Midlife crisis - what to do about school
July 18, 2007 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Where is age 38 in regards to college and professional career tracks in the US? Does this tip towards the young or old side of the fulcrum?

Short story is I'm being divorced. I'm coming out with minimal assets, plus obligations to my 4-year old son. I will have income from self-employment that requires little effort (though I have no idea how many more years I can keep milking that). I have 2 or 3 years of lopsided college work and 15 years of experience in a science field (one that's very tight jobwise), and no degree yet.

In short I'm worried about finding myself at age 55 working as a greeter at Wal-Mart or handing you burgers through the window at BK.

So my questions are:

1. How much of a disadvantage am I going to have seeking post-college employment at age 40-42? Am I making a late start here?

2. I am dreadfully ignorant about grants and scholarships for US colleges. What are the chances I can make use of those, especially if I have prior accomplishments in my field? Is it pretty much easy for anyone at all to get student loans or are those as hard to get as mortgages? Can I count on work study for extra cash? I have no idea how much of the college expense I will be able to nullify or defer.

3. Do any larger colleges offer "old student" housing that's cheaper than the rental market, or will I be better off in the rental market? I'm concerned about having to live in an crackhouse-infested apartment complex just to get cheap rent while attending school.

Sorry if these are stupid questions; I really know little about these things.
posted by chef_boyardee to Education (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
re: #2, here's a quick guide I wrote on another question as to how to get your loans set up. It was geared toward graduate school, but it should work the same way. If you and your ex-husband filed your taxes jointly last year than you'll probably not get as much aid. But once you file alone, you'll have less income "on the books" and you'll get more aid.
posted by k8t at 10:01 AM on July 18, 2007

re #3 most colleges have "family housing" but it varies as to if it is cheaper or not. At my university it is MUCH cheaper. A 2 bedroom in family housing (which you can only get if you have a kid) is ~$850/month including utilities. A 2 bedroom off-campus is ~$1500+ without utilities. In larger cities this may be different though.
posted by k8t at 10:04 AM on July 18, 2007

1. You're not going to get younger, so it really doesn't matter if you're at a disadvantage or not. You'll be fine. There are plenty of people in your position. The bonus is that now that you're over 40 you cannot lawfully be discriminated against based on your age. Woohoo!

2. You'll be fine. There are plenty of grant and loan opportunities if you apply yourself to learning about them and taking advantage. Contact the school's financial aid office.

3. I'm not aware of any law that allows university housing to discriminate on the basis of age. If you want to live in the dorms, you're not likely to be turned away on account of your age.
posted by The World Famous at 10:05 AM on July 18, 2007

This thread had some excellent stuff in it.

Short answer: No, you are not too old, nor will you be when you come out. Yes, there are colleges with specific programs for non-traditional-age students. Smith College has one (though you have to be female to attend - are you?) - and don't discount private colleges on the basis of tuition; they often huge endowments, which allows them to give more financial aid than a state system school. Smith's program is for women who have had some college, but haven't finished.

I went to college at the usual age, and could not have afforded my state school; the private college I went to offered bucketloads of aid.
posted by rtha at 10:41 AM on July 18, 2007

Also, the 15 years you have in a technical field will help you. Looks good on a resume. Employers are looking for grown-ups; if you were interviewing with me, your age would not be held against you. Because come on, 38 is not that old*.

It might help if you could tell us what field you put 15 years into, and what it is you'd like to study, and what sort of work you'd like to get into.

*Full disclosure: I am 38.
posted by Mister_A at 11:19 AM on July 18, 2007

Think about which schools you could go to without relocating (assuming that you want to stay in same area). Call up their admissions office and ask to speak with someone who deals with "nontraditional age" students. They will be able to help you with specifics of their programs, financial aid, housing in the area etc. Some schools have a whole separate administrative category for older students, with lots of support and tailored resources; there are a lot of people who come back to school after a long break.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:23 AM on July 18, 2007

I would strongly encourage you to cast a cold, hard eye on postsecondary education. Get someone to total up the real costs of going back to school, including debt service, versus the actual increased income you could expect in your chosen field. Will your increased income over the next 27 years to age 65--keeping in mind that your income may decrease for a few years while you're in school--be more than the cost of tuition plus debt service?

I've looked into it myself, and in my situation, I calculated that "going back to school" would be a big net loss. Your situation may be different, of course, but the cost/benefit ratio is something I'd look at dispassionately before going any further. In particular, I'd be skeptical of anything that requires a Master's unless you're pretty sure it will lead to employment and you'll get top pay.
posted by gimonca at 11:50 AM on July 18, 2007

Is there any possible way you can get a job in a company that offers tuition reiumbursement and go back to school part-time? Perhaps even online? That's what I did (at age 30) and it saved me a ton in student loans and prevented possible angst from being student-poor again (I did that once, complete with crackhouse apartment - I was too old for that shit).

Larger companies are more likely to offer tuition benefits, as are universities and colleges. Good luck - you're never too old to go back to school.
posted by acridrabbit at 11:51 AM on July 18, 2007

You might want to consider an executive MBA program. You can keep working and you'll have a masters, instead of a bachelors. It depends on your career goals, of course. But it might be a better solution for you.
posted by acoutu at 2:04 PM on July 18, 2007

I'm fairly certain than any reputable MBA program would require an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite for admission.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 2:54 PM on July 18, 2007

Many executive MBAs (from established schools) require only 2 years of post-secondary, in addition to around 10 years of progressive work experience. (By established schools, I'm not talking about some of the for-profit "universities" that have popped up.)
posted by acoutu at 3:44 PM on July 18, 2007

Without trying to derail, care to list a few?
posted by SeizeTheDay at 4:05 PM on July 18, 2007

I'm in Canada, so I don't know that my recommendations would be currently relevant for those in the US. Someone with knowledge of US schools would be in a better position, since I finished my MBA a few years ago. However, the OP (or you) could poke around the EMBA programs in the relevant city. Some of the schools do not come right out and say that you don't *always* require a four-year degree.
posted by acoutu at 5:00 PM on July 18, 2007

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