Is starting a new bachelors worth it in your thirties? Which one?
August 14, 2017 2:52 PM   Subscribe

I recently switched jobs within my field and ended up working at a university. It offers employees a small tuition allowance. If you were in your mid-thirties pining for a higher paying career path, would you take advantage of this? If so, what degree would you get?

Me: Mid-thirties, BS in poli sci, MPA. Been doing slightly stuffy bureaucratic work in non-profits and state agencies for ten years, still making a straight-up humiliating amount of money. Didn't exactly pan out the way I wanted it to. I'm slavering to do anything else as long as I can eventually add a digit to my yearly salary.

My opportunity: Around 6 free credit hours of classes per semester. My previous credits transfer, so I'm looking at around 4 years of part-time school to finish without putting any money in, slightly faster if I want to pony up some cash of my own (or find scholarships). I think I could handle about half-time enrollment without going crazy.

My question: Would grabbing a different degree make a hair's difference in my actual real-world prospects? This isn't Harvard; it's a middling state school. I am a bit of a hobby coder, so I would like to think that snagging a CS degree and putting some work into some personal or open-source projects would get my foot in the door in the tech world, but maybe I'm too old for that? Maybe there is something more lucrative I'm not thinking about? Or maybe there's no damn good reason to put in the work and no matter what I do I'll be stuck in the bread line forever.

I don't know! Given my situation and my motivations, how should I proceed?
posted by FakeFreyja to Education (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Business degree isn't the worst thing. That and some coding chops might put you in a good position to do business analysis/finance reporting/some kinds of software implementation.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:08 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I got my first dev job at 35, but not through a second bachelor's. Still, if it's free, it's at least worth taking a couple classes to see how they suit you--there's no need to commit to the whole plan of study now. And if they do suit you, it's possible you might be able to get through part of the coursework and then get an actual coding job that would pay for the rest (or make the rest pointless). Sometimes I feel like the most valuable part of my boot camp experience was, in fact, just being able to introduce myself to people as a student instead of just a hobbyist--I think people did take me more seriously that way and I did get my current job through networking during that time.

I guess what I'm saying is, the courses may be useful even if you never make it to the upper-level stuff, so yeah, as long as it's free, I'd go for it.
posted by Sequence at 3:11 PM on August 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

Absolutely get a degree. Anything that interests you. CS is a great path to money, but make sure you enjoy coding. Business, accounting, engineering management—also good. A law degree goes nicely with a PolySci undergrad.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:12 PM on August 14, 2017

If you aren't already bilingual, this would be a great opportunity to learn a new language.
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:15 PM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Seconding a BA in a non-English language. Depending on where you live, this can be a helpful asset (I didn't add a digit to my income with the degree I got in a second language, but I did add a few thousand per year, especially since I'd taken quite a lot of technical language courses that focus on how the language is spoken in my field, not just in day-to-day conversation).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:27 PM on August 14, 2017

Some coding skills are likely to make you more effective at any job that involves working with (quantitative or qualitative) data; there are many such jobs that aren't in tech per se, so getting more of that under your belt maybe would make sense. (I have in mind the example of a particular friend who used her couple-of-semesters'-worth-of-coding to make herself more efficient in a manufacturing firm doing QA, and it also helped her move into data administration for an educational nonprofit.)

Similarly, it's not a crazy idea to take some stats classes if you don't have a strong stats background, which will complement your existing coding skills.
posted by dismas at 3:50 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

University-level foreign language instruction has come a long way lately. I'd recommend it.
posted by amtho at 3:55 PM on August 14, 2017

If you're interested in business analytics, that's a major at my university. It's housed in the business school. There's a parallel major called Informatics in the liberal arts college, which is basically CS lite, plus some stats.
Seconding a BA in a non-English language.
That's going to take a long time unless you start out with a minimum level of proficiency. At my university, you can't even start the major level classes until you've taken two years of introductory classes. Most majors enter the university with very strong preparation.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:08 PM on August 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

I finished my degree in my late 30s in Web Development. You can make a reasonable amount of money in this field, but will need more than a degree which makes it harder to endorse. I did not pay more than 10% of any class I took for either of my degrees and whole heartedly recommend using tuition reimbursement, even if it's just for things that are interesting to you.

(I just snagged a great job at 40. You are not too old to switch into development)
posted by getawaysticks at 4:15 PM on August 14, 2017

I spent my 30's doing a degree in the field I was (still am) working in. My first set of credentials were not relevant to the work I fell into and ended up loving. Very worthwhile.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:16 PM on August 14, 2017

(Adding - as you guessed, having some projects under your belt would be immeasurable for something like web development for potential employers to see.)
posted by getawaysticks at 4:17 PM on August 14, 2017

Chemical enginering
posted by Pressed Rat at 4:20 PM on August 14, 2017

Absolutely, if you like coding, try for a CS degree. There is a profound shortage of talent and if you're good it pays well. You're not too old.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:28 PM on August 14, 2017

I think I would focus on specific course work that would combine with whatever knowledge/experience you have from your non-profit & agency work. I mean, you could get a CS degree if you think that would be doable for you, but I think maybe some rudimentary statistics and then data analysis courses and some database languages (SQL, R, Python - you can do these online) might have more immediate payoff if your non-profit/agency work has exposed you to anything that would respond to that kind of analysis. Virtually everything agency-level should have some data component. If it were me, I'd be looking into stuff to do with data and statistics for healthcare, since the private sector there is pretty flexible and needs information, but stuff to do with housing, transport, etc, might also work.
posted by vunder at 4:29 PM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do your credits have to be used toward a degree? Or can you just take random classes? If the latter, it's probably helpful to take some CS classes even if you don't want to spend time working towards a BS because you'll be building a portfolio. So, rather than four years of working your ass off, you could do a few semesters of things that interest you.

Could you do an MBA instead of a bachelor's degree? That might open some doors for you.

But yes, one way or another, you should definitely take advantage of this perk.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:50 PM on August 14, 2017

I dabbled in free university courses during years working at a university with tuition benefits. One thing to look into while dabbling is how many credits you can transfer in while enrolled as a non-degree seeking student. For example, when I finally decided on my degree program, I could transfer 40% of the credits while taken as a non-degree seeking student, but I had to actually apply to and enroll in the masters program in order to take the other 60% and get them to count. Other degree programs had different rules. If you're just interested in taking a couple courses to expand your knowledge, that won't matter, but if you want a bachelors degree it's worth keeping your eye out for any rules or policies like that.

I took a phd-level geography course (not my favorite), an undergrad accelerated Portuguese course for Spanish speakers (pretty great, totally diverse mix of grad/undergrad/staff students), a liberal arts course on local history/photography (awesome but not challenging), and a bunch of public health graduate courses (the winning path for me). Enjoy your studies!
posted by Maarika at 5:02 PM on August 14, 2017

Mathematics (including statistical modeling) perhaps worth consideration.
posted by lathrop at 5:47 PM on August 14, 2017

You already have a bachelor's. If you want to change careers, work towards a career-change master's degree; there a plenty such programs available these days. Pick a career first, then the education. No employer will take you seriously if you don't know what you want to fdo for a living. If you're committed, you can take on loans for a master's or find an employer who'll pay for it. A second bachelor's, even if you can get it for free, will not advance your career. (I say that as a construction professional in my mid thirties with a very fancy biochemistry bachelor's and plenty of education I pursued after I switched fields.)
posted by halogen at 9:09 PM on August 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Having said that, you have at least another three decades of work ahead of you. It's worth it to take the time and effort to make sure your get to do what you want to do at a fair pay. It's just that a second bachelor's is not the way to go about it; a bachelor's is just a box to check off on your resume just like a high school diploma. Don't believe me? Take a bit of your time and email and/or call the recruiters and employers for your dream job. They'll be happy to tell you exactly what they're looking for, and then you'll have an actual to-do list to work on. It worked for me.
posted by halogen at 9:18 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

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