can go to vet school, by all means, do so.

Know that it's even more competitive than medical school, oddly enough. If your grades aren't fantastic, you may have a hard time getting in.
posted by valkyryn at 3:18 AM on January 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am a health careers advisor but I am not your vet school's advisor. I strongly urge you to talk to the vets you work with and to contact the vet schools you're thinking about applying to in order to get the most appropriate advice to your particular situation.

Vet school, like med school, is really not for those who are not "completely crazy about the field". Admissions are incredibly competitive, as valkyryn says, and you will be competing against people who are completely crazy about it. You will be writing admissions essays and being interviewed, so you will need a stronger case for why you want to be there than you have stated here.

I think you are underestimating the pre-reqs you will need. You will need a minimum of 2 semesters each of introductory biology and chem and organic chem. If you have not had stats or calculus, you will need those. And it is very, very important that you get As in those. Optionally, but strongly helping your application, you would do well to take some upper level biology, things like biochemistry, comparative anatomy, zoology, microbiology, parasitology, etc. Courses like that will prepare you for the rigor of vet school and confirm for you that you do not in fact hate that kind of study. (Usually, for pre-vet students I'm most worried about whether they can actually handle cutting animals open (not a small problem), but you do have that covered by your job.)

You will also need recommendations, and they will need to be good. Obviously, you can get recommendations from people at your job. But will they say "srs airbag is a competent vet tech" or will they say "srs airbag is passionate about caring for animals and will be an amazing vet, who we look forward to hiring in the future."? It is also helpful to have academic recommendations, so while taking your pre-reqs it would be helpful to get to know your professors and establish yourself as someone who they could write a recommendation for.

If all that sounds like way too much for something you're not that passionate about, that is okay. As you said yourself above, there is decent pay and career advancement in being a vet tech. Or maybe there is something else you might be more passionate about that might be worth going to grad or professional school for.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:17 AM on January 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

I went back to school when I was 35. First, I finished the first three years of my BA in the evenings while working full time. In my fourth year, I reversed that and attended school full time while working part time. I had such a blast that I decided to get an MA. Again, I worked part time. Meanwhile, I lived cheaply, so I came out of the whole experience with not too much debt.

My career turned out to have nothing to do with my studies, but graduate school taught me relevant skills, like writing well and problem analysis. And while not quantifiable, the BA/MA on my resume has appealled to my employers when considering me for advancement. It has made it easier for them to promote me over others. To the point that now I run the joint.

Twenty-five years later, I'm certainly further ahead than I would have been if I hadn't gone back to school. But there have been costs. I started at the bottom in my then-new career, so my earnings and savings were minimal for a while. There were about 10 years when I was hardly saving for retirement at all and to that extent missed out on the miracle of compounding interest and stock growth in my 401K. I've been more or less successful in mitigating that by maxing out my contributions, but at 60 I don't yet have enough to retire on with an income I can live with. Maybe by 62, but I'm not sure yet.

So do give thought to earnings--you should work while in school. And reduce your expenses so that you can still save, even while in school. Because otherwise you'll arrive at retirement age but won't be able to afford to stop working.

Good luck to you.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:24 AM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Purely from the money point of view, ask yourself these questions:

1) How much money will you NOT earn as a vet tech, during in the years you will be studying for your vet degree? Let's say this would be $120K ($30K post tax x 4 years)

2) How much debt will you incur as a result of your vet degree? Let's say, $80K, if you work part-time and study at a state school.

3) How much ADDITIONAL LIFETIME earnings will you make as a result of being a vet instead of a vet tech or manager (probably have to factor inflation and discount rates to get a better estimate...)? No clue about this, so let's say $10K x 30 = $300K

So, using these numbers*, you would make a profit of $300K - $120K + $80K = $100K. Hence it would be monetarily sensible to go to vet school.

*note that amounts estimated are purely hypothetical, and I only used actual numbers because it's easier than using abstracts like X, Y, Z.
posted by moiraine at 7:18 AM on January 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you genuinely, really want to be a vet, then go for it. You get more prestige, and you interact with people and pets in a different way. Think about being 70 years old; do you want to be able to say "I'm a veterinarian" or "I'm a vet tech" ?
posted by theora55 at 10:30 AM on January 19, 2013

I'm currently in my first year of vet school. If you have questions about it, PM me, I'm happy to answer them.
posted by bolognius maximus at 1:01 PM on January 19, 2013

Do it, if you can get in. Being a vet tech is a dead end job, as you probably know, but being a vet gives you a shot at a decent salary, an excellent chance to eventually open your own business and the probability of a solid, if late, retirement. I know a lot of veterinarians, none of them have or will ended up old and poor. A lot of vet techs do though.
posted by fshgrl at 10:47 PM on January 19, 2013

While being a vet tech is a dead-end job, being a veterinarian is no particular path to higher earnings, either, particularly considering the debt load. Basically, the money and time spent becoming a veterinarian could be better used doing other things that would contribute far more towards improving your career and salary prospects.

So, using these numbers*, you would make a profit of $300K - $120K + $80K = $100K. Hence it would be monetarily sensible to go to vet school.

You're not counting opportunity cost: what else could you do with 4 years of your life and $80k worth of debt in order to improve your life/career? (could you get the return with 2 years and $20k worth of debt?) What would be the payoff of doing that? If it's higher than the return on vet school, then vet school isn't sensible.
posted by deanc at 5:14 AM on January 20, 2013

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