Getting into grad school...late.
April 11, 2008 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I recently turned 30 and have been regretting the fact that I never got my Master's. Now that I have been out of college for about 8 years, how do I go about getting back in?

I have looked into going to grad school for a Master's in English off and on over the past few years, but never seriously pursued it for various reasons. Hitting 30 is making me realize that these wheels need some traction or they'll never stop spinning.

The main problems I see are: I have been working in IT since getting out of college; I don't have many writing examples left over from school and I haven't been doing literary-analysis-type writing in the interim (all schools obviously want relevant writing samples); and I've not kept in touch with my professors from college, and I don't know who I would ask for relevant letters of recommendation.

What can I do to overcome these obstacles? Has anyone out there been able to get into grad school years after finishing undergrad?
posted by m0nm0n to Education (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any English-degree-specific advice, but I will say that having worked between undergrad and grad school is a HUGE asset as you'll be putting the degree in more of a career perspective and will be much less likely to burn out (which does even happen in master's programs when people enter straigth from undergrad).
posted by kittyprecious at 7:37 AM on April 11, 2008

I was in a similar boat, and it was much easier to get into grad school than I thought it would be. Talk to the English departments at the schools you’re considering. They can put you in touch with students in the program and they’ll be a wealth of information and help. I think there are also tutors or coaches you can hire to help with the process, but I bet you don’t need it.

And spin the IT thing to your advantage, did it make you want something more creative? Did it leave you plenty of time to read?

Good luck!
posted by cestmoi15 at 7:45 AM on April 11, 2008

No specific advise on an English degree, but in my own case I finished my undergrad (Math & Computer Science) education in 1981, taking a job immediately after.

Didn't pursue an advanced degree until 1998 when I applied to - and was accepted - in an MSc Quantitative Finance programme.

I agree fully with others upthread; it's all about how you present this gap. And, of course, interest. In my case I've got a passion for finance that so impressed the folks at the University I attended for my Masters they not only gave me entry into the programme, but offered me a part time job after I finished (when fellow students asked me questions during our labs I just couldn't stop helping so the Department Chairwoman thought I should get paid ...)
posted by Mutant at 7:52 AM on April 11, 2008

It's no problem, assuming the following things: you have the funds to foot the bill yourself, you live near a decent amount of schools, and you have time to get your application in order.

You're probably not going to get a plum graduate assistant position or a lot of extra funding opportunities right away, so that's why having the money yourself helps. You're probably not going to have a great chance of getting into prestigious program X, so that's why not being as choosy helps. You might have to prepare a good writing sample or two and get creative about references, so that's why you should take your time on the application. Otherwise, you'll be fine. Lots of people do this.

For letters of rec, just try to spread them out a bit. Only ask for one from your current workplace, unless the second person is really compelling for some reason. If you know an alum from any of the schools, that's an excuse to ask that person (even if that person isn't particularly involved in the school and doesn't have a particularly relevant relationship to you).

For writing samples, see what you can dig up from your undergrad days. If you really have nothing, that's OK. Take advantage of your lack of constraint and sit down and write something really targeted just toward getting you into the program. If they ask for multiple samples without much requirements on all of them, consider a tech writing sample as one of yours. It'll show that you can at least write clearly and succinctly, and in an area that was relevant to your time away from school.
posted by aswego at 7:55 AM on April 11, 2008

Not sure if writing/english includes journalism, but I remember seeing something on northwestern about a program oriented towards those interested in the intersection of journalism/programming.
posted by ejaned8 at 8:29 AM on April 11, 2008

Also, have you thought about a MS in Technical Communication? Since you have background in IT and have skill at writing it might be another avenue of exploration. Some MS programs may not require a GRE but want to see a portfolio of work and if you do not presently have a portfolio of work you can compile or create one while you are dealing with the app cycle.

There have been plenty of people who have gotten their advanced degrees after working a span of time so do not panic too much about that. There are many universities that are reaching out to older students for their graduate programs.
posted by jadepearl at 12:26 PM on April 11, 2008

Best answer: I'm the English dept. graduate coordinator at a SUNY four-year college; we see students like you in the applicant pool all the time. Some general suggestions:

1. You will probably have a much easier time getting into a school like mine--i.e., a comprehensive college/university with a terminal MA or MAT program--than a doctoral program.

2. Take one or more graduate-level courses as a non-matriculated student. Besides clarifying for yourself if this is what you really want to do, this tactic will a) give you some more recent grades, b) make it possible to get one or more academic letters of rec, and c) with any luck, allow you to come up with a more recent writing sample.

3. My kind of campus is pretty tolerant of non-traditional letters of rec. Try to find supervisors willing to write for you.

4. You probably need to take the GREs, including the subject exam. Even if you're applying to a college that doesn't require GREs, taking them can be a good-faith sign of seriousness.

5. Why do you want an MA, aside from the fact that you've turned thirty? No, don't answer that question here, but you'll need to come up with a scholarly or professional reason when you're writing the statement of purpose.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:08 PM on April 11, 2008

Seconding that you should think about why you want this degree. Do you think it will help qualify you to do some job that you want? Or some other reason? (Remember that you can read and write on your own without accruing huge debt. Advanced academic work in the humanities can be intrinsically satisfying but you should think realistically about whether that satisfaction alone is worth however much it will cost you.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:34 PM on April 11, 2008

I started my MA program when I was 33, after being in the workforce for years. Compared to the younger students, who had gone directly from undergrad to grad, I felt like I was able to handle the workload better. I watched lots of the younger students have mini-breakdowns from stress, time management issues and conflicts with faculty and their advisers.

Those of us who were in the professional workforce generally know how to manage our time. We are used to working 40 or more hours a week already. Lots of us have figured out how to deal with difficult personality types in work settings. Most of us have already sowed our wild oats and gotten all of the partying and socializing out of our systems and are ready to buckle down and work hard.

I feel like being older and having worked for years after your BA is a big advantage.
posted by pluckysparrow at 4:44 PM on April 11, 2008

Reading past threads on this it looks like you may have a better chance being a "non-traditional student" (aged over 25). You might even bag funding.
posted by drea at 7:00 AM on April 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers and suggestions, everyone. Getting a Master's has always been a goal of mine, on both a personal and professional level. Literature has been and will forever be my first love, and I don't see myself remaining satisfied in IT forever. Plus, I would like to get into teaching, which I don't see happening with my BA and work history.

Again, thanks for the answers. They've been very reassuring.
posted by m0nm0n at 9:24 AM on April 12, 2008

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