Can I take a mulligan on college?
April 24, 2006 6:05 PM   Subscribe

ReDoFilter: Is it a good idea to go back to college?

I graduated with an undergrad degree in finance 3 years ago. I currently work on Wall Street and while I've been successful thus far, this is not the path I want to follow.

I am employed at-will, but my job is a two-year program (starting this summer) - after 2 years it is up or out. I'd be thrilled to walk away now, but if I stay the next two years I will have saved up a good amount of money.

So, I know want I don't want to do, but I have no idea what I do want to do. What really gets me excited is the idea of spending a few years getting the education I've always wanted - a thorough education in philosophy, literature and the liberal arts in general. Not only does this type of education interest me in and of itself, but I think it is the kind of setting that would allow me to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life, or at least, how I want to make a living.

I've begun to look at the type of programs out there that will take a non-traditional student like myself. A place like St. John's College sounds very interesting. My savings over the next couple years would make it financially feasible to do another 4-year undergrad degree at a school like that.

So, my question: is this a good idea? I know people return to college all the time, but it seems like they usually have a specific vocation or goal in mind. I'd be going in completely blind. Perhaps I'm just pining for my college days after putting up with the corporate grind for a few years? It feels more real than that, but I'd be interested to hear if my feelings sound like the normal quarter-life crisis freak-out. I'd also be happy to hear about the experience of anyone that may have gone through a similar situation.

A move like this would probably prohibit a return to Wall Street, but I'm confident that I could use my experience to land a less prestigious job in finance if all goes awry.
posted by mullacc to Education (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you want to do it, you can afford to do it, and you've even thought out your worst case scenario. Go for it! You'll be about 30 when you're done which is actually pretty young.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:27 PM on April 24, 2006

i believe that at most institutions a second bachelor's wouldn't take 4 years

basically what you are doing is changing your major--you got all the basic degree requirements out of the way with the first undergrad degree--

so it would take you about two years or so at most institutions--full time
posted by subatomiczoo at 6:47 PM on April 24, 2006

Yeah, if you can afford to do it, especially without going into debt, I can't see what could go wrong (aside from that when you actually start doing it again you realize that it's a mistake).

Have you considered a course that involves being on a boat, sailing the world? I can't remember the descriptive name of those programs but they involve being in a smallish group of people, travelling by boat to different parts of the world, taking courses while on the boat and while on land.

Also, have you considered doing this in a foreign country?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 6:48 PM on April 24, 2006

(Normally, when I hear people say they don't know exactly what/why they want to go back to school, my first impulse is to say "fuggetaboudit.")
posted by PurplePorpoise at 6:49 PM on April 24, 2006

I understand exactly where you are coming from. But given it's almost May (a little late to apply for admission somewhere) and you're a bit unclear on your precise path, I would suggest spending at least the next year working (and socking away some more money) -- while you figure out what exactly might be a good next step (away from Wall Street).

During that year you could visit St. John's (a fascinating place IMHO) and other places and even consider graduate school options. I do know that some grad programs can be pretty flexible even if you don't have an undergrad major in something.

But by all means, find something else if Wall Street is not for you -- before you have a lot of committments like a spouse, kids and mortgage payments.

Best of luck to you.
posted by bim at 6:51 PM on April 24, 2006

Semester at Sea is an example of the sea-university programs PurplePorpoise mentioned.
posted by stray at 6:56 PM on April 24, 2006

subatomic -- I doubt that the 2 year plan would apply at a place like St. John's. It's a very unique place.

They also have a graduate institute which sounds like an interesting option (if only I lived closer....).
posted by bim at 7:07 PM on April 24, 2006

I'll disagree with some others: I think this is a dumb idea. I suppose if you want to throw your money away, then there's nothing stopping you from doing it, but I think you'd be doing exactly that: throwing your money away. First, you don't need a university to learn philosophy and literature. I studied philosophy and psychology as an undergrad and I have learned a lot more since leaving the university than I did while there. Just get your hands on some syllabi and read the required stuff (or don't - read whatever you want). Then get online and discuss it with some people (or don't - just write a journal about it). You'll find that you'll make more progress, learn more, stay interested longer, and you'll be able to follow whatever course of study suits your fancy. Education, especially in the liberal arts, is a lifelong pursuit and universities are an almost insignificant part of that pursuit in the long run. That's my experience anyway.

That being said - I did go back to school as an adult, but I went to graduate school because I needed certain letters after my name to get the jobs that I wanted. If you had a career goal and you needed education to achieve it, then I would say to go for it -- but if you're just going back so you can be forced to read Chaucer, I'd say you're wasting your time and money.

Just my opinion. Good luck to you.
posted by crapples at 7:15 PM on April 24, 2006

Is it feasable time-wise to explore your interests via hobbies and local organizations? If so, I'd encourage you to do that. Sounds like your problem the first time around was not knowing your "direction." Going back in an expidited program won't help nearly as much as going back after a couple of years of slow, reflective exploration of your interests.

If you don't care whether you go "up" then you should remove all pressure from yourself to perform on a par with peers who are trying to move up. This may help with free time issues. That's a big if though, and for you to decide.

Also, consider that there are a lot of fields where your finance background could be used to get you in the door, and you may find that after a couple of years exploring local hobbies and interest groups, you'll already have found an area you want to move toward, and may not need or want another degree anymore.

Have you subscribed to Nonsense New York? It's a weekly mailer with an entire section on "learning". Also lots of quirky events around the city.
posted by lorrer at 7:23 PM on April 24, 2006

bim: Yeah, if I decide to go back to school, it wouldn't be next fall. I'm far away from an actual decision here and until I come to decision-time, I'm going to keep chugging away at work. Though, it is easier to get up in the morning when you know where all your work is leading you.

PurplePorpoise: I'll check out the semester at sea and like programs. I've definitely thought about going to a foreign country, whether as a student or otherwise. My lack of a second language causes me some hesitation here (though perhaps it should actually be a motivation). It's certainly something to consider.
posted by mullacc at 7:30 PM on April 24, 2006

Thanks stray.

I'm usually in crapple's camp regarding going back to school. mullac - if you do go through with it, try smaller schools with smaller classes. Likely to be a lot more expensive, though... otoh, there's community colleges if you just want to learn and not in it for the piece of paper. The hurdle here would be finding the right teachers/schools with the right teachers.

I'm wondering if a year at someplace like Colorado College or Cornell College (my undegrad alma mater) that offers "one-course-at-a-time" might be what you're looking for. 3&1/2 weeks focused on one class, a half week off, then moving on to the next class. Speaking for Cornell College, the faculty there is first rate - all instructors are PhDs (+ or equivalent) and are full-time teachers; research is secondary to teaching. There are a few decent "names" in the humanities. For the science, not so much - but that's more because the focus is on teaching over research and publishing.

If you can figure out what 9 classes you wanted to take (say, intro philosophy, then three specific topics, 2 specific English class, intro Psych and one or two specific classes, then maybe a religion/theology survey to round things off) you might be able to taste it all in 9 months (or give yourself two years - you probably already have some pre-reqs).

Pricey, though - as a foreign student my tuition was around $19,000 for 9 months. That and you'd be in Iowa. I knew a few mature-student types and they integrated ok into the culture there. The student population is a little over a grand, the town's population is a little over a grand.

As for second language - perhaps find a term job for a year - take language night classes and use being abroad as "full immersion" language learning?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 7:47 PM on April 24, 2006

Second what crapples said. You never know when life will throw you a curve--if you can make money now, great. But for god's sake don't piss 60 grand away just because you can. If you feel you'll learn better with the rigour of tests and discussion groups, patronize your local community college instead and save your dough. Or travel the world and then come back in a year with "experience" and 30 grand still in your pocket.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:51 PM on April 24, 2006

Also, that 60-grand figure is assuming only two years at St. John's. Tack on another 30 large for every additional year you spend finding yourself.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:52 PM on April 24, 2006

Crapples is right. College is really good for external motivation for unmotivated students and for vocational preparation.

I majored in English Lit. (mainly poetry) at a top liberal arts school, and it was fun, but nothing I couldn't have done on my own.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:00 PM on April 24, 2006

You can't get another job that allows you to study and work at the same time can you? Say 4 days out of 5?

If you did that you could see if you really wanted to go back, or if you are just unsure of what you want to do and are thinking of using this as a bit of a holding pattern.

Also, find the Avenue Q soundtrack and find the song "I wish I could go back to College" it may apply.
posted by sien at 11:45 PM on April 24, 2006

like the other people above who studied literature, philosophy, liberal arts, etc., I also think this is a waste of time. I wouldn't spend the time or the money to reenter an undergraduate program.

If you really want to go back to school and get the degree, I strongly encourage you to find a school with a well developed program to really teach you this stuff. Otherwise you're going to be meandering around in an unstructured environment throwing money away.

That being said, here is some more practical advice:
(1) Listen to some online podcasts of courses to get a better sense of what you like. Here is a list I made. These are all schools with opencoursewares, etc. Try Berkeley to start.
(2) Read and learn a bunch and try to get a better sense on what areas interest you - you are not an 18 year old with no idea what you want in life. You have a career, experience, and what you really have is a healthy intellectual curiousity.
(3) If you want to work with a university, consider going straight for the masters. If you can get yourself up to speed on many basic principles (check out squashed philosophers), you could probably making a convincing argument to enter a master's program. Then you have a more advanced degree which might ultimately also make you a better candidate for a wider variety of jobs. I think you might like many of the links on my site. (I have a boring corporate job as well).
posted by BigBrownBear at 1:25 AM on April 25, 2006

I found that the most important factor in how valuble my liberal arts undergrad education was was who my peers were. In classes where the students were young, bored, and aimless (still mostly concerned about dorm drama and homesickness), it was very hard to get much from classtime; I would have been better off just doing the reading on my own. Classes where students were excited to be there (senior level courses, grad seminars, or night classes with working adults) I learned tons from my classmates. Consider this if you're considering an undergrad degree -- I second the option of pursuing a master's or adult education courses. You'll feel stiffled by hanging around 19-year-olds.
posted by saffron at 5:08 AM on April 25, 2006

I have an undergrad and a masters in a liberal arts field (English) and I find the classroom experience pretty motivating, actually. But I doubt I would leave a paying gig to go back and do another undergraduate degree, even though I can see the romance of that. You're only two years into your gig. I'd stay another year (at least) so you won't look like a flake/job-hopper. Then, if you've decided you really want to go back and explore other options, I'd say go for it. The classroom experience--assuming some good professors--really is helpful, especially when you're new to this stuff.

But, in the mean time, why not try the autodidactic approach? There have been several threads here on reading the classics (which to read, how to go about it). You can make yourself a list of literature and philosophy you want to know and start chipping away it. Doing this will give you a leg up if you do return to the classroom and may help you decide it you want to do it. Or, better yet, you may be able to strike a balance between work and thought so that you don't need to return.
posted by wheat at 6:39 AM on April 25, 2006

My undergrad degree is from St. John's. For me, it was the best possible thing I could have done and I don't regret it for a moment. That said, if you already have a bachelor's you probably don't want to spend the entire four years to get the BA.

As mentioned above, you should consider the Graduate Institute. It's a two year condensation of our four year undergrad Program. All of the classes are Monday and Thursday in the afternoon and evening, so if you found a job in the area that you were interested in you could conceivably do both. A lot of GIs don't have full time jobs because the quantity of reading is huge.

SJC is not for everybody, but if you're intrigued by it it might be for you. There are probably 10 other Johnnies around MeFi, but feel free to email if you have questions.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:52 AM on April 25, 2006

mullacc: I know this isn't very related to your question, but I just wanted to suggest to you the career possibility of becoming an academic at a business school. I just finished my PhD and I am very happy with what I do. For people who are interested in business and finance, but are tired of much of the crap that goes on in the profession in general, becoming an academic has much to offer. Also, you can get into a good PhD program without a master's degree. If you are at all interested, contact me (email is in profile) and I will talk to you more about it.

Let me just also show you this one link about how there is a shortage of business faculty.
posted by bove at 8:57 AM on April 25, 2006

You could always get lecture series from The Teaching Company to hold you over while you make a decision about returning to school. They have lots of great courses in literature, philosophy, history, etc. The lectures are great to listen to while commuting.
posted by luneray at 10:15 AM on April 25, 2006

I believe that in most places you can attend as a "non-degree-seeking student." If you just want to take a couple or few courses to get you going, that could work. (Or just show up to larger classes and listen to interesting professors without paying anything, maybe?) If you are like me, you need some structured motivation to get you to do it, such as a class.

My b/f works in IT and he once attended a conference where a speaker said "I got into IT the way most people do -- with a degree in psychology." So.... I'd assume having a degree in finance probably doesn't limit your career options as much as you think.
posted by mojabunni at 1:40 PM on April 25, 2006

Like hydrophysche, I'm a Johnnie. I loved the Program (always with a capital 'P' :) However, it is a goodly amount of work to complete, it is very expensive, and you would not be able to skip years/courses because of your previous degree. I agree that the Graduate Institute is worth looking into. Also, there is a Summer Classics program for adult/professionals. I think they're offered at the Santa Fe campus (which is gorgeous and worth a trip). Check the website. I also recommend looking at the Program reading list on the site. Pick up copies of a few books from different years, maybe from the library. Read at least selections from them and decide if this is the kind of stuff you want to spend 4 years on. Keep in mind that the seminar (philosophy/history/lit) is only one of the four classes each year. You would also take languages (1.5 yrs each Greek and French 1yr English), 4yrs math, 3yrs lab (science), and 1yr music. Since everyone has to take all the classes, you will most likely have to do things you're not good at, and you will always have people in your classes who are having trouble. It can be frustratingly fast or slow depending on your relative facility with the material. Definitely visit before you apply. Both campuses have vistation programs.

As a side note, I get lectures from The Teaching Company as well. They're wonderful and available on a variety of topics. The downside is that you don't get to discuss the material with anyone.

Good luck with whatever you end up doing.
posted by umus at 1:13 AM on April 26, 2006

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