Does it ever make sense to get a second undergrad degree?
December 7, 2014 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Ages ago, I posted this question. Sadly, I'm still stuck in pink collar admin hell and still looking for a way out. I'm not interested in climbing the ladder to get past the admin assistant jobs - I want to get away from this world altogether. More education seems like the only option, but my terrible undergrad record means that graduate school is out.

I've been shying away from community college certifications because I have no way of knowing whether I'd like or be competent in any particular field. I don't want to spend a year learning electronics technology (just for example) only to find that I'm no good at it or hate the work environment that goes with it.

However, I do know that I like math - I've taken several undergrad math courses on my own (calculus, linear algebra, differential equations) and done well. I also know that any technical career is going to require computer science skills, of which I currently have none. But I live near a university that offers a combined CS/Math BS degree, and I'm thinking of trying to get into that program to open up my options career-wise.

My fears are these: 1) it's conventional wisdom that spending money on a second undergrad degree is a waste (this has kept me from enrolling in any program for the last few years); 2) I've never picked up any computer science on my own and might not have the knack for it. Likewise, I enjoy learning math but my knowledge fades pretty quickly when I'm not using it and 3) I'm too old (33) and thus wouldn't be appealing to potential employers upon graduation.

Is it always a bad idea to start over and pay to get another undergrad degree, especially later in life? Has anyone here made a similar switch to a technical career in their mid-thirties or later?
posted by missix to Education (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
1) it's conventional wisdom that spending money on a second undergrad degree is a waste (this has kept me from enrolling in any program for the last few years)

uhhh says who? personally i think this is a totally dumb chestnut for people to repeat over and over without any critical thought applied at all. If you go search "change careers number in lifetime" you find all those popular articles about how the average person will do it 7 or 10 or whatever times. How do they expect most people to do this without, at least for a good number of them, going back to school? This is where you should realize it's one of those dumb memes everyone nods along in thoughtless agreement with.

Shit, i know people 5+ years younger than you who got a job, and realized that to really do what they wanted or advance to a position they see themselves wanting they need to go back and get another BA in something else... and they're doing it, and will probably pop out of school again close to 30.

I don't really have an awesome response to the other ones, but that one pissed me off for some reason. As far as i'm concerned it comes from the same stupidion center of the brain as "poor people did it to themselves" and other stuff you hear people repeat without much thought that sounds good because of existing biases.
posted by emptythought at 3:57 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't have a strong opinion about a second bachelors degree, but...

Are you absolutely certain that graduate school is out? It's worth checking into, if you haven't already. GPA is just one part of the picture. A decent GRE score and your maturity and work experience make a difference as well. You can't get into Harvard Law, but you have a chance at a program you like at a mid-level university. Don't be too hasty to rule that out.

I just read your previous question. Do you still work for that university? I suspect they'd be favorably inclined to work with you on a grad school admission, if that's the way you want to go. My undergrad GPA was not hugely higher than yours (3.1), but I got in and then it was A's all the way through my graduate work.

I think there's some catastrophizing happening in your thought process. If you took calculus and differential equations for kicks and did well, that says a lot about your abilities. (It would also help make your case for grad school! Self motivated! Bright!) 33 is not that crazy old--plenty of people graduate college in their 30's and beyond. If you think that Math/CS degree would open doors, and if you can do it without a lot of additional debt, I don't see the downside. A second degree in your 30s with a possibility to open new doors is better than one irrelevant degree in your 30s and no new opportunities coming along. I don't see what you have to lose here.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:58 PM on December 7, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think the modern world does a fairly sucky job at helping folks figure out what they are actually well-suited for. I don't think this is "just you" or something. I think a lot of people wind up stuck in jobs they aren't really happy with because they need the paycheck to pay the student loans they wracked up trying to qualify for the job in the first place and they, thus, are in no position to go "aw, screw it" and walk away and take some minimum wage job and figure out what their bliss actually is so they can follow it.

I've been shying away from community college certifications because I have no way of knowing whether I'd like or be competent in any particular field. I don't want to spend a year learning electronics technology (just for example) only to find that I'm no good at it or hate the work environment that goes with it.

Get a copy of "What color is your parachute?" Do the exercises. Also, do some informational interviews, something the book talks about the how and why of.

At age 17, I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist. I was applying to college and considering putting that down as my goal/major. I knew someone who knew a PT and arranged an interview for me with me and it was not at all what I had been thinking it was. So I put down a different goal/major when I applied and I never tried to pursue a career as a PT.

Later in life, I was taking a few classes to finish my AA so as to lock in old credits so I wouldn't have to start over from ZERO if I ever made it back to school. One of those classes was an environmental biology class. I loved it and it helped me decide I wanted to go into something having to do with the built environment. I then took a college catalog and went through it and listed all degrees related to the built environment. I eliminated Civil Engineering because of the amount of calculus required. I eliminated a few other things and ultimately concluded I wanted to get an undergrad degree in environmental studies and a graduate degree in urban planning.

That plan got derailed by a health crisis and divorce. But I really liked the classes I was taking and I enjoyed participating in a planning forum. I think I was on the right track for me. So perhaps a similar approach will help you clarify what you do wish to do in the future. Right now, it sounds like you know what you do not want to do, but you have no idea what you do want to do. I think you will not make forward progress until you have some idea of what you want to do. I think that's key.
posted by Michele in California at 3:59 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

First of all, it will be difficult to find an accredited university that will allow you to do such a thing.

Now, Husbunny is ABD on a Ph.D. in mathematics and he returned to school for classes in Actuarial Science. He did so well he was invited into THAT Ph.D. program. He's now an actuary, having completed 4 semesters of classes. No degree.

What exactly do you think you're going to do with a degree in math? A math/CS degree means programming? That you can learn on your own.

Don't think grad school is out of the question. I have a degree from a California State school (English) with a 2.0 GPA. I was offered a free ride on an MBA from a private university by my employer. I promise, you can enroll in most ANY Executive MBA program with middling grades and decent test scores.

I liked the MBA because I got a smattering of some neat classes, Accounting, Finance, Stats, Econ (those were the mathy ones, there were lots of others.)

While my MBA is from a pretty prestigeless school, it did open doors, and I learned a LOT!

So perhaps think about what it is you want to actually DO, then set some goals to achieve it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:00 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

First of all, it will be difficult to find an accredited university that will allow you to do such a thing.

I'm gonna post a longer answer later when I'm not on my phone because this is something I'm actually fairly experienced with, but I just wanted to pop in to say this is entirely incorrect. Almost all schools will allow you to do this (though most will require you to apply as a transfer student). Some programs (NYU Polytechnic being one) even have special programs, with their own application process, for people with a bachelors who want to get a second bachelors in a technical field.
posted by Itaxpica at 4:18 PM on December 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

Hi, I used to be in pink-collar hell, and got out. It is so worth it! You can do it!

You keep mentioning that you don't want to waste time studying something you might not like, but time is passing whether you try some stuff out or not. Find a low-stakes way to test the waters and look into job prospects / careers that stem off of the bits you find most interesting. There are aptitude tests online if you're really not sure what you're good at, but trying anything will give you more info about what you'd like to do.

You can start by taking a computer science course (or whatever) as a non-degree-seeking student and see if you like it. For computer science, you could even start by joining a meetup or doing an online skills course, which would probably be cheaper and easier to work into you schedule. I tried out a bunch of different volunteer activities and took some related courses before I decided grad school was the right path for me.

Nthing that grad school isn't out of the question, and you're more likely to get funding, or at least decent loans, for it vs. a second Bachelor's. I took some undergrad level courses because I was majorly changing fields, got excellent grades in those, did well on the GRE, and did what I could to get decent references (ex: talk to profs) and was a very desirable candidate. Age isn't a thing, lots of people like dealing with motivated, mature adults vs. 22-year-olds who are still learning how to be grownups.
posted by momus_window at 4:28 PM on December 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea to get another bachelor's degree, but I think you are skipping a step. That step is figuring out more clearly what you want to do. Take RB's comment above about her husband becoming an actuary. That is a great, well-paying career for someone who likes math. Likewise statisticians are in high demand now, not just in the financial industry or education but across the tech industry. Either of these careers might be a great idea for you. But first you have to do some legwork. You need to talk to somebody with a job that you think you might like, and ask them what it's like and what training is required to enter the field. The What Color is Your Parachute book can help you learn how to do an information interview. Once you have a better idea of what interests you and the kind of work environment you want, then you will know whether a second bachelor's degree makes sense or maybe just a certificate in programming from your local community college or even a graduate degree.
posted by tuesdayschild at 4:29 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do know people who have done second BAs at reputable universities, so it's definitely possible. But definitely might not be necessary for you.

If you like math and think you might be interested in programming/CS, definitely try taking a few classes. If you like those, then talk to people who work in the field about what they do all day and see if that sounds like something you might be interested in.

Also, I saw in your last question that you said you didn't want to work in an office and wanted opportunities to travel - have you thought about looking into a medical field? There are lots of different kinds of medical jobs with different levels of training. And if you pick a field in a lot of demand, then there are opportunities for travel.
posted by lunasol at 4:55 PM on December 7, 2014

Well, do you want the knowledge gained by this second degree? Then it's worth it.
posted by cmoj at 4:59 PM on December 7, 2014

If you're thinking about computer science as in "programming", there's lots of options for that that aren't a second degree. I'd only do a second degree for that if the sort of code you want to do is the sort that uses a lot of what CS programs actually cover and is heavily math-oriented, but most just, well, isn't. Figure out what you want to do with computers first, do the degree only if it's required for that.
posted by Sequence at 5:00 PM on December 7, 2014

Community college classes are a great way to test things out. The classes I'be taken have been fairly easy, cheap, and credits could transfer toward a Bachelors. Profs have been very receptive to me as an "older" hardworking student who already has a degree. Many of my classmates are in their 30's and either changing careers, or returning to start/finish the college work they didn't do in their 20's.

Community colleges have lots of classes for working adults (evenings), and many online too.

You could also look at university extension certificates.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:09 PM on December 7, 2014

I also know that any technical career is going to require computer science skills, of which I currently have none.

I'm not sure what you mean by a "technical career," but my job meets most people's definition of a technical role and I have no computer science skills other than using (at a very basic level) a few of the standard programs like GIS, etc. I can't program anything and wouldn't know code if it bit me, but that's fine because we have an entire IT department that does that stuff so that I can do my own technical work.

my terrible undergrad record means that graduate school is out

I think you would be surprised how low the standards are, particularly for masters degrees where people pay full tuition. Worst case is that you might be admitted on some kind of probationary status for a semester, but I doubt even that.

The real issue here, though, is that whatever depression or other issue that was preventing you from moving forward when you last asked this question seems to be still preventing any forward progress. Improve that, and the pathways that seem closed right now will show themselves as open.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:17 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you take non-degree courses? Since you already have a bachelor's, I don't even see why you need another entire bachelors if you can just take non-degree courses, depending on your goals. You might not need super advanced CS theory courses if you just want to learn some programming. The level of math you described is about sophomore level--do you want to do more applied stuff or are you interested in higher level abstract math?

Basically, it really depends on your goals. A second bachelor's could be useful in many circumstances but you may not necessarily need one, maybe just some additional coursework (or not even that).
posted by hejrat at 5:24 PM on December 7, 2014

I have two bachelor's degrees. I got them at about the same time, and even then I had a professor tell me that my second bachelor's was "useless." To the contrary, it opened several doors wide open for starting positions.

The degree will be "worth it" if it can bring you to the job(s) you want. In your position, it may be best to get a very clear sense of where you want to end up so you can figure out the most direct path, be it a degree or other training/coursework or just working your way up.

First of all, it will be difficult to find an accredited university that will allow you to do such a thing.

I don't think this is a correct statement.
posted by zennie at 6:53 PM on December 7, 2014

Best answer: Rather than do a second bachelors, you should figure out what you want to do, find out what exact undergrad classes you're missing, and then take those classes (some universities have specific post-bacc programs for this) so you qualify for the specific masters. It can generally be done in a semester, maybe 2, depending on what you're lacking.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:49 PM on December 7, 2014

Best answer: Looking at this, and previous asks, I'm getting a vibe of unrealistic expectations. You seem to fluctuate between sky-pie stuff (hating the organization required to do admin work, yet speculating that managing other people doing admin organization will somehow be better), and utterly undercutting/underselling your actual prospects.

Let me be 100% clear, here; I get this.

I bombed out of college 20 years ago, approximately. Worked punishing, largely thankless jobs for most of the time between then and now. I'd pretty much accepted my own contention that I was worthless. Two years ago, I decided to get an AAS in "entrepreneurship," in hopes of starting a business. Realized, shortly afterward, that I'm not -- yet, anyway -- ready to do that. While I was wrapping up that community college certification, though, I realized that the idea of working in HR was kinda appealing to me. Someone from a local undergrad-completion program paid a visit to one of my classes; turns out that my AAS could translate into a BS in roughly a year, if I applied myself.

So, here I am (age 39), making a 4.0 in a reasonably-challenging program, and enjoying the things that I'm learning. Most of my fellow students are in the same relative boat, too. Basically, people who are looking to improve existing skills or develop new ones, in the hope of enhancing their working life. No one looks down on them for previous poor academic performance, or their advanced age; in fact, I can't imagine an employer who would find their drive to improve, in tandem with their life experience, to be unattractive.

(Meanwhile, my gal -- an admin person at the local Bigtime University -- is starting off on her Masters, with full encouragement [and partial tuition] from her employer. For what it's worth.)

I understand if you feel trapped, or unworthy, or whatever. But, speaking from experience, the only solution is to take a leap. Even just a teeny one, like part-time classes at the area technical school. Odds are good that something with grab you and lead you where you need to be.
posted by credible hulk at 8:23 PM on December 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I asked This Question awhile back and I'm actually in the midst of applying to Computer Engineering programs for a second bachelor's now.

To me it's worth it because this is a thing that I 100 percent want to do and will be in a field were I will make enough to easily cover the cost of school in the long run. Not to mention that it's a credential that will save me for professional barriers in the long run.

But I definitely wouldn't recommend it if its just for career advancement. Especially if it's for CS which you can easily do outside of the realm of a second bachelors.
posted by KernalM at 8:40 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you thought about getting an MS in Statistics? I've been kicking around the idea for a while. You've already got most of the prerequisites! Colorado State's program requires a bachelor's degree, three semesters of calculus, linear algebra, a stats class, and the GRE. Other programs have similar requirements. Lots of them offer online versions that you could do part-time while you keep working so the costs don't pile up too much, and even without any financial assistance, CSU's is under $22k (Penn State's costs are similar). You'll make that back in your first year as a statistician.
posted by jabes at 9:31 PM on December 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think it makes sense for *you* to get a second bachelors degree. It would just be a way for you to put off actually figuring out what you want to do. If you want to go to graduate school, look at what the graduate schools you want to attend actually require.

If you want to learn to write code, you really, really don't need a CS degree to do that (I don't have one, and I code for a living; I know plenty of other professional developers who have no degree at all). If you "like math" that's great, but why do you need a bachelor's degree in math? Maybe there's a good reason but probably not.

What would getting a second bachelor's degree actually do for you? I guess there would be the psychological benefit of knowing that you actually can succeed in a bachelor's-level program, but doing a full-length bachelor's degree is a really expensive way (in money and more importantly time) to prove that to yourself.
posted by mskyle at 9:24 AM on December 8, 2014

Best answer: 1) & 2) Nope, not if you a) know for sure that you want to do the degree, that it makes sense for you, and that there's a reasonable likelihood of it getting you a job. I get your logic - you're liking math, CS is hot, but do you know that you like CS? I'd take at least one more class to test this out before committing to that program. The MS in stats sounds like a good alternative, there may be others. I would explore these as fully as you can - job prospects, the content of the program, what you'd need to get in (it might be just one year as a visiting student).

3) No, not too old. But if at all possible, try not to drag it out with too many one-class semesters. Go full-time if you can so you can get her done. Drawing it out can mean dips in motivation and energy over time, especially if you're unlucky and get curveballs more likely to hit people in their thirties (health issues, things happening to parents, and just the wear of not having a lot of financial wiggle room when friends are taking fun holidays). I'm a student a few years older than you, and some of these have come up for me. So get support and get through as fast as you can, while maintaining the GPA that you need.

Definitely try to deal with the underlying issues that affected you the first time. Your work ethic and determination will take you far, but if there are unaddressed organizational problems that haven't been tapped by your jobs, you might find yourself in for an unpleasant surprise. (This is something I'm dealing with right now.) That's not to put you off, at all - this could definitely be your way out. Just prepare yourself for these sorts of things and get support.

First of all, it will be difficult to find an accredited university that will allow you to do such a thing.

This isn't true.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:54 PM on December 8, 2014

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