edjumucate me.
February 21, 2007 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Is it too late for me? Is it crazy to start university in your 30s?

I am 32 and a working person -- I have a full-time career(ish) job and an apartment to myself. For many years I struggled to find a good job because I didn't go to university. Well, that's not strictly true -- I went to university three times, and dropped out three times, in my early 20s. Despite always being told that I was super-smart, and despite skipping a grade, I just couldn't DO university. It was like there was some kind of block preventing me from learning how to work so late in life. And I have always really resented that average people all around me had this official mark of achievement and I, supposedly the smart one, had nothing.

Last year I found out that I have ADD, and it's opened up possibilities to me that I thought I'd never get to experience. Suddenly I can believe that I actually am smart and maybe I could accomplish all the things I saw other people doing through my 20s while wondering why I wasn't capable of the same.

I've been taking a continuing education course the last couple of semesters and relishing it. It feels like food for my brain. Now I am very interested in applying for an undergraduate program for the fall. It's four years, and necessarily full-time, 15 class hours per week. It sounds so interesting -- kind of a broad BA that focuses on contemporary subjects -- and I think it would go a long way to helping me in my eventual goal of full-time freelance writing. But ultimately I want to do it so that I can prove to myself that I can do it, after believing all those years that I was stupid just pretending to be smart. I want to better myself! Hooray!

Has anyone else started an undergrad degree in their 30s? I'd be particularly interested in hearing from people who didn't get a degree on the first go-around and had to start from the beginning.

But how do you do it? How do you handle a full-time program when you have bills and committments and already have debt? Did you quit your job, or take a leave of absence, or negotiate reduced hours? What was it like to integrate into a student life as an "elderly" person? Does it have to mean eating ramen for every meal?

I really want to do it. I really want to learn new things. But the whole idea is a bit overwhelming and scary. Please help!
posted by loiseau to Education (59 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Donna Freedman has written some good columns on this topic. She went back to school just recently, which meant she could no longer be my son's babysitter, damn it, but it's pretty clear she made the right decision.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:46 AM on February 21, 2007

I had a classmate when I was in college that was in her late 40s. Her husband left her for another woman, and she was left to fend for herself. She went back to college. And while I think she struggled a bit with being in classes where she was old enough to be everyone's mother (including one professor), I got the feeling that she thought it was all worth it. And while we'd occasionally mock her elder status, we treated her like a classmate, and she was good to us.

She really didn't have an income going in, so she got grants and loans and was a full-time student. She struggled with money, but we all did -- we were college students.
posted by dw at 9:48 AM on February 21, 2007

Did you get any hours at all during your first go-rounds? Some universities will transfer in anything C and over. Even though I had a sub-2.0 GPA, I was still able to transfer over many hours.

I went to two different colleges and spent about 8 years dropping into and out of school. 10 years after I dropped out for good, I applied to an adult program at a local university and was accepted last summer. Since then I have taken classes with both people my age and 18 year old freshmen, and I find them both very interesting. It's cool to see what really sparks people who are younger than me these days.

Luckily I'm already freelance, so I didn't have to make any major changes to my life or schedule. But I will say that just having an adult perspective and a smidge more responsibility than I had 18 years ago has made class interesting enough to be easy.

Best of luck to you!
posted by Addlepated at 9:51 AM on February 21, 2007

Congratulations! Do it, by all means.

I did an MBA full time while working full time. It took three years, including pre-requisites and meant I was doing work all day and school at night and on weekends, but it was over before all that long.

You'll thank yourself when you are done. Having started and stopped must be a psychological burden for you, and now that you can understand why it might have not worked earlier, you are in better position to complete it.

A lot of people go back in their 30's, and I'd be surprised if you don't have several much older classmates.

Good luck!
posted by FauxScot at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2007

Is it too late for me? Is it crazy to start university in your 30s?


I don't have a lot to say about your other worries (debt, committments, etc.), but I think that if you scare yourself away from this you'll probably regret it. And if you go through with it, you'll probably find a way to make it all work.

Just last week I was listening to a cousin (in her 30's, with two small kids) talk about her first semester back in college. She's studying to get a degree in Psychology, and she's scared and very very busy but she sounded so HAPPY about it all.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:53 AM on February 21, 2007

I didn't finish my undergraduate degree until I was 33 years old. I'd dropped out in my early twenties after getting about half way to a BS and didn't get back until I was 30. I managed to finish up in three years of night school while working full time. I can't say that it was the easiest way to get a degree but it's definitely possible. I was working full time so I could only take two classes at a time, I wouldn't try more than that.

As for integrating into student life, I didn't have time for any kind of life. Work all day, go to school at night, do homework until I passed out. Rinse, repeat.
posted by octothorpe at 9:54 AM on February 21, 2007

I'm in (pretty much) the exact same situation you are.

I'm 33yrs old,..never went to college, despite constantly being told I was "incredibly smart and intuitive". I started community college a couple times but dropped out because either A) it didnt challenge me. --or-- B) I was also working full time and trying to go to school full time and doing all of that on only 3 or so hours of sleep a night really sucks.

I lucked out with a good job through my 20's, but that situation crashed about 4 months ago, I had to move out of my place into my brothers basement and now just doing odd jobs and trying to start my own business.

So I'm in the same situation you are. I REALLY want/need to go back to school to get a degree (mostly just to prove to myself that I can) but have also resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to be poor through my 30's to make it happen. I have a couple good tech-based ideas that I'm going to try to make $work$ this year so that I can pay off my bills and possibly even save up some money to get back into a place of my own and go back to school.

I know thats not really "advice" per se.. but dont feel like you are alone. Also dont feel like you have to do it "traditionally". There are ALOT of free educational resources on the internet that you can explore to get a taste for what you want, or to prep for classes you think you might be taking in the future. Check out the Open Courseware Finder
posted by jmnugent at 9:54 AM on February 21, 2007

I started undergrad when I was 28, started from absolute square one, and now I am ten months from getting my master's in physical therapy.

At the time when I started, my terror was that I was too old. You can probably go back through my ask metafilters and find that very question. Looking at it from this side, though, that question seems ridiculous. I'm glad I did it, and now it's much, much less likely that I will ever have trouble supporting myself or getting health insurance.

It took a little finagling and financial organizing to get through undergrad, but I did it. For the master's, I have been living on student loans, but doing that for undergrad would be foolish. I was lucky enough to find a proofreading job that I could work at 3/4-time to support myself, paid for my (state school) tuition with loans, and reduced my spending.

Elderly? Hah! No way. Trust me -- being an older student getting an undergraduate degree is such an advantage it's INSANE. You're infinitely more responsible and better organized than most of your fellow students just because you're had to deal with organizing your life. You have respect for your professors, and that goes a long way. You have an appreciation for what you're getting out of school, because you're paying for it yourself, and that goes a REALLY long way.

Even with a job and life and everything else going on, you will likely start and finish school on the dean's list.

Don't worry about social concerns, or feeling old on campus. A friend of mine, of my age, started her undergrad at the same time as me. In response to my asking her if she didn't feel old, surrounded by all these 19-year-olds, she answered, "I don't feel older. I just feel way, way cooler."
posted by jennyjenny at 9:54 AM on February 21, 2007

I went back to school in my late 20s and finished my degree when I was 30. I worked full time as a cook so I could juggle my work and school schedules. I was lucky to have a supportive spouse with a good job so I never really had to worry about finances that much.

I have a friend who's 41 and is one year away from completing his degree. He's been going nights, two classes a semester for the past 8 years (he's taken a few semesters off). He loves it - wishes it didn't have to end (his spouse has made it clear that it will).

As to what you need to do, if you're going to go full time, you'll have to jettison everything that isn't work or school. For most of the time I was going, I worked 40+ hrs/week and took 4 or 5 classes. I worked, studied, and slept.
posted by qldaddy at 9:58 AM on February 21, 2007

octothorpe: "I was working full time so I could only take two classes at a time, I wouldn't try more than that."

Unfortunately, this school has few programs that allow part-time schedules. I think it's a remnant of its past as a technical school. My job is a day job, 8:30-4:30, and the program is 15 hours per week, so it doesn't seem like I can go to school without making some big changes. I am going to meet with a program advisor, though, to see how & when the courses are offered. I hope there is at least some flexibility.

So many helpful answers already! Thank you so much everyone. I wasn't sure if being excited about this possibility was just my delusions acting up again. I'm still listening!
posted by loiseau at 10:00 AM on February 21, 2007

Do it! Think of it this way: The same amount of time is going to go by whether you do this or not. Think of how great you will feel in ten years knowing that you did it. I wish you the best of luck!
posted by Lockjaw at 10:01 AM on February 21, 2007

I find that most of my students in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are some of the brightest, most mature, and dedicated students I have. There's the odd exception of a student who wants to take the entire class time expounding on his or her experience. It can't be easy with a job and real bills, but it does seem to be doable. But speaking as a professor, we'd love to have you. I'd think of it as doing graduate study, which plenty of people do in their 30s, just with simpler courses.

All of that said, one of the major problems you may not anticipate having is relating to your professors. You'll have a good amount of life experience that's relevant to course material and your professors may be ... unaccustomed ... to dealing with this. Some will get defensive and take out some insecurity about being part of the "real world" out on you. I find older students' contributions extremely valuable in classes like Business Ethics, but I've heard horror stories. I don't know that is avoidable without severely curtailing your comments in classes with such professors -- and you shouldn't have to do it -- but you should be prepared for it.
posted by ontic at 10:03 AM on February 21, 2007

I say do it. No time like the present. Remember, you don't HAVE to go full time. Try some night courses at a community college.
posted by troubadour at 10:07 AM on February 21, 2007

I should add that Plato, who is not a minor thinker that we read 2000+ years after he died, thought people weren't even ready to study philosophy until age 50. I have to disagree, but he does happen to be Plato.
posted by ontic at 10:08 AM on February 21, 2007

Lots of people do this; most schools have a program just for them. Mature students usually get more out of school, it seems to me, because they are ready to take full advantage of all the resources whereas traditional-aged undergrads often are wrapped up in the social aspects or for other reasons don't take advantage. At any rate: go for it! (provided it won't put you in huge debt)

I know there have been other AskMes about this too; I'm not finding them at the moment, but worth looking a bit.

Advice: use all the support services the university offers. If they have a group for older students, join. If they have weekly drop-ins with the dean for older students, drop by a couple of times and introduce yourself. Your professors will have office hours, which are times when you are encouraged to drop by and ask any questions you have about the course -- this is the most under-used resource at many schools! Especially if your school is someplace huge like U of T, do everything you can to connect personally with profs and other supporting entities. Big schools have more resources but you have to be more active about pursuing them; don't let yourself get in a position where it feels like "nobody will notice if I drop out". It will be hard sometimes but is absolutely worth doing. When I went to university, there was a 65 year old with cancer in several of my classes; she was totally determined to get her degree, and she was the most on-the-ball student in the class by far. We all loved her - at graduation she got a 4 minute standing ovation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:08 AM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I was an undergrad, there was usually at least 3-4 people in a class of 25 who were over thirty, and usually at least one person who was over sixty. So, not uncommon at all. In general I would say the "returning students" performed above average because they weren't taking their edumacation for granted like many 20 year olds do. It was also nice having them in classes where discussion was taking place because they could usually give a different (that is not to say always better) perspective.

In grad school, (depending on the program), 30 year olds were the rule rather the exception. Anyway, good luck to ya.
posted by Hildago at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2007

Im in the Extension School at Harvard and to tell you the truth at 22 i'm definitely a young pup. The average age is at least 30 years old. From what I can gleam from the older crowd they find that getting their higher education once they are older is an amazing experience. At that age you are far better equipped intellectually and socially for learning.
posted by pwally at 10:23 AM on February 21, 2007

I returned to finish my undergrad degree. I'm 30 and I finish in June. I, too, was always told that I was smart, but I felt so stupid because I just couldn't do university (right after high school). I could barely read my textbooks.

Several years of computer career later, I decided to finally return to school. I was all nervous. I hadn't really had any school in-between. I had about 2 years left. I decided to get an ADD evaluation (really annoying test where you click a button for like 25 minutes) and was told that I had a really extreme case. Got that verified elsewhere, too. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because before I found all that out, I was on my 5th quarter after 4 quarters of all straight A's. For the first time in my life I was getting straight A's!

I don't think it will change too much for different fields, but you will be so impressed with how well you do. You will feel like that total badass little smart kid again. You might even feel that it's unfair for people who are your age to be in school. You will grasp the material much quicker than all of your classmates. You will have more motivation to learn and do your work. You will get more out of the lessons.

Don't worry about the ADD. You got this far and you will be surprised at how good you are at academic stuff now. Sure, you can try the medications, but you will see that you're just as capable on your own. Really!

At your age, you have so many more ... "hooks" for facts and lessons to get attached to. You can relate to points in so many more ways. You know how the inside of your brain works. You will do so good and you will be delighted at the wonderful level of intellectual stimulation that you receive every day. You will meet a bunch of really cool, vivacious students that will inspire you every day. You will not be distracted by an urgent need to get some party experience in. You may even consider changing your career or going to graduate school.

GO, GO, GO. You are going to love it.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by redteam at 10:23 AM on February 21, 2007

Although I did it on a part time basis, I finished my undergrad degree 3 months before my 50th birthday. I had a full time job, two kids in college and two at home, but it was the greatest feeling in the world to have finished.
One of the things that helped me was online courses. Most schools have some of these available so you don't have to spend all of your time on campus. That may help you with scheduling your time. Good luck!
posted by iamagas at 10:26 AM on February 21, 2007

Do it! My partner dropped out of college and then went back to undergraduate at age 30. She was incredibly successful. Part of what made her so was the fact that she had a) the life experience to manage being a student and a worker, and b) the drive to do it right this time. Sounds like you have both as well. Don't underestimate the importance of drive. My partner's now doing her PhD and again, she's had plenty of time to work out what she wants from the experience and how to get it, which puts her at an advantage over the younger students in the program. More power to you!

My advice - apply apply apply for grants and government loans! Most of the applicants for scholarships are traditional students, so you've already got something that will make you stand out from the crowd in an application.
posted by marginaliana at 10:34 AM on February 21, 2007

Most major universities (in the United States, anyway) have an office for "nontraditional" (read: older) students. Here's an example at my university. They should be a main source of support for you, both practical and psychological. Seek them out.

I'm currently 32 and a full-time grad student. I'm a TA, so my tuition is waived, plus I get a small monthly stipend. My boyfriend pays the major bills (rent, etc), but if I were single, I'd just take out loans or get a part time job.

I started my undergrad degree at 24, and was among the oldest person in most of my classes, BUT I made plenty of friends my age in other departments.
posted by desjardins at 10:38 AM on February 21, 2007

I often see random non-teenaged people in my classes.

One thing: are you sure a BA will help with freelance writing? do you mean the degree or what you will learn in the program? if the latter, do it. If the former, I don't know.
posted by crayolarabbit at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2007

more data points:

I dropped out in my early 20's and came back to school. I am graduating in May and will be 28. I was much more successful in my second go around, simply because I had grown up. I financed my education with a combination of working (both on and off campus) and the FAFSA.

Going back to school is hard and for me there was a reduction in "lifestyle" but, it's worth it.
posted by fair_game at 10:55 AM on February 21, 2007

I have a good family friend who went back at 60 and is loving it and another friend who finished her degree at 41. I'm in grad school right now and I'd say at least 4-5 ppl in each class are over 40, many in their 30s and a handful in their 20s.
posted by jdl at 11:04 AM on February 21, 2007

redteam: "Don't worry about the ADD. You got this far and you will be surprised at how good you are at academic stuff now. Sure, you can try the medications, but you will see that you're just as capable on your own. Really! "

Oh no, I'm all about the meds -- it's the only reason I've even been able to consider this proposition. Remember that I spent my life since the age of about 12 thinking that I couldn't think right. But I am going to register with the disabilities office to try to get some insight into ADD-tailored ways to learn stuff.

marginaliana: "My advice - apply apply apply for grants and government loans! Most of the applicants for scholarships are traditional students, so you've already got something that will make you stand out from the crowd in an application."

Sadly, I don't qualify for government loans, because I defaulted on the ones I got for my first two stints at higher education. So it's all line-of-credit for me, unless an heretofore unknown rich uncle dies. I'll definitely apply for entrace bursaries, though, seeing as many of them are based on need.

crayolarabbit: "One thing: are you sure a BA will help with freelance writing? do you mean the degree or what you will learn in the program? if the latter, do it. If the former, I don't know."

I mean in the sense that having a broader scope of general knowledge, the exposure to literature I'll get, and the time I'll spend writing papers will all benefit me as a writer.
posted by loiseau at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2007

Of course you can do it! Some find it easier to start small, take one or two classes at first, if you can handle it, take more the next semester, and so on, and so on. Just be careful, it's addictive, and you'll be hooked for life!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:19 AM on February 21, 2007

My stepmom did it in her 40's. She had dropped out of college after a year when she wanted to get married, and worked through her 20's & 30's as a book keeper for the local temple. However, in her 40's she realized that this was never what she wanted to do, so she went back to school to become an occupational therapist.

It was hard for her because she was also raising her 2 kids & her 2 stepkids. She did it full time, so my dad carried a lot of the financial responsibility for those years, and I believe they took some loans out to pay for her schooling, knowing that once she was working as an OT her earning potential would increase dramatically.

However, she did say that she got more out of her second round of college than she did originally because she had a better grasp of the costs & rewards of going back to school. Since she was an adult, the finances of it were more realistic and thus she took it a lot more seriously than younger college students sometimes do. Most of her fellow students were much younger but she still put herself out there and joined study groups and worked very hard with her classmates.

It did help that she went to a commuter college though since more of the students were older and/or more serious about the work rather than the social life.
posted by tastybrains at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2007

octothorpe: "I was working full time so I could only take two classes at a time, I wouldn't try more than that."

Unfortunately, this school has few programs that allow part-time schedules.

I'm just saying that if you are working full time, 6-8 credit hours is the most you can really hope to do per semester unless they are really easy classes. Remember to multiply the credits hours by three to get an estimate of how much time per week they will take. So 8 credits will take around 24 hours a week of your time; add a 40+ hour a week job and commuting time and you are pretty much full up.
posted by octothorpe at 11:36 AM on February 21, 2007

It's not even close to too late. Go. You'll be a better student than you would have been at 20, and you'll likely get a lot out of it. Colleges have Admissions departments just to help you get through the process, and lots of advisers if things get overwhelming. There may be loans or scholarships from different sources. Congratulations! and Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 11:41 AM on February 21, 2007

Re: the ADD, I was trying to make a point about how you've probably made some very interesting adaptations to the way your brain works. I was very surprised to find that I didn't have the same problems as I did in my earlier academic endeavors. Still, I don't want to sound like one of those goddamned people that denies that ADD exists. I know it exists and I know that medication is helpful. I just want to let you know that you are probably more powerful than you realize. Please disregard this paragraph if my advice doesn't apply to you.

Like several people have said above, if you can't get loans, apply for grants and scholarships. I got thousands of dollars for writing a two page description of why going back to school was special for me. Thousands! They just gave me that money! I'm sure you can get more grants than me; I was pretty rushed.

Does your bank offer student loans? Look into it, it beats the hell out of credit cards. Also, are you sure FAFSA won't go for it? Even now that you're older? Can you talk to someone about that?

I think you can claim some kind of "lifelong learner" income tax break for two years of your life total. I suck at tax stuff, you might want to look into it.

Buy your textbooks at Amazon.com and sell them on there as well! It's easy and it's totally worth it. Don't get ripped off at the bookstore unless you absolutely have to.

Have you been assigned an academic counselor? Is there a continuing students center or organization? Get in good with an academic adviser or counselor or whatever they call them there. Don't be creepy or ridiculous, but make sure they know that you're determined to succeed, be polite, and show your gratitude if they help you. Their efforts can come in very handy. Mine pulled some serious stuff for me when I got back in and I got her a whole bunch of flowers and made her a hand painted thank you card. I didn't do it just to score points, I did it because I was seriously grateful. I did, of course, score points, though. :)
posted by redteam at 11:58 AM on February 21, 2007

Do it! I worked at Smith College for a while, which has a program for non-traditional-age students. One of the women in the house I worked in was in her 60s; she loved school (and was terrified, at first, but soon got over that), and all of the regular-age students loved her and were in awe of her - she really studied, and went to class, and just generally set a good example. She talked sometimes about how hard the transition had been - she had had a couple of semesters of college forty years earlier - but how valuable the experience was as well, and how glad she was that she'd decided to go back.
posted by rtha at 12:01 PM on February 21, 2007

When I was an undergrad, I had several people in my classes who were older students, and almost uniformly, they were better students than those of us who were of traditional age.

In fact, whenever I had the opportunity to get in a study group with an older student, I grabbed the chance, because they always had great notes and had attended all the classes.
posted by jayder at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2007

redteam: "I got thousands of dollars for writing a two page description of why going back to school was special for me. Thousands!

Holy. Okay. I like the sounds of that!

Does your bank offer student loans? Look into it, it beats the hell out of credit cards. Also, are you sure FAFSA won't go for it? Even now that you're older? Can you talk to someone about that?

I think you can claim some kind of "lifelong learner" income tax break for two years of your life total. I suck at tax stuff, you might want to look into it.

Ah, unfortunately the being-a-Canadian thing works against me in their mind. I already have a line of credit that's 3% + prime and a smaller one that's 2% + prime. I'm gonna have to look into loans though. First of all I need to figure out how the hell I can do this and keep my job.

I have talked to the program advisor by phone and I am going to meet her tomorrow. It turns out that you can take a smaller course load; they don't advertise it, they just say you have to be a full-time student. It's just a designation I guess. So this is good news. But my job will not be incredibly flexible so I will have to consider a leave of absence... oy vey. I don't know how I could live without an income. I guess that's the biggest issue right now -- my job.

But this thread has me totally super-psyched! Wahoo!
posted by loiseau at 12:08 PM on February 21, 2007

loiseau - But this thread has me totally super-psyched! Wahoo!

Ah the wonders of the internet... :)

I know what you mean about being worried about the job situation. I'm self employed (which means not having reliable income yet) AND have about 20k in credit card debt that I have to pay off first before even considering going back to school. BUT... school is my goal, and I have a couple web-based project ideas for the local city I'm working on that (if they succeed) should bring me in pretty good money for doing something I'm really passionate about (so even though it'll be alot of work, hopefully it wont feel like alot of work)
posted by jmnugent at 12:25 PM on February 21, 2007

I asked a similar question recently, and did in fact go back to school at the age of 40. I'm taking evening classes, and while it's slower than going full-time, I don't have a deadline and am able to keep working. I really enjoy it. I'm not usually the oldest person in class - you certainly won't be!

I find that having that extra commitment to my education makes me feel like I'm going somewhere with my life, albeit slowly. Do it!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:25 PM on February 21, 2007

I went to a college where the average student age (undergrad) was 27, so yes, it is definitely possible.
posted by drezdn at 12:26 PM on February 21, 2007

As the wife of a student who took ten years to do undergrad, and another 6 for grad school, you can do it. Yes you will have a lot of debt. If you have a car loan, sell the car, pay off the loan, buy a beater. Consider living in a trailer park, and if possible, buy the trailer. (Often they are cheaper than apartments or renting.) Learn how to cook - and make meals from one large roast a week. Shop at yard sales and thrift stores. See if you can schedule all your classes for two-three days a week and work the other days. Talk to other non-traditional students and see how they get by. Make your own lunch. Things like the above will go a long way to helping you avoid you eating ramen noodles as your main source of food.

wifer of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I took 6 years for an undergrad degree.

I went to Portland State University in Portland, Oregon ... as an urban commuter school, MANY of the classes are at night -- in fact, it's possible to get an entire undergrad degree done at night or on weekends if you plan carefully, and the degree program I graudated from in the busines school is only (!) offered at night. Over 50% of my classmates in my junior and senior years were over the age of 30 and working towards their first undergrad.

You're not alone. Go for it.
posted by SpecialK at 1:13 PM on February 21, 2007

(Oh, the class fprmat at PSU was four days per week, 4 hours per night max. You can EASILY take less class than that, that was 16 quarter -- as opposed to semester -- credits, and most people who worked a full time only took 8. I took 12-16 each quarter and worked 35 hours per week and didn't stress much.)
posted by SpecialK at 1:15 PM on February 21, 2007

Just do it!

Last spring I got my bachelor of arts after years of just taking one course per term--I was working and that was all I had time for/could afford. So now I'm in my forties and a newly-minted college grad. I still wake up sometimes and think, crap, I can't believe it did it! Go for it, you won't regret it!
posted by frosty_hut at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2007

You should definitely go for it. As a TA and an adjunct, I can say that almost all of my non-traditional-age students have done outstandingly well. Some of their defining characteristics are:
1) They bring a work-place-like ethic and discipline to the classroom
2) They are friendly with the rest of the students, but don't waste time on peer-pressure-drive events
3) Other students show them a lot of respect
4) They are good group leaders
5) They are more motivated than the average student.

I enjoy teaching older students(some way older than me) and I should think most faculty members have a positive impression about them.

So if you go back to school, there might just be many more things working in your favor than you think. :)
posted by carthik at 1:41 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not exactly the same situation, but my sister got a Ph.D. in science, worked, took some time off, and is now returning to art school at 33.

There were also plenty of mature-age students in my Creative Writing classes.
posted by divabat at 1:45 PM on February 21, 2007

loiseau, I'll be seeing you in class. I'll be 34 when I head back to school next spring. I've got two years left to go on my bachelor's degree, after my daughter's arrival interrupted my schooling. We can go sneak off for cigarettes behind the gym!
posted by lekvar at 1:46 PM on February 21, 2007

No first hand experience, but several of my friends have done the same thing in their early 30's - one as a full time student (supported by her boyfriend so finances not an issue), one as a fulltime student who found a part time job in his current field, one via distance learning (took longer but kept her job), one studying part time (who negotiated a deal with her current employer where she worked 80% of fulltime hours in 3.5 days a week). None of them have any regrets about their decision. So there are plenty of ways of doing it.

Integrating into student life won't be a problem. There are always other students who are out of their teens. And they're the ones who tend to do well as they're not distracted by "finding themselves", discovering alcohol and the opposite sex! About 10% of my degree class was "mature age" and most of them were very cool people who everyone liked.

If you can't go part time at your current job, can you find another job part time in your field? Can you freelance while you're studying (at your current company or elsewhere)? A BA with 15 contact hours a week gives you that flexibility. Maybe look at distance learning, and look at part time study options too?

BUT - I'm concerned that you think that you "need" a degree in order to prove something to yourself. I don't know what it's like in Canada, but by the time you're our age, a degree doesn't really give you an advantage in the work environment as it's all about experience. Needing to learn new stuff is one thing and doesn't involve quitting your job, but unless you need a degree to do what you want to do, then please don't just go off and quit to do a degree course just to prove to yourself that you're smart!!! There are plenty of stupid people with degrees and plenty of smart people without degrees. And you sound like one of the latter group.
posted by finding.perdita at 1:59 PM on February 21, 2007

I went back to school in my late 20s. There were a couple of classes where I had people in their 60s.

One note - (and I hope you read this) Go to the school you're thinking of going to, and ask to talk to someone in their Adult Learner Center (most schools have one.) This person can counsel you a bit and help you transition to and from a scholastic position (full or part time.)
posted by filmgeek at 2:00 PM on February 21, 2007

My mom went back in her late twenties, got her PhD when I was 14. My Aunt went back at fifty, will be walking this Spring to accept her Master's degree in History. Go for it!
posted by Sara Anne at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2007

Go for it! When I was doing my undergrad, there was a dude who lived across the hall from me who was roughly 10 years older than I was (i was a senior) and he was one of the coolest people on my floor, as well as some of my classes. He'd been in the "real world" long enough to know what he wanted, and to have a colorful background. He was also down-to-earth and realistic.

You have the advantage on your side of really *wanting* to go to school and to learn - that is usually lacking in most people who skip from high school merrily off to college without any thought.

I've taken a few classes since undergrad days, and while nervous ahead of time about sticking out or whatever, those anxieties melted away during the initial class and I felt more confident about myself and my academic abilities.

Good luck!!
posted by kuppajava at 2:13 PM on February 21, 2007

Go for it. I'm 31 and this is my first semester back after dropping out of college in my 20s. I'm a much better student this time around. I've also noticed that my life experience brings a depth to my education that I didn't have before.

Regarding the ADD, I'm in the same boat. My medication has enabled me to come back to school and feel competent.

Don't overlook scholarships. There is no harm in applying. Free money is your friend.

Email is in profile if you want to chat more. Best wishes to you!
posted by luminous phenomena at 2:17 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I knew lots of "older than average" students in college. The important thing is to be at a college that supports and encourages non-traditional students. For example, some universities require all first year students to live in the dorms. Such a school is clearly not for you.
posted by ilsa at 3:12 PM on February 21, 2007

i'm sure it will be fantastic for you. honestly, i do, and it think it's great that you're doing it.

just be careful of one thing: it's horrible to generalize, i know, but every single adult ed student that i, personally, have had classes with have been... incredibly distracting. those that i've encountered have used their age and "experience" to one-up both the other, younger students, and, in some cases, the professor herself. what results are tedious (though certainly not lacking in conviction...), off-track tirades that perhaps make certain other, younger students who may only be in their twenties but have studied the material in question much longer and to a much greater degree to spend the entire two hours of class dreaming up creative ways to disembowel you. take it from one who knows.

having lived in a san diego drug den in 1974 does not, in and of itself, qualify one to make sweeping and essentializing statements about about the influence of Lacanian psychoanalysis on feminist discourse. oh no, it does not. life experience, while enriching and occasionally interesting to others is not. always. pertinent. sometimes one's very deep and important thoughts on the nature of the world are best kept to oneself.

that said, i have no reason to suspect that you are, in fact, a loud-mouthed rube yourself, so it's probably not an issue at all. but if you can imagine yourself taking serious issue with deferring to someone ten years your junior... perhaps seek therapy or something, just as a courtesy.
posted by wreckingball at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2007

My best work buddy is 48 and graduated from college in 1999. My mom was in her 50s when she got her degree. Both can expect 20-plus-year careers based on their academic study.

I'm 28, and although I got my undergrad degree six years ago I'm taking an intro-level college course this term in a subject that interests me. With just a few extra years of life experience, I feel that I'm getting much more out of this class than I did out of any classes my first time around. Even on really abstract, esoteric topics, I'm finding connections to real life experience in this class -- and most of these experiences I hadn't had yet the first time around.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:22 PM on February 21, 2007

Just to jump in and nth everybody else : I turned 40 a few weeks ago, and start uni for the first time on Monday. I might be lucky in that the place I'm attending has a good rep as a place for mature-aged students (particularly in the Business / Humanities / Human Services schools), but the information and support available has been fantastic - the admissions staff, the faculty, support services, the student guild; everybody seems to be doing everything they can to make this work for us.

And I don't say that lightly. 20+ years in "The Job" - where the last 8 sucked mightily - made me extremely cynical about "help" and "support" from the structure around me. This feels like it's going to be sooooo different; a nice refreshing honest change. Of course, I might feel differently in 6 months time...

So, sign up for everything that the admissions centre offers for mature entry; once in, sign up for everything in the orientation sessions; take advantage of all the freebies and support they offer; realise that you bring a lot that others don't have, but also know nothing (which is part of the reason I chose science rather than something related to my job, like engineering or IT - that, and the lure of money, loose women, and diamond-studded Rolls-Royces ;-); and get ready to knuckle down and do it. You seem to be in a unique position where you already know a lot of that - and also know why you didn't last time around.

There's a lot to be said for "proving it to yourself". I don't know that it's a good reason to do something per se, but if you've got an interest to explore and follow and an aim to strive for, it can certainly provide added drive. And, in your case, even if you do for some reason strive and fail, you're still better off than you were before.

At a session I attended the other day they kept hammering the point that uni is all about opportunities, and that discovering the path you initially chose isn't for you isn't necessarily the end of the path - you're in, you've got some credit up, and now you know a lot more detail about the courses everybody else around you is doing, well, maybe one of those is for you? The options never stop appearing, only your ability to take them.

To home in on what ontic and wreckingball said about mature-age students being distracting (I'm picturing Grandpa Simpson's pointless onion story there ;-) : I had a friendly chat about that to the course co-ordinator and one of the lecturers the other day. Both agreed that can be a problem, but reckon they're just as likely to get it from the smartarse 17-year-olds as from an oldie - they're pretty adept at channelling it into a useful discussion for the class or a later tutorial, and a real-life connection or question makes it easier.

Personally, I think I'll find all the 17-year-old girlies much more distracting than anyone else will find me ;-)

FWIW, I'm the only mature-age student in my classes - everyone else seems to be straight out of school, or maybe with a single year of uni under their belt. This also means I can head to the campus bar to get away when I need to, although the downside is I'll be surrounded by all the older business and psych students ;-)
posted by Pinback at 6:07 PM on February 21, 2007

Martin Sheen is a college freshman- and he's 65.

I'm 40-something and I would go back in a NY minute if I had the cash.
posted by wfc123 at 8:09 PM on February 21, 2007

finding.perdita: "I'm concerned that you think that you "need" a degree in order to prove something to yourself. I don't know what it's like in Canada, but by the time you're our age, a degree doesn't really give you an advantage in the work environment as it's all about experience. Needing to learn new stuff is one thing and doesn't involve quitting your job, but unless you need a degree to do what you want to do, then please don't just go off and quit to do a degree course just to prove to yourself that you're smart!!! There are plenty of stupid people with degrees and plenty of smart people without degrees. And you sound like one of the latter group."

Why, thank you. Being without credentials is something I learned to accept about the time I turned 30, but it's not something I've ever embraced. For some reason, this is something I've wanted really badly and just never thought it might be possible. I'm still not sure it's possible, but the possibility that it's possible is really exciting. I really want to accomplish this.

I'm meeting with a program advisor tomorrow. The replies here have been so super-helpful, I can hardly believe it. I'll report back and then see if I can't mark some best answers (I'd like to mark everyone!)
posted by loiseau at 8:28 PM on February 21, 2007

My Grandmother will be finishing up her BA this year. She is 89.

She really enjoys the history and English courses, but doesn't care much for Spanish.

Good luck!
posted by jazzkat11 at 10:47 PM on February 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

adding another quick anecdote to the pile:

My mum went to uni at age 30. She had a four year old (me) and a newborn. Because she was a raising a family, she studied part time, but thirteen years later she got her Masters in Psychology and commenced her counselling career at age 43.
posted by prettypretty at 7:20 PM on February 22, 2007

Prettypretty, I have a friend whose psychologist mom just told me the same thing. She didn't take her first university course until she was 32; she'd had two other careers already.

I got some more information from the school, I have one more form to fill out, and then it's just to figure out the job/workload/finance situation... but this feels really right, and it's so nice to have something positive to look forward to. (I've been heartbroken over someone, so I needed it!)

I'm so glad I asked! This has been a huge boost. Thank you!
posted by loiseau at 9:18 PM on February 22, 2007

Well, I just thought I'd update that I found out I didn't get accepted. So I guess it's a non-issue!
posted by loiseau at 4:40 PM on April 30, 2007

Aww. Are you still pursuing it though?
posted by divabat at 7:14 PM on June 5, 2007

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