Was there a happy ending, being the old person in that college class?
October 6, 2015 2:49 PM   Subscribe

I've been working through a career change decision and it involves going back to school. Did you change careers in your 30s and go back to school? Did it work out? (More details/specifics, but I'm interested in eventually practicing Clinical Psychology).

I'm in my mid 30s and I'm very, very strongly considering applying to local graduate schools to pursue my PhD in Clinical Psychology with the intent to eventually practice. Tell me what it was like to go back to school as an older person to change your career - did it work out? What should I be worried about? Also, if you are a Clinical Psychologist or therapist I'd love to hear about your day to day, experience/thoughts on what it's like to work in the field, joys and downsides of your job and any other things you would tell a person who is interested in becoming a licensed psychologist.

This is a little rambly, but here's some details on my education/current work and current stream of thought:

I'm currently 13 years out of college with my BS in Public Health/Epidemiology (related to potential Psychology degree) with MS coursework in Project Management for business (completely unrelated to Psychology degree). I've had a ton of industry training as a Clinical Researcher in the fields of orthopedics, oncology, infectious disease, endocrine/metabolics and immunology. I've worked in the private corporate world for my full 13 years post-college, climbing the ladder within the Biotech Industry (I've worked with both biologics and medical devices - pure R&D). I started off designing and writing clinical studies for the development of drugs for a specific disease that my company is pursuing and then moved into study management. I've held several positions at different companies (which is normal for Biotech). I'm now Senior Management at the program level, mostly working with Strategic Operations, which I enjoy, but the corporate crazy has been slowly and completely killing me. This is not a snap decision because I have been seriously contemplating how to move out of the Industry entirely and pursue something else more fulfilling for the past year and a half. I just haven't made any sudden moves because I wanted to wait until I had some clarity and a better idea on where I wanted to go next before I quit my extremely well-paying job.

Currently I work in a pressure cooker. I have been perfectly fine with handling it all for the past decade plus and I feel it's time to move onward to help others in a different way other than drug development. My industry (and in particular where I'm located in Boston, MA) tends to be incredibly volatile - rife with start-ups, layoffs, mergers, takeovers, type A personalities, no room for error, contracting and endless mindfucks. I suppose I'm mentioning this to note that I can handle extreme occupational pressure with crazy business travel on top of it all perfectly fine. I'm also aware of finances involved in graduate school and that I would need to spend a few years with little/no income and am prepared for it (and for another 4 years of school). I'm also not interested in pursuing this for the money and know that the salary involved probably won't be what I'm making now; this would be a career change for more enjoyment purposes.

I have been considering clinical psychology because I find it fascinating and have a new appreciation for it as a working adult. I recall taking several courses in Psychology during my undergraduate years, did well at them and really enjoyed them (although I don't think I can use that coursework to carry over now because it's probably been too long ago). I think I could be really happy with it.

Personally, seeing a Psychologist for over a decade has helped me tremendously and I would love the opportunity to help others through therapy and in that way. I would be interested in specializing in labor-related areas like work anxiety, depression, OCD, personality conflicts and conditions exacerbated by stress. I am a ferocious reader of non-fiction books as related to corporations, work and the psychology of work. Anecdotally, the amount of bad management out there in the corporate world is staggering to me and I've seen so many of my colleagues' careers and health ruined by it all and would love to give back.

In addition, and totally unrelated, I have a very strong interest in sports psychology and disordered thinking as related to performance, the female athlete triad and nutrition, so that could be another possible area of specialization to pursue.

What do you think? Tell me your experiences if any, and of course, I'm open to other suggestions as well. Thanks in advance!
posted by floweredfish to Work & Money (38 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have a lot of specific advice, but I went back to school for urban planning at 36 (I'm 37 now, with two semesters to go), and so far, so good. I'm not even the oldest in the program. I'm much more confident in my work than I was as an undergrad and haven't had a problem getting relevant internships.
posted by lunalaguna at 2:54 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just an anecdote from a different field: a colleague in the archives/libraries world went back to school in his mid-forties, earned a degree in library science, and is now head of his department at a prestigious university. He's a fantastic archivist and I always assume it's because he has that many extra years of life experience.

I think it's super encouraging, and a good reminder that life is long. I say go for it!
posted by witchen at 2:58 PM on October 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


I returned to college in my early 30's to get a business degree. I found that my real life experience made the subjects much more interesting and real, as opposed to the youths that were taking the classes at the age of 20. In addition, the motivation to work hard was there because the employment world without the degree had a demonstrated pay and achievement cap. Finally, having had to go to work every morning for all those years, the early classes were easy to attend.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 3:02 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've gone back to get my BA in English at the age of 34, now 35. I find that I'm often the oldest person in the class at the smaller regional campus I regularly attend but usually somewhere in the middle at the larger main campus I attend for specific classes.

At first, it was odd as I'm a good six years older than one of my writing professors and I perceived that everyone was looking at me, thinking I didn't have my life together. But a few semesters in, I love being able to pursue what I always wanted to do (after years of working dead-end jobs) and the "kids" are mostly great and encouraging. I'm grad school-bound after this and I'm thinking I'm going after something in Policy Studies or Social Work.

I admit it was difficult to think about still wanting to try academia after being away for so long but it's been the best decision I could have ever made for my self-confidence and my desire to help others.
posted by Merinda at 3:05 PM on October 6, 2015


When I was in grad school (in biology), most grad students were in their 30s, and quite a few were in their 40s, at least by the time they finished. The ones in their 20s seemed like a different species sometimes (they were still super excited about getting drunk), but age really didn't matter at all.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:17 PM on October 6, 2015


I'm 34, getting a PhD in Biology (which involved a year+ of post-bac work beforehand because I had an unrelated BA). People are generally impressed by my professionalism and organization (because I've had a real job before) - navigating academic bureaucracy is a breeze having worked in a large NGO. Being a bit older and regarding grad school as a job also insulates me from school becoming an all-consuming thing that defines me. I'm stressed about finding a job in the next year or so, but generally feel like it will work out. Definitely do your research on the job market you expect to wind up in, possibly including a plan B. Also do due diligence on programs you apply to and figure out if you need to take a class or two to get fresh academic references.

FWIW, most people assumed I was mid-20s simply because most of the folks around me were mid-20s (although grad students in my department ranged into their 40+ years old). The cultural expectations were a little weird, but it was nice to not stick out.
posted by momus_window at 3:22 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm halfway through an AA and will be 38 in a few days. I'm usually the oldest person in class, and sometimes am older than the instructors, but the weirdness of that faded pretty quickly. (It is still kind of weird having 16 year old classmates thanks to the Running Start program, but they're all really bright kids who work hard, even if sometimes they say remarkably dumb teenage things in class discussions. ) Like others have said, having all this extra life experience is turning out to be a HUGE boon -- the actual coursework is pretty easy, and conforming to each individual instructor's preferences for how they want assignments done is also easy thanks to my years in the workforce. And as others have reported, my self-confidence has definitely improved by leaps and bounds.

If you're at all worried about perceptions of not having your shit together because you'd be an older student... don't. There may be one or two young classmates who have that attitude, but in my experience those are usually the crappy students who don't bother doing the work and suck the life out of any group they join for projects. Most people either don't care about your age or think you're kind of a badass for going after something you want. The advisor I met with when I enrolled last fall told me she really likes "mature students", because we come in with a fire in our bellies, knowing what our goals are and being willing to do the work to get there. That's the attitude I've encountered from every instructor I've had, too.
posted by palomar at 3:24 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here are three stories that I shared a bit ago: My own, my ex-husband's, and that of an old friend.
posted by janey47 at 3:27 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks so much so far! :) FWIW, I did take the SDS test and was classified as a SIE Holland code.
posted by floweredfish at 3:30 PM on October 6, 2015


I was in my mid 30s when, in the space of a year, I finally finished my undergrad degree, got laid off a week later, and applied to grad school for an MS in Library Science. I was by no measure the oldest in my program, as LibSci trends older. I finished the program in one calendar year because I had a fellowship that paid for tuition (but wish I'd spent longer to network and get internships and whatever). I got two FT job offers immediately upon graduating -- one in the library field and one in consulting doing design, which I took because it was flexible in hours. I also got a lecturer position teaching undergrad comp sci at my school.

Eventually, 13 years after I finished the degree, I got a job as a knowledge manager (finally using my degree yay!) and am enjoying the higher salary and no prestige at all that comes with being a librarian type in the corporate world. Do it! Change your career! It's good. I still have loads of student loan debt, however. Try not to do that.
posted by clone boulevard at 3:33 PM on October 6, 2015


I went back to school in my late 30s, and I have have friends and family who did the same (or even later). I (and them, as far as I can tell) are much happier in our second careers than we were in our first (or second). If anything, the classes were easier for me than my fellow students, because I had learned how I learn, and was able to navigate the work more effectively.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:36 PM on October 6, 2015


One: Your 30's isn't old. It's a fairly common age range to go back to school for a new direction.
Two: Of all the possible areas for you to be interested in, I'd have to say Psychology is one of the ones where your age isn't going to matter one bit. You'll fit in just fine.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:40 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm 44, and going back to school for a degree in Information Systems (specializing in Network Security). I was a bit reluctant at first, especially since I've been away from the classroom for so long. But I'll be finished with my undergrad degree next May, and I'm looking forward to a whole new career change. I've been with my current company for 20 years, and I'm definitely ready for a change.
posted by Telpethoron at 3:41 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I went back and got my BA then my MA when I was in my forties. I went to a very traditional university in a tiny college town in the Deep South that didn't even have night classes or weekend classes. I was the oldest person attending classes for most of my college career until I started seeing more students my age around campus. Most of my professors were younger than me. My twenty year old daughter went to the same college as I did.

No one cared. The only difference was that I wasn't afraid to speak up in class when the professors asked a question.

I only had one girl ask me, "Why are you here?" I told her (despite her rudeness), "For the same reason you are -- I hope -- to get my degree."

I say that if this is where your heart is taking you, and you can afford it... go for it.
posted by patheral at 3:45 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just chiming in to say that your credentials will (likely) help you sail into a PhD program, depending which one you choose. That's something to consider--getting into a program after loads of experience is much, much simpler than coming at this as a lifetime student. When I was in grad school, I was in awe of my classmates who'd come from industry or regulatory offices who could just pull information from the ether on things I'd never heard about in my academic bubble.

One thing to consider, though, is how geographically mobile you feel. Getting a PhD is a breeze compared to translating those credentials into permanent work. Very often the solution involves moving to a job, or to where demand is. Can you move? Would you want to?

If not, or if you're not sure, I think a sensible middle step is to explore some non-profit (etc.) jobs in Boston. I don't mean volunteering, I mean there are a lot of scientific advocacy organizations based in Boston that dream of having someone on staff with credentials and experience like yours. That's how I found my current work: really wanted to get out of the academic pressure cooker, have no desire to move from the house/city where my partner and I fought for years to get, wasn't confident I could just get another degree and a job here would magically appear. I did, though, contact a handful of my favorite orgs to say, hey, do you need my skills and if so could I work from home or a local office? And I've been in my current org, happily out of academia, for almost a decade. I use all my pooled skills, have developed tons of new ones, and feel a great deal of personal satisfaction by working for an org whose mission is a strong part of my personal philosophy. The money could be better, but my sense of well-being is quite high.

I still think about transitioning out to something else, and I don't expect that urge to ever go away. But I keep tabs on the jobs and programs around here and occasionally call up someone to discuss them. It's nice to have this nonprofit gig as a baseline from which to do that, instead of the batshit insanity I used to work in.

Good luck!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:48 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Back at school as a relatively older student, that aspect of it is awesome. School is a lot stressful since I already have a life, achievements, social groups, etc. Younger students tend to have a lot more of their ego/sense of self wrapped up in school because it's sort of all they've done. I'm happily free of that attitude. I also have no problem with the workload or the expectations because I have also been working and am used to having my whole day taken up with work. I doubt you'll have any significant difficulty adjusting in that sense.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:57 PM on October 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


When I was getting my psych PhD there were several older students in our department. Some had already retired from their first careers, others were getting back into academic work after raising children full time. They fit in just fine, and had much better stories to tell than those of us in our 20s. One of the main issues with clinical psych is that those programs are the most competitive of any of the psych specialties. You sound like you'd have a good shot, but focusing on just local programs might make things difficult. From your interests, you might also consider looking into Counseling psych programs, which can often have some overlap in treatments.
posted by bizzyb at 4:09 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I, too, am in my mid 30s, and I have at least two friends (that I can think of) who are currently in grad school for something psychology/therapy related. An aunt of mine also went back to school later in life to become a counselor of some kind. If anything, I think you might find that your situation is slightly more typical in your chosen field, or at least that you're quite likely to have a classmate or two in the same boat.
posted by Sara C. at 4:22 PM on October 6, 2015


I started my PhD program in Psychology when I was 30. Took like 6 or 7 years to complete. There were people both older and younger than me in the program. Age wasn't a big deal, but then again, I wasn't looking for a social life at the school. I already had one of those.

A few thoughts for you about the career path you have in mind.

1) Do you really need a PhD? That's a degree that gives you the most flexibility in terms of you being able to do research/academia as well as clinical practice, but if that's not an issue for you (if you're sure you want to do clinical practice) and you want a doctorate, you might consider a PsyD instead.

2) Do you really need a doctorate? If you are clear that you want to do clinical practice, you might want to look at Master's level degrees. Licensure is a State issue (in the US) and your profile doesn't say where you are. In many states that I'm familiar with, people with a Masters can practice. In California for example, a Social Work degree can lead to an LCSW, a Masters in Counseling can lead to an MFT. There's even a newer credential called a LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor. Getting a Masters instead of a Doctorate will save you a boatload of money and time, and there are very few areas in which there are significant practice differences, as far as I can tell. For instance, only psychologists can do assessment, but if that's not an interest of yours, who cares? Also, many insurance plans now reimburse Master's level practitioners. Look around at your local licensing laws.

3) If you want to find out if this is for you, I'd strongly suggest you volunteer for a hot line such as suicide prevention. You'll learn a lot and see if this kind of work feels good for you.

4) The job market - like many health care practices the job market varies considerably on locale. Briefly, highly desirable urban areas are saturated with mental health practitioners, while rural areas are desperate for them. Consider where you might want to live and go to school (or at least get post-graduate hours) there, so that your connections will help you either find a job or build a practice.

Feel free to memail me if you want to talk about this further.
posted by jasper411 at 4:35 PM on October 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm in Boston, Massachusetts and am 99% certain that I want to do Clinical Practice with adults if this helps any.
posted by floweredfish at 4:42 PM on October 6, 2015


You know, I just want to share one funny story about being a returning student.

The year before I started law school, the company I was working for declared bankruptcy in a very abrupt way, my husband & I had a mortgage and two car payments, I was working in a high pressure industry etc. Very high pressure, very public, lots of notoriety.

Okay, so then I go back to school. Yeah, it's law school, okay, there's pressure, it's hard. So at the end of the first week of classes, we meet in small groups with our second year advisors. The advisor to my group starts out by introducing himself and saying, "Congratulations on completing the hardest week of your entire life." I was like hold up here, he can't be serious, this is SCHOOL. These are CLASSES. This is an academic environment that was competitive to get into and once we are here, they want us to succeed. Are these people upset because they have to study harder than they did in college?

I went on to plan my wedding in the first semester of law school, and that took my mind off what I was doing enough so I was only in the top third of my class that semester. But still. The advantage of perspective that you have as a returning student is priceless. Seriously.
posted by janey47 at 5:26 PM on October 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


The younger people don't even notice you're older -- only you will notice, and you can choose whether or not to be self-conscious. I had to take very basic bio & chemistry classes as prerequisites to pharmacy school, which meant I had a lab partner who was born the same year that I'd gotten my driver's license. I in my 30's at the time. Nobody cared.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:29 PM on October 6, 2015


I had friends in medical school who decided to change careers from established high-paying jobs in their late twenties to early forties. Likewise, my friends who pursued PhDs and MS in psychology had classmates making similar transitions.

One friend was in her mid-30s with a very similar background in pharma/device and was at a similar level as you. You may need to take additional coursework depending on the program that you're applying to though your background in healthcare research should be more than sufficient for most psych programs. She didn't necessarily mind the change in lifestyle that resulted from her going from 200k+ to less than 30k for 5-6 years, but I know she had family issues that she had to overcome.

From my own experience, I had anxiety about going in as someone who is older than the majority, but once you're on the ground studying and working that becomes a non-issue. Only we end up thinking about the age difference if we allow ourselves to. Of course, even on the business side I'm sure you've had to report to people younger than you.

The funny thing is I've been thinking about going in your direction of industry, and have been sitting on that same thinking chair for the last year.
posted by palionex at 5:46 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I did a similar thing, except I completed a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling instead of a Clinical Psychology degree. I chose that degree because I knew counseling, specifically, is what I wanted to do. I graduated in May and am in my first stage of post-graduate internship. Each field handles interns differently, but this part of my life has been much harder than school. I'm working in a community agency, although there are (theoretically) private internships available. I love the client work I get to do (because it's interesting and I enjoy helping people) but I would much rather work with adults. My oldest client right now is a teenager, and that's just a whole a different bailiwick, you know? I went back to school at 37, part time, and worked full time. I was definitely not the oldest person in the program, but I do think my life experience was beneficial to me, as yours will be to you.

My day consists of client therapy sessions (45 mins long, typically scheduled back to back...expected weekly contacts are high at my agency) and/or intake appointments. I love doing the intakes, actually. Paperwork is the bane of my existence, though, and intakes generate a ton of paperwork. It kills me dead. So dead.

People at our agency typically work 4 days a week, but those days are long ones. (I work a five day week.) There are days some clinicians don't get lunches, and that is a small thing, but it really means no mental break in a job where being ON is required, so it's not ideal.

My main goal right now is to get licensed, so I can have more freedom in job selection. I live in a very small town near a less-small-town that's not close to ANYTHING else, so I feel isolated and like I'm a little stuck here, but here is where my husband lives. When I started my program, I lived in a major metropolitan area, where I had both connections and choices. I have neither here. So that's something to consider. If you're going to have to move, consider ALL that you might be giving up to do so. If you know of an organization where people would give you a job once degreed (or an internship, equally important), don't give that up casually. Just like other fields, it's all about connections and networking.

As I write this response, I am aware that your situation is different from mine, but I hope this helps. Clinical practice is so, so rewarding. I love client work. Salary is terrible. Like, less-than-retail bad, but that changes from place to place as well. Don't go into debt if you can at all avoid it.

Another thing I wish I'd managed better: relationships with my family. It was hard to convince people that no, I couldn't just do my school work later. It all worked out, but there was tension.
posted by heathergirl at 6:19 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am merely in my late twenties and loving being back in (graduate) school. Young students are kind of freaky (they're so... tiny??), but even a few years of work experience and real-world stuff made me so much better prepared to get meaning from my education. There are people in their 30s and 40s in my program and I've never thought a negative thing about them (plus they're usually confident enough to speak up in class which takes the pressure off, thanks guys).
posted by easter queen at 6:27 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm just a couple years younger than you, doing this kind of right now (life sciences PhD month two!) and the most surprising adjustment right now is remembering that very few of my "professional" (air quotes because student-professionals are still students, me included) peers have obligations outside of school related activities, and people a decade younger than me seem to get by on a lot less sleep than I ever have. But I do organize my time better, I'm way more proactive about asking questions and setting things up on my own initiative, and generally speaking I don't feel like I stand out as the old person. The one thing I have to catch myself on is remembering that most of my peers are really, really broke - that hasn't been true for me in a couple years, so it's something of a change. After a while in "adult" workplaces, it's really weird to be around people planning their entire workday around which seminar on campus has free food, as opposed to "how can I get Things X and Y done expediently this afternoon so that I can go home and have dinner with my partner?"
posted by deludingmyself at 6:30 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm in a clinical psych PhD program right now. I'm also 30 (I started my program at 28), and while I'm not the oldest person in my program, roughly 90-95% are younger. I have less to say about the age issue and more concerning the issue of whether or not a PhD is the right move. It's common for people to think that a PhD in clinical psych is the best/most appropriate option if you want to be a clinician, but the reality is these programs are highly research-focused* and extremely competitive. Most prospective students need a breadth of psychology coursework in college, plus at least one year of working full-time in a research lab with a relatively well-known scientist just to get an interview (not to mention GRE scores, strong letters of recommendation, and peer-reviewed research publications to boot).

As jasper411 mentioned, there are other paths for becoming a practicing therapist that are both less difficult and more appropriate. Most fully-funded PhD programs require that you do research in a serious way. This means often putting more effort into research than clinical training. That's why PsyDs exist - so people can devote an entire doctorate to clinical training. Unfortunately, PsyDs don't come cheap (in most cases you have to pay). Most Master's degrees in counseling or social work are also not funded or cheap, but they definitely cost less (money and time) than a PsyD. It's kind of a messed up training model in that way, but because research runs on grant money, it's the most likely source of funding for graduate studies in psychology. That being said, there are a handful of funded PsyD and counseling psych PhD programs around. I also happen know a lot of great therapists who trained in Masters programs and now practice either independently or as a part of a group or agency. It seems to be the most efficient route to becoming a therapist, if you ask me.

*I can't really tell how interested you are in research, but given you're background you're clearly capable. I'm more working off of the impression that what you're really interested in is therapy. Please disregard if I misunderstand.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 7:00 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I went back to school at the age of 41 to get a master's in counseling. At that age, I was one of the older students in all of my classes--but I was far from being the oldest. For that reason, I never felt out of place, though it was easier for me to connect with my fellow returning students than with the students in their 20s. In fact, some of those students were anxious about not having enough life experience to be taken seriously by clients. At least those of us who go back to school in our 30s and 40s to become therapists don't have to worry about that!

Also, for me, age mattered less than economic circumstances. I worked full time while in my program, which made it difficult to pursue opportunities available to those without financial constraints. Many of the older students were in a similar situation (and some had children as well), but a few of the younger ones were too.

Unlike what some others have said, though, I think you should go for the doctorate. In my area, at least, there are so many master's-level clinicians that the market is saturated. A Ph.D. will help you to stand out from the crowd. And at least in some states, master's-level clinicians can't administer psychological tests (and earn revenue from doing so), while PhDs can.

Please feel free to memail me if I can offer any help or additional input!
posted by chicainthecity at 10:43 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


You've had lots of good advice from people who are in or who have completed courses of study as 'non traditional' students. All I can say is that, as a prof, I am always DELIGHTED to have mature students in my classes: they're motivated, thoughtful, know how to work, have substantial life experience which enriches class discussion, and can usually both write and think.

Don't hesitate for a second.
posted by jrochest at 10:55 PM on October 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Popping back in to second jrochest. I earn my living by teaching on the college level (while trudging down the long road to licensure) and am delighted on the all-too-few occasions that an older student ends up in one of my classes. I imagine that your future professors will feel the same way.
posted by chicainthecity at 11:03 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Late 30s, finishing up a post-bacc. There is no problem as far as being an oldie in the classroom/on campus, ime, don't worry about that, your work ethic and focus will carry you for sure.

If you have resources/savings, lifestyle adjustments may not bother you, especially if you're able to go straight through, full time. I don't recommend dragging it out with part-time studies if you can avoid it. I had to, and found it hard to endure the lifestyle, over the long period of time it's taken me. Friends my age are roundly supportive, but it's still isolating, because I can't often join them at nice restaurants or on holidays, etc. for financial reasons, and also because of other obligations. I started out with a good amount of juice, but got thrown - aging parents with problems, my own past academic issues resurfacing at times of stress (again, try not to take too long). If you've got resources, and if your parents are in good shape (or a non-issue), and you have no such issues to speak of (or have access to good care if you do), might not come up for you.

Last time I looked into it, the acceptance rate was less than 1% at CPA-accredited programs in clinical psychology (i.e. harder than getting into med school; I think it's not that different for APA-accredited programs). The typical applicant is young, and has a stellar GPA and good lab experience, often at multiple labs. However, it sounds like you could be competitive. As a backup plan, though, since you're interested in work performance, consider doing a program in organizational behaviour at a business school. (There's a fair amount of research, by psychologists, on performance, recruitment, etc. that happens in b schools.) It wouldn't equip you for counselling individuals, just research and consulting (and would probably set you up for the most money any new psychologist can make these days).
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:10 PM on October 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


(An industrial/organizational program in a psych department could take you to that kind of career as well.)

Also, I'm sorry if I'm coming across as cold, or negative, or crass, or sour grapey. I myself did think about doing this sort of thing for a while, but am at peace with not doing it, at least partly (but not only) because it seemed like a long road for someone beginning in midlife. You might have to do a post-bacc [1-2 years, ideally], then 4-5 years for the doctorate [ideally], then a year for that internship, which is a long time to be broke. I really didn't think I'd care about that, but eh, turns out I do. Also, there's the question of saving for old age. My thought process was that 2-4 years was the absolute longest I wanted to spend in school during these years, and it's still taking longer, bc life. There are definitely 30-somethings who breeze through, though, and wind up happy in their new careers, and that could definitely be you.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:58 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was a 30-something UNDERGRAD, just 4 years ago. I was also a high school dropout, who didn't get a GED until I was nearly 30. I now have my BS, masters, and am well into my PhD program. In most settings, I am the least traditional nontraditional student there is.

It was strange, being a 30-something student as an undergrad. But, after that, it's been much more 'normal' feeling, because grad students are generally old enough that those gaps in age between peers don't strike them as weird, and so there's less side-eye and awkwardness. If you return as a grad student, I don't think it would be awkward, and I don't think a mid-30s career change with some schooling thrown in the mix is a bad idea at all, although I don't know a thing about the field you're interested in.

I did find, as an older-than-average student (though mostly just as an undergrad), that a sense of humor helped a lot. I was always the first to make a joke about being the oldest one in the room, and for me, that helped.
posted by still bill at 2:18 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I decided to get my shit together at 27 and having gone back to complete my college degree, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of 18-year-olds just off their mama’s tits. I guess being from a different country and culture made me the odd one in class even more than being older, but what kept me going was the motivation to “succeed”. Many many many years later, I’m still friends with some of my classmates, although we now live continents apart. So, overall a good experience.

And to answer your question very specifically, I’d never have achieved what I did if I had not summed up the courage to go back to school.
posted by Kwadeng at 8:15 AM on October 7, 2015


I went to med school when I was 30. I'm now in my first year of residency. I love my specialty, though I am sacrificing years when peers are getting married/buying house/blah blah. Sometimes that gets to me, but I remind myself life's not a race and then answer my pager.

But I figured--I can turn 40 and be a doctor or turn 40 and be in the unsatisfying situation I was in before. Either way I'm going to turn 40. I'm happy with my decision.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


A close friend of mine is doing a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. She finds working as a therapist very interesting and personally rewarding. (She's done multiple internships and externships, and is now officially working as a psychologist while finishing her dissertation and working toward certification in her state.)

However, her program has been kind of a mess. Counseling psychology seems to combine the disadvantages of med school (highly competitive, expensive) with the disadvantages of a more academic Ph.D. program (academic politics, dependence on a single Ph.D. advisor), and unlike people who go to med school, my friend can't count on a salary commensurate with her loans once she's done. Furthermore, therapists acting as teachers seem to be prone to strange boundary violations: many interactions are just fine when you're working with someone as a therapist, but huge violations of privacy if you're giving someone a grade or determining their professional future. Whenever I talk to my friend about academia, I thank my lucky stars that I did my Ph.D. in STEM, where people know they have bad social skills.
posted by yarntheory at 9:39 AM on October 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am in a different field, but I went back to school for a graduate degree (in the ever-practical and always-lucrative discipline of poem-writing) at the age of 40, and it was among the best decisions I have ever made.

I was just SO MUCH BETTER at learning things at 40 than I was at 20: more capable of formulating the kind of questions that would HELP me learn and much less afraid of asking them; more disciplined about getting work done and much better at time management; more capable, in general, of taking responsibility for my own education.

Now I teach undergraduates, and, as other college instructors have noted above, I love it when I have older students in my classes because they generally have those same qualities.
posted by dersins at 9:06 AM on October 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just turned 40 and I am in school for a second bachelors in food science. This means I am currently in calculus and chemistry classes with 20 yr old kids and I'm usually the oldest there by 15 years. The worst is when you enter lab for the first time and you see the look on all their faces as they hope I don't sit next to them. However, my lab partner soon realizes I have my shit together and then it's smooth sailing. I won't pretend that it wasn't really fucking hard that first semester but that awkwardness is almost gone now and I am looking forward to earning that degree and entering my new profession which, as my mom has pointed out, I could easily spend 20 years in and that makes it feel worthwhile.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:25 AM on October 10, 2015


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