Is going back to school really worth it?
May 22, 2013 11:00 AM   Subscribe

I am 28 years old and just completed my first semester of college, which I was unable to do when I was younger for a variety of reasons. Is this is a good idea? Much, much more detail inside.

I was raised in an extremely fundamentalist Christian household. Going to college, especially as a female person, was just not something you could do (or at least I was led to believe). I had no idea of the existence of student loans, for example. I thought people had to pay their entire tuition upfront. (I also thought that dinosaurs walked around with people, but I digress.....)

Over the years, I've worked a variety of (mostly retail) jobs, where I met other people and was exposed to some other facets of life. That, and meeting my husband was my first exposure to other ideas, and I came to realize the world wasn't such a scary place; I had some options!

Fast forward several years, and I was able to extricate myself from the terrible church situation. That was 2010. I wanted very badly to start college, as it was something I had always wanted to do. Unfortunately, at that time, I was employed as a nanny, and worked too late in the evening to allow me to make it to classes at the local community college. My husband and I were barely scraping by, both working low paying jobs.

In 2012, after a variety of factors, we were forced to move back in with my parents, as my husband has not been able to find full time employment, and his student loan (a private loan) was pretty oppressive on top of our other expenses. Finally, I can work less hours, although I still have to work since we have a car payment, student loan debt, and my father wants a fairly significant rent.

So, with that background in mind, I am trying to figure out if I am on a good path. I am attempting to study towards my BS in Computer Engineering, since I am good at math, and have enjoyed playing with python in my spare time. The community college I attend has a dual enrolment with a state school, so all credits earned there will go toward completing my degree.

I guess my real question is, is this a good idea? I am fairly isolated, being introverted and don't have anyone who could be a "mentor" figure in my life. Both my parents, and my husbands parents have always worked low wage, low skill jobs, and 3 out of 4 never even completed high school. I literally don't know a single person who has a similar job. Is going to school worth it? I am concerned with my age (28) and lack of experience in any type of professional job. Will people want to hire a 32 year old new graduate? I have a lot of anxiety that it is already too late for me.

One thing I am totally uninterested in is continuing in nannying or any other type of child care.....I don't want children of my own, and even though I love the children, I do not want to continue down this path as a career. I am also very tired of the changing nature of the job, and the lack of health insurance and benefits. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started, I was just beyond tired of retail.

Sorry for the length, and I deeply, deeply appreciate any ideas, thoughts, experience or ideas that others could impart about my future plans, or anything I could try to do now.
posted by PrettyKnitty to Education (47 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Your husband has a degree and no job. Going further into debt for a second degree seems like a bad investment.
posted by 256 at 11:04 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's never too late! Really and truly! School, especially for computer stuff, is a very good idea if you can afford it. Is there some sort of counseling available at your school? They'd be a great resource for helping you along (i.e. mentoring) in your path, deciding if and how to specialize, what your next steps should be. Even if your community college doesn't have a counseling center, the state school they partner with most likely does.

The counseling center should also be able to help you find more relevant jobs than the one you're doing now. You might be able to get a job in the school's computer lab, for example.

If no one else has said it, or will say it, I'm really proud of you.
posted by cooker girl at 11:05 AM on May 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

So, with that background in mind, I am trying to figure out if I am on a good path. I am attempting to study towards my BS in Computer Engineering, since I am good at math, and have enjoyed playing with python in my spare time. The community college I attend has a dual enrolment with a state school, so all credits earned there will go toward completing my degree.

I'm not sure I would do it quite like that. What I'd suggest doing is finding a way to do coding gigs on the side, maybe as an apprentice to a professional contract coder.

Eventually ... by all means, this is a fantastic idea .... if you will stick with it. It also means you will eventually need to move closer to a tech hub.

Age is going to be a problem, as is lack of experience. There is a great deal of skepticism about whether people who get into the field late are actually interested in it or are doing it as a fall back to make money when their original career didn't work out (because in reality these people flame out quickly or just become a drag on everyone as they jockey to move into management/PLM). There are ways around that, especially once you've got your first job, but it will be a bit more work.
posted by rr at 11:06 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the alternative to studying computer engineering is to continue being a nanny, go with computer engineering.

The best thing you can do to maximize your ROI on going to college is to contact potential employers while you do your degree. "Networking" and expanding your personal connections is key to finding a good job.

There's a 3-year diploma program here in town for computer science, and many, many of the students are older than forty, so I wouldn't worry about too much.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:14 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're doing the right thing. Your employment prospects without any degree are extremely limited, and the fact that you are going to a community college WITH a transfer program is exactly what you should be doing. Just keep your loan debt to actual tuition and fees, don't use loans to pay for your room and board - that's how your debtload gets unmanageable.

Your husband has a degree and no job. Going further into debt for a second degree seems like a bad investment.

Unfortunately, degrees don't transfer between spouses.
posted by Think_Long at 11:14 AM on May 22, 2013 [20 favorites]

I decided to start moving toward my undergraduate degree at 28. I can say, without reservation, that it was the best decision I ever made. I am now 38, have been a physical therapist for years now, I love my work, I support myself and don't have to depend on anyone to make a living. I am in control of my life in a way that I never would have been otherwise.

The student loans freaked me out BADLY in the beginning, but they were a means to an extremely positive end. I'm now about a year from paying them off entirely.

My advice: make a plan backwards. Decide on what you want your life to look like in ten years, and then do what it takes to get there. My main concerns were not having to worry about finding work with health insurance, and being able to take care of myself. I am so grateful to my 28-year-old self for looking out for me.
posted by jennyjenny at 11:16 AM on May 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

As someone who struggles with the dilemma of going back to school and age (believe me it just gets worse with time), if you can do it, and you want to do it. Do it. Will it mean sacrifice? Likely.... Obviously if it's going to put an unacceptable strain on you or your husband, financially or otherwise, it can wait a bit, but if it means sacrificing things you both are willing to do without for a time, then don't hesitate.

If you can't go full-time, start slow. Take a few classes and build momentum from there. Learning is rewarding in its own right, builds self-esteem and broadens social circles in addition to making one more employable.

Lastly, the most solid piece of advice I've received on this topic, as applied to your graduation age is:

"You're going to be 32. So, you're either going to be 32 with a degree or 32 without one. Which do you prefer?"
posted by Debaser626 at 11:19 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

You're doing the right thing and it is definitely not too late. My mother went back for a Bachelor's and eventually her Master's in computer science in her 50s and was able to find related employment upon graduation.
posted by Andrhia at 11:20 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think this will be worth it, but it's also going to be really, really hard, so don't underestimate the amount of work it will be and don't be too hard on yourself if it doesn't go as smoothly as you expect.

Try to make connections with people who are doing what you think you want to be doing. I know this is hard for you as an introvert, but it's important. If there is a Python meetup anywhere you can get to, go! (If there's no Python group but there *is* a Ruby group, or whatever, go to that one instead!) But you need to get a sense of what the kind of success you are going for would actually look like. Be on the lookout for mentors and people at the same level as you who you can commiserate with.
posted by mskyle at 11:21 AM on May 22, 2013

I'm going back to school for something practical and flexible, and I'm 38. It would be a lot more difficult for me to jump back into the job market and pick up where I left off without fresh skills. It's a no brainer to me.
posted by padraigin at 11:22 AM on May 22, 2013

1) Start learning programming on your own! There are tons of books and online programs. My husband taught himself and he is now working at a large company, and was promoted after 3 months. Almost all the people in his office are college drop-outs.

2) If you can't seem to get it on your own, try online paid programs -check the reviews - and check your local colleges to see if you can just take a course or two in certain programs (community colleges may have a better chance of this.)

Personally, if you have the skills, especially from what I have seen with my husband's job set, they will not require a degree.

3) How long do you expect to be in school before you can earn money? I say with your current debts, just work at it on your own. You should be training yourself in this work field now, for the next for 4 years, not going back to school.

4) FIND A VOLUNTEER JOB NEAR YOUR FIELD! They can help train you. Even doing something like data entry can look good on an IT resume. I encouraged my husband to volunteer and it helped him tremendously in interviews.

If your degree or work career was something that really required a degree, then I would say to go back. But really, IT is very flexible with your educational background. I have my BS, but I am in marketing. Still though, many jobs say a degree, or the equivalent work experience for a degree. That means that whole 4 years you were earning money and getting valuable experience, not getting loans.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:22 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess my real question is, is this a good idea?

What's the alternative?

I mean, it kind of sounds like you have nowhere to go but up.

It also sounds like you're doing this in a very practical way. Local community college, state 4-year school, a degree in something extremely practical that you also enjoy.
posted by Sara C. at 11:25 AM on May 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

It really, really is the right thing to do, although sometimes the timing is off. However, there are tons of ways to minimize or get around that. I've spoken many times about my husband's experience, and the fact that you're interested in tech stuff is huge.

He started college at age 30 or so, from scratch. In the past 18 months, he's doubled his salary. His company paid for his schooling; his schooling included industry certifications.

More importantly, he was much better prepared and interested in the things he was learning. I think it played a large part in making him the man I fell in love with: curious, open to new things, respectful of and even enjoying my more intellectual activities that he might not have done on his own.

--Talk to the financial aid folks for grants you can get. There are loads of them out there for first-generation students, non-traditional/older students, students with kids, etc. Even if some of them are only $100 awards to help you with books, that's $100 you don't have to spend from your own pocket.

--Look for entry-level jobs at companies that offer tuition assistance. My husband works for a major national cable provider that rhymes with Slarter, and he's been going to school half-time for free since he's worked there. I think you have to stay at the company for 18 months after you graduate, or else pay them back, but it's worked very well.

(Side note: I bet you'd be good at working in the TAC! If you have a Charter office near you, send me a message.)

--NEVER EVER EVER go to a for-profit school like Capella or University of Phoenix. They're super expensive and built to get you in the door, not support you while you study. Chances are that you can find the same types of distance ed at a brick-and-mortar nonprofit school, regardless of where it's located. Many offer programs at in-state tuition for out-of-state students, because you're saving them infrastructure costs.

If my husband or I can provide you with any assistance, please don't hesitate to get in touch. I work at a university and used to work in enrollment/admissions.
posted by Madamina at 11:27 AM on May 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

I don't know anything about computer engineering and that stuff, but I do know that being in college is going to expand your horizons in ways that you cannot predict. It sounds like your earlier education was sorely lacking in breadth/depth/objectivity/imagination.

So yes, maybe you can learn all that computer stuff without going to school, but will that help you stumble into amazing books, articles, discussions, about topics that you may well find interesting and even life-changing?

Education is not just about getting a job!
posted by mareli at 11:28 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you know you want it, and if it's financially feasioble, go for it. You are fortunate in at least one way: the thing you want to do, the thing you enjoy doing, is also something that will bring good employment prospects. Starting with your age and background, you will also have a better work ethic, stronger motivation, and greater maturity than many younger students. A couple of my friends run a successful and expanding computer-based business, and I know they wouldn't give a rat's arse about a prospective employee's age -- competence is what counts. And if you want to see how many truly incompetent people are employed in IT, read The Daily WTF for a few days.

I was 29 when I made the switch to my current career. My situation was different to yours in that I was making a radical change between academic fields, but still: I'm a few years older than the "default" age for my career stage. I don't regret it for a moment, and it doesn't cause any problems.

You might be able to find mentors online. The Python community in particular makes efforts to welcome female programmers. PyLadies is probably a good place to start. You can build some very good connections with other humans even if you're physically isolated. Try to find an open-source project that interests you, and start contributing: not only does it teach you a lot, it demonstrates to future employers (especially to your first one!) that you can produce working production code and collaborate with a team.

The introversion is worth working on too, though. Are there any local clubs or groups you can join, just to get out and interact with a slightly larger slice of humanity?
posted by pont at 11:38 AM on May 22, 2013

I did the same thing. I had a job before I even graduated. Just make sure you take advantage of any internship opportunities there are in your education so people can see you know what you're doing.

And, with income based repayment, I'm not crushed under student loans from the whole going back to school thing.
posted by thylacine at 11:38 AM on May 22, 2013

I would say, yes, definitely worth it, but prepared for your life to drastically change. You may be constantly tired, in debt for a very long time, and your relationships with your husband and family will change, maybe for the better, maybe not. But definitely worth it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:39 AM on May 22, 2013

I literally don't know a single person who has a similar job.

Where do you live? If you're in a large and/or coastal city, there are likely a lot of programming-related interest groups. In particular, if you can find one just for women, it could be a great place to meet people who do what you want to do, and who can offer advice, friendship, and mentorship. Meetup can be a good place to find such groups; I also recommend PyLadies.
posted by homodachi at 11:44 AM on May 22, 2013

Oh my gosh, yes, do it, and work your butt off to get good grades. I finished school last December, at 27. I went from working at Waffle House to working at IBM. The difference in my quality of life is basically unbelievable. Yes, I have loans, but I can afford to make the payments now! And my major was English. You'll have much better odds.
posted by woodvine at 11:50 AM on May 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

I agree with multiple people here:

It is certainly true that degrees are not a major criteria for programming jobs. I have a BA in psychology and have been working as a programmer for over a decade. And I know plenty who never even went to college at all.

However, it's also true that there's more to be gained from education than just job opportunities, so if you have the chance to do it without getting into too much debt, it's worth serious consideration.

The only thing I don't agree with is this:
There is a great deal of skepticism about whether people who get into the field late are actually interested in it or are doing it as a fall back to make money when their original career didn't work out (because in reality these people flame out quickly or just become a drag on everyone as they jockey to move into management/PLM)

I interview programmers all the time and I have never thought anything remotely like this. If they have the ability, the main things I think about someone with a different background are:

a) "This person is probably a more flexible thinker than most"
b) "Thank God, maybe this person will be able to carry on a conversation about something besides code once in a while!"
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:50 AM on May 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, with that background in mind, I am trying to figure out if I am on a good path. I am attempting to study towards my BS in Computer Engineering, since I am good at math, and have enjoyed playing with python in my spare time. The community college I attend has a dual enrolment with a state school, so all credits earned there will go toward completing my degree.

If you can do low-cost community college credits and then transfer for in-state tuition, then yes I think this is a good plan.

And for the record, I don't care about "your husband has a degree and no job." For all kinds of reasons, you need your own education and earning capacity.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:51 AM on May 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Hi there! I work at a community college and we have loads of people in their 30s on up to their 70s coming back to college or going for the first time. I think you are on the right path and I also want to say I'm proud of you!
posted by michellenoel at 11:51 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

My background is totally different from yours, but I'm a woman and I work as a programmer (as do most of my friends). I would love to work with someone who has experience working in other fields and is, well, different from me!

If you're at all interested in non-community-college options, this spreadsheet has a list of other less traditional schools/workshops where you can learn to program. If you're able to go away for 3 months, it could be worth looking into Hacker School. They have scholarships, and they work really hard to find you a job after it's over.

If you have any questions about Python please feel free to MeMail me :) I know tons about the Python community and about resources that are available.
posted by oranger at 11:57 AM on May 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it is a good idea. If I were you I would "kick the tires" a little bit -- find some people who are doing the jobs you would like to do and reach out to them (ask if you can take them out for a coffee and a 20 minute "informational interview"). Ask how they got onto their line of work, what's good about it and what's challenging, what choices they would make if they were just entering the field right now, how much entry level work there is for a new grad, etc. If you can't find these people on person then try to find them online. You just want to make sure that you are climbing the mountain you want t climb -- no point spending four years and a sack of money on ascending a peak unless you feel confident you want to be up there.

Most people will be willing, even pleased to talk to you.
posted by feets at 11:58 AM on May 22, 2013

Hi. I work in IT (computer programmer/analyst). It would be a total non issue to see an applicant for a job be a new gradutate in their 30s, and like others have said above, we may actually see it as a POSITIVE. We've had a lot of people come through, and the young "never had a job" fresh out of school people have often been... problematic. No so much with the professionalism and hard work and respect and modesty. Having someone older, more mature, who has worked and knows how to work hard, and who has put in the major effort to get their degree later on... well, we see that as an asset. We actually recently interviewed someone very like you and we all thought it was a good sign that he was older out of school.

I say do it. Work hard. Get good grades. Student loans stink, but I strongly feel it is worth it.

You're awesome, by the way. What you're doing is pretty awesome and brave and speaks to a strength of character. You keep being awesome!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:58 AM on May 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

2) If you can't seem to get it on your own, try online paid programs -check the reviews

If you can't get it on your own via codeacademy, coursera, etc. etc. then you probably should not do it as a profession. You will be expected to learn on your own on a constant basis for your entire career.
posted by rr at 11:59 AM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes it is worth it. Age is not an issue. I would regard your real world experience as a bonus. Well done.
posted by BenPens at 12:06 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would just give a second thought to doing a computer science degree. There is a lot of competition from international people who can code from overseas for less $. I would look into higher paying, less competitive jobs with bright futures in the US. There are up and coming healthcare related jobs (eg genetic counseling), and supposedly there is still good $ to be made in nursing. You might look for an engineering type job that can't be outsourced so easily. If I were going to bother with school, I'd look carefully at the longer term 10-15 year job and salary prospects with the degree.
posted by htid at 12:13 PM on May 22, 2013

Usually these questions end with "and I want to get a degree in Philosophy/Graphic Design/Women's Studies", so the fact that you are looking into something that actually has a real world application (I say this as someone with a degree in graphic design...) is wonderful. Do it!

Make sure you take every opportunity to talk with professors and peers about jobs and what skills are work related. It is very easy to slide through a degree gathering good grades and come out the other side with a crap resume. If you can do co-op, where you study half the year and work the other half in an intern style situation, jump at it.
posted by Dynex at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2013

You can totally get hired as a programmer at age 32. A buddy of mine switched from sheet metal work to Ruby on Rails at age 40 (never did get a degree, either).

> I am fairly isolated, being introverted and don't have anyone who could be a "mentor" figure in my life.

Note that spending 4 years getting a degree doesn't guarantee you a job.

It's easy for introverted people to focus on studying as a way of postponing dealing with the job thing. Studying computer programming will very likely make you employable somewhere--but you might be in for a rude shock down the road if your local market isn't very good.

You want to start sizing this up NOW. You should get out and meet programmers in your area now and discuss your situation (look for local programmer's groups). Consider applying for junior developer or intern roles. Try to make contacts with employers and ask their advice. This probably sounds scary, hard stuff for introverts, but do as much of it as you can now. You want to get as close to the real world of employment as possible, as soon as possible. Depending on region and luck, it's quite possible that you might be able to land a job now that could help with tuition reimbursement, etc.

In general I think Madamina's advice about working the system of school is very good. You're making an investment. Anything you can do to score credits on the cheap, get someone else to foot the bill, etc means you get the same benefit at less cost.

Do you really need a 4 year degree, or could you get a job off a 2 year cert instead? (Talking to employers in your area could help answer this.)

Congrats and good luck.
posted by mattu at 12:25 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a COMPLETELY BRILLIANT plan that you should pursue with NO hesitations. I think a lot of people here are giving you advice with caveats and maybes and ooh-there-might-be-a-slightly-cheaper-option and not realizing what a simply HUGE thing you have done by even enrolling in college, even having this dream at all.

You are an amazing person for doing this. I'll say it again:


You are amazing for:
- getting out of a terrible situation
- learning so much about the world
- holding onto your dreams and taking action to achieve them
- defying stereotypes and seeking a career that not enough women choose
- finding a path that is sensible (community college first), flexible (your credits transfer), and based on experience (your work in Python)
- probably 1,000 things I don't know about

Getting a college education will change your life in so many ways, and dropping this plan now, just when you are starting, is something you would REGRET FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. I know people who were in similar situations (mostly because of sexist households they grew up in, some because of Fundamentalist Christianity) who did NOT go to college. Their life prospects are limited. They will NEVER be who they could be. Do NOT do this.

Many people are pointing out that you may not get a job. Well, you certainly won't be MORE employable without a degree and you are doing this in the cheapest way imaginable. I don't know what they expect you to do... nanny for the rest of your life and wish you had learned to program? Try to become a self-taught programmer as a woman with no career experience and stuck in a culture that is sexist and fundamentally destructive to who you are? The fact that you NEED structure does NOT say anything bad about you. It is NATURAL that you would need structure to help you, when you have been deprived of internal structure by your upbringing.

Also, you are not your husband. It doesn't matter what his degree is in, if he makes $1 million dollars or nothing at all. You are an independent person with talents and a need for growth and financial stability. There is NO reason that his difficulties reflect on you.

(I'm using all caps not to shout at you, but because this is so, so important.)

For inspiration, you should see the movie Educating Rita. It will make you cry, probably in a good way. Do not get stuck. Please, please move forward. Your future self depends on you doing this now.

tl;dr: DO IT.
posted by 3491again at 12:31 PM on May 22, 2013 [17 favorites]

I did the exact thing you are doing at the age of 26. I worked full time and was a full time student for a little over 4 years. It was not fun and I had very little free time, but I definitely feel it was worth it. I did as much as I could at the community college and then transferred to the state university and got a degree in Computer Engineering. While most students in the program were of typical college age, I was definitely not the only non-traditional student there. Being in my 30s when I graduated was in no way a hindrance during my job hunt. Mostly, people just assumed that I was a few years younger.

I had a job in IT while I was in school, so a degree is definitely not a prerequisite, but the career opportunities that I have now are in a different league altogether. I was hired at double my previous salary 6 months before I graduated.

You can definitely do it! Just be prepared to spend a LOT of time working on projects, know that discrete math is a killer course for just about everyone, and try to minimize the loans you take out.
posted by isnotarobot at 12:33 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was in graduate school, one of my classmates was a woman whose parents were hippies and who had raised her in what amounted to an extended commune. She'd dropped out of school at the age of 16 to basically, in her words, sit around and smoke dope all day. At the age of 27 she took a look around and decided that wasn't what she wanted out of her life, got her GED and went to college, and was in graduate school when I met her four years later. I have since lost touch with her, but she was intelligent, competent, and I have no doubt a success in her life right now.

Get friendly with your professors and let them know that you are willing and available to do any project that comes their way. You can also look into work-study or regular student jobs in the IT department that will allow you to get somewhat related job experience while earning money. (Start looking for the fall semester NOW. By the time school starts, it will be too late and the jobs will be filled.) If your degree program requires an internship, you can use student loans to fund yourself while working at one. Pick up internships anyway, as it allows you to get job experience while you're in college and gives you that much more of a leg up when you graduate.
posted by telophase at 12:50 PM on May 22, 2013

I don't think that anyone has pointed it out yet, but a degree in Computer Engineering qualifies you for a lot of jobs outside of just programming. And while it's possible to make a living as a programmer without a degree there are also a lot of jobs where the ticket to entrance is an engineering degree. Many people will say it's bullshit, but it's reality.

I whole-heartedly agree with the others who have said that this a great thing you're doing. It will be hard. At times it will be very, very hard. You may not always get the support you need. You will see kids in class that come from families where everyone has an advanced degree who have someone else paying their tuition and that may be hard to deal with. But educating and improving yourself is the greatest thing you can ever do. If you have a talent for math and an aptitude for engineering do not let those gifts go to waste. Good luck.
posted by GuyZero at 12:53 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It seems as if most of the replies here are dealing with the loan issues (public vs private, unless I skimmed a little), school choice (Community College to start), and other options (side coding, volunteer work, getting involved), and so forth.

Loans - I have no opinion about. Never had them, am waiting for Elizabeth Warren to miraclize it, as I do okay w/o a degree for now. I second looking into grants and other scholarship opptys.

Community College - Double, triple, quadruple check every new course you sign up for is eligible to transfer to your chosen college. This does change, and ebb and flow. When I went back to school temporarily, my counselor was very careful to point out what was and was not eligible. Make sure they stay eligible, if possible; keep a running list, dates, notes, times, who you talked to, and copies if you can, of that semester's official approved list.

Other Options - Get involved with online projects, make something cool and put it out there. Start a blog, both about coding and about life going into programming if you can make it relevant. Several non-traditionally educated people I know have done this and attracted attention of some high-level employers, and showing a long-running great programming/theory blog and multiple online projects are a fantastic in and a continuing advertisement for yourself.

Living With The Parents - I'm trying to not read too much into this (go look up the No Longer Quivering blog!) but it seems to me, as an outsider looking in on the information you've provided, that the whole rent thing may simply be a way to control you (again).

The Husband - Okay. So he doesn't have a full time job. He still has skills. The blogging and outside projects apply to him, too. Volunteering with the local school districts to consult to school A/V clubs. Working as a volunteer with Public Radio or other audio service. Working for city/county for their audio/visual needs (city/county TV station, emergency channel, per diem setting up things for events). Yes, he's working part time - so spend the other part time looking to make connections and get a foot in to a full time or better situation.

Good luck. I know this is incredibly hard, but if you can do it for a reasonable price, keep your health and outlook intact/positive, this will prove better for both of you in the long run. Not "show up, get degree, Profit!" but "Take an active role in my education inside and outside the classroom, make connections, learn new things, put myself out there, and eat crappy brown bag lunches till the dividends start rolling in for all this hard work."
posted by tilde at 12:59 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you sound like a level-headed person who is making smart plans for your future. Good for you! You are going about this the right way--saving money by attending a CC that transfers to a 4-year institution (as tilde says, do make sure all your courses transfer; usually there are definitive transfer agreements that institutions must honour) and pursuing an employable degree that you enjoy and are good at.

You are not too old to do this. I teach at a CC and 28 is on the younger end of our mature students (e.g. who are more than a few years out of high school). Mature students tend to be focused and clear about their goals, which helps them be successful in their studies.

I'd encourage you to work at making connections with classmates; try to exchange contact info with at least one person in each of your classes so you have someone to ask about material you miss if you have to miss class. Most people don't know each other, so they are pretty open to getting to know someone from class, because it means you have someone to sit with, exchange notes with, study with, etc. Don't feel you can only approach other mature students, but you might find they are most open to making friends with a classmate and studying together.

I'd also encourage you to go to the office hours of a prof you particularly like and ask them for advice on how to pursue your career goals. A visit to the career centre at your current or future institution is a good idea too; ask about co-op education programs or work/study programs. I know co-op isn't as common in the US as it is here in Canada, but it does exist. I think co-op is preferable to internships because you actually get paid while earning credits and work experience. It's a great way to form networks.

Good luck! You can do it! You've already done the very hardest thing, which is to realize the messages you grew up with, about women and education, were not true. That is a tough thing to overcome, and you have done it, which says so much about your critical thinking skills. Those will take you far in any degree you pursue.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:51 PM on May 22, 2013

Here's the thing, I think for YOU, that college will be an excellent investment. You've grown up sheltered (criminally so) and school will open all kinds of doors for you.

Do take good advantage of the opportunity though. Take lots of courses that sound interesting. Film Study, Women's Studies, Sociology, Religious Studies. Balance this with your major.

Be sure to stay current in the programming world if this is what you want to do. I love the idea of interning in places, or apprenticing. It's a two pronged approach.

Explore all of your options for Scholarships and grants. For example, if either of your parents works for a company, it may be that the company offers a scholarship to the children of employees. Check it out. Ditto your husband's job. Go on line, there are scholarship searches you can do. I remember one where if you made a wool skirt, you'd get $500. Weird, but true.

Get a full-time job in a call-center for a regular company. Phone company, utility, hospital, whatever. Work a swing shift. The company will in all likelihood have a Tuition Aid Program, where they'll contribute up to $5,650 towards your tuition annually. This is how I finished my bachelors degree. They paid for my MBA too.

Avoid going into debt for this. I love that you're doing 2 years in Community College and 2 years at the state school. That's the smart way to do it!

Oh, and it's never too late. My mom returned to school at the age of 36, with two kids.

You can do this, and you really, really should!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:11 PM on May 22, 2013

I returned to college at 55. I wish I had done it at 28.

No one has mentioned FAFSA yet. It seems that you might qualify if your income is low, and your expenses high. Also the fact that your parents did not attend college is in your favor when it comes to financial aid. I would really explore all of your financial options before taking out a student loan. Then I would take out the loan if I had too.

A tip for controlling cost - rent your textbooks if you can. It is much, much cheaper than buying new or used books.

Good is lot's of work but is so much fun.
posted by cairnoflore at 2:13 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh! Oh! CLEP out of classes!
posted by tilde at 2:32 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for all your wonderfully thoughtful answers. I will have to go back through and read each one again and make sure I absorb it all!

With regards to my husbands situation, he is employed, albeit part-time, while he is continuing his education. I asked this question for myself; I hope to stay with him forever, but I don't want to be supported by someone else for the rest of my's very important for me to be able to provide for myself and do something fulfilling.

It took me a week to get up the courage to write this, but I'm very glad I did! Thank you all!
posted by PrettyKnitty at 4:17 PM on May 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Check with the state school and see if they have a program for first generation college students. Mine does, and many others do, and I think you'd find that kind of support very helpful. Maybe with the dual enrollment program, you could start utilizing their services even while enrolled in the community college. If you're not sure who to contact to find out, memail me the name of the state school and I can help.
posted by donnagirl at 4:46 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are very, very, very smart to be pursuing this for your own benefit. You never know what will happen. Moreover, your husband should support you in this effort, both because it will benefit him in the long run and (waaaay more importantly) because a smart, satisfied, independent, capable wife is better for everyone.
posted by Madamina at 8:29 PM on May 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Check with the state school and see if they have a program for first generation college students.

Oh Jeeze. I'd always heard first in the family & thought that because an elder sibling had gone I was DQ'd. Thanks!!!
posted by tilde at 3:35 AM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes it will be worth it if you do it right. Your major sounds employable. Make sure you are a complete regular pest at the financial aid ofice to milk any free money for school that you can to minimize debt. graduate, get a decent job and move out of your paren'ts house =)
posted by WeekendJen at 12:55 PM on May 23, 2013

FINANCIAL AID AND SCHOLARSHIPS ARE AVAILABLE! I returned to school at age 25 and there are so many scholarships. Pell grant alone for full-time is $5,500. Then there are state grants and maybe your school has an institutional grant. You could get a work study job on campus. I worked at the computer lab even though it's not related to my major. Lucky for you- it is related to your major! The good thing about that job is there is a lot of down time, meaning time to study! Of course, don't go into it with that mentality, you are there to work after all. As for scholarships, I was able to get a returning adult scholarship ($2,000 a year) through the school's foundation. If your school has them, the time to apply is in January most of the time. Same goes with the FAFSA (which is where you sign up for all the grants and loans). The grants and loans are first come, first serve so fill it out in January! It's not too late, of course. Community colleges tend to be more lenient with this, but do it asap!

I also got another scholarship for being on the school's Brain Bowl team, which is an academic quiz team sort of like Jeopardy. I fell into that one just by knowing other members on the team and getting enough points in the pre-season to qualify to be on the team. I also got to go with the team to a few competitions, which was fun. At my community college, there were scholarships for the debate team and model U.N to entice people to join. Check to see if your school has anything like that.

Is there an Honors Program at your school? I'd say, get good grades your first semester and then see if you can join it the next semester. That, by far, was the best decision I made at community college. I'm pretty sure my letters of recommendations from my honor's professors and that little "Honors" designation on my transcripts helped me get the above mentioned scholarships as well as the scholarships at my transfer university. Besides that, I felt so much more a part of the college being and Honors Program student. I met more bright people and classes were more fun. I felt the teachers got to know me more and that helps with letters of recommendation. I compare my honors's course with the 'regular' courses I also took (because not every course will be honors) and can't really say I really that I really remember many of my classmates. Because my college had an Honor's Lounge where we hung out between classes, it felt like I actually was part of a community unlike my other non-honors classes.
posted by eq21 at 7:50 AM on May 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

What a lot of good advice in this thread, and good for you!!! I'll add a few more that I haven't seen yet:

Regarding informational interviews: look at all the people in this thread who have replied "I work in this field" and especially "I am a woman in this field". You can start by mefi-mailing any one of them to ask how they got started and what they think about your plans. So you do know some people!

Husband: has he looked into Income Based Repayment of his student loans?

Job: you should really look around for a job on campus or an entry level job at a big company. Nanny is ok to make some money, but for industry experience and contacts, it sucks.

kids: you say you don't want them, and you are in a precarious financial position at this time, so do everything you can to make sure your birth control is as airtight as possible.

rent: if your family is charging a significant rent, you might look around and see if there is someplace else in town to move that charges the same or even less. It would also help remove you a little more from your childhood upbringing.

If you gave your location, lots of folks would have a lot more really specific ideas. But we understand if you don't want to.

I'll reiterate: we're proud of you! Keep it up!!
posted by CathyG at 4:43 PM on May 24, 2013

eq21 makes some excellent points about scholarships, bursaries and grants--do a little searching to find the ones offered in your community and at your college and see if you qualify for them. Where I work we have many smallish ones that people don't know about and don't apply for. I sat on a bursary selection committee where we had only THREE applicants for a $500 bursary--that's free money, not a loan, and it was needs-based.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:09 PM on May 24, 2013

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