Going back to school (university) -- Your experience

My first thread authorship! I hope I don’t get “in the shit” on this.

For years, I’ve been toying with the idea of going back to university. I have a BS (Mech Eng) with a couple of fairly useless minors, but for a variety of reasons which are beyond the scope of this thread, not to mention tedious and somnolence-inducing for anyone who isn’t receiving more than US$100/hour to listen and nod attentively, I’ve never really been all that pleased with that accomplishment and the subsequent, job-hopping, cubical-dwelling, eyestrain-inducing, multi-hour-meeting-attending, frustration-enhancing, CAD-software-cursing, paperwork-drowning career path.

So anyway, I’m curious about the experience of others who have gone back to school, or gone to college after pursuing a career, or otherwise have had unconventional college careers. I’m particularly curious about people who went to school not (strictly) for higher salary or more prestige, but instead because they had a passion for a field or wanted to make some kind of change in their life.

Here are some questions to seed your responses, which you can answer in no particular order, or not at all, according to your preferences, typing speed, and volume of hallucinatory voices:

[li]What made you decide or what impetus drove you to go to school?[/li]
[li]What was your goal (BS/BA, MS/MA/MFA, DS/PhD, professional, perpetual student) and in what field? Did you end up working in that field or using your education?[/li]
[li]What kind of sacrifices (pay, quality of life, free time, choice of drug habit, et cetera) did you make in order to go to school?[/li]
[li]How did you finance school and living expenses (pt/ft work, loans, blackmail), and how did that work out for you in retrospect?[/li]
[li]What kind of social experiences did you have? Did you or were you welcomed to participate in extracurricular activities? Did you feel out-of-place?[/li]
[li]Did your previous experience prepare you better or differently in comparison with students who came straight from high school?[/li]
[li]Did you have supportive family or friends? How important was that in maintaining your will to finish your program?[/li]
[li]Would you do it again? Do you regret it? Is there something you wish you’d done instead? [/li]
[li]Anything else you want to complain, gripe, moan, groan, or otherwise comment about regarding school?[/li][/ul]

{musing}I wonder if anyone is going to bother responding to this?
{response}Yeah, people love to talk about themselves. If feeds their egos.


Oh, you’ll proabably get lots of responses. However, you would get more responses if the thread were located in IMHO or MSIMS. GQ is more oriented toward definite factual answers.

I’ll just move this over to IMHO for you.

[ /Moderator Mode ]

Hmmm…do you think people would be more likely to reply if you skip the implication that to do so would be egotistical?

Sure, what the hay. I’m stuck in my room during a blizzard with the heat not working :eek: 'cept for the space heater in my room, so I’ll play.

Just some background first: I got a BA in psych, worked for 2 years, then went back to school for a BA in music (my true passion).

Incidentally here is a thread I started before I went back to school to hear some opinions on it. (well, it actually had more to do with my mom’s opinions on it).

  1. My true passion was music. It always had been. I let myself sorta get sidetracked (with the help of my parents :wink: ) with my first degree. I then got an office job in a cubicle making pretty decent money but everyday I would get to work and have this nagging feeling that I was just in the wrong place. Finally one day in January I was browsing the net during some down time at work looking at various music schools and that very day I decided I was going to be back in school for music the coming fall.

  2. My goal was simply to get me back on track and into the music world. It turned out I got a BA. I don’t want to use the phrase “end up” quite yet, and likely not for a long time, but the job I got is, well sorta related, or at least related to the “going back to school” part. I did very well there and the undergraduate director was recently also given the directorship of a new residential college (Arts, Culture, and Humanities). So he asked me if I’d be interested in being the manager of the building which serves as the Center. It’s a building with a theatre/performance space, art gallery, cafe, and nice practice rooms with pianos, and so that’s where I currently am.

  3. Well, money. My life was a good one really (if I didn’t love music so much and hate working in a cubicle so much). I was doing pretty well there and I believe I probably could’ve worked my way pretty far up. I had the best benefits, medical, 401k, all the good stuff. Had a good apartment in a hip area of brooklyn. Financial stability is a pretty tough thing to give up, especially since I’ve hardly had it since.

  4. Loans mostly. And I took out lots. I had done really well though and so by my 3rd year I received a full scholarship. Still, I took out the maximum in loans for living expenses and I also taught private music lessons. In retrospect, well, I have a lot of debt. I won’t kid you, the debt sucks. I pay off my loans monthly and it’s likely I’ll be paying them off for many more years to come. They do work with you though a lot. You can pretty easily request a forbearance if you get out and fall on tough financial times. And there are many payment plans that you can opt for which will allow you to pay on a graduating scale so that as you continue through life and presumably attain greater financial stability you can pay more. Still, it’s a lot of money and it will always be a burden on me.

  5. Hmmm… definitely not the same social experience I had the first time around. I did make some good friends and had some good times, but yeah, I must admit, having had about 4-5 years or so on most of my classmates did make a difference socially. In some ways it actually made me more popular, but I never really felt in the crowd. I felt like I was existing somewhat independently of the general undergrad student culture.

  6. Absolutely. I had already learned how to beat the system. Well, not “beat” but “succeed in”. Succeeding in school is it’s own skill that you have to learn. I naturally knew how to form coherent arguments in order to defend my theses better than anyone else on papers. I knew how to prepare for exams. I understood the professor’s points on a deeper level and so my questions had more depth. Hey, you’re older and those few years of maturity really does deepen your understanding of the world in a profound way. I really felt like I was working independently of the rest of the class actually.

  7. Nope. See the thread I linked to above. It was tough having to accept that I was doing it for myself only. I love my parents and really only always wanted their approval and pride in anything I did, and I’m not sure if that ever truly goes away.

  8. I regret some of the details involved with the decision (which school, areas of focus, etc.) but I don’t regret the decision itself. I love the expertise I now have about music. I would never have been happy in that old office.

  9. Hmmm… I think I’ll put this one off for another time.

I will say that I do believe if you are unhappy with your current situation, change it. School was the way that worked for me (to a degree) (no pun intended). Learning new things is never a waste. It feels really good to know a lot about stuff. The money will come, but at least you’ll be happy while you’re making the money.

Thanks for the opportunity to feed my ego a bit :wink:

  1. I thought it might help me professionally.

  2. I went back to get my MS and I have indeed worked in that field ever since (at least some aspect of the field.

  3. Probably the biggest sacrifice was that I went from living in a comfortable place at a very reasonable price to literally a hole in the ground for outrageous rent

  4. I had savings from my previous job and I took a job with the university to help make ends meet.

  5. Surprisingly enough I had no problem with social experiences. Even though I was older than many (if not all) of my school mates, they usually asked me to take part in the different social activities they were involved with (on occasion even setting me up with girls that were more my age) but because of my age, I was often invited to the instructors activities also. I never really felt out of place.

  6. For the most part my previous experiences were quite helpful. I really appreciated what they were saying in the lectures because I knew what I was missing. Also though, since I had been in the “Real World” sometimes I thought that some of the theory was a bit of hog wash. And I was required to take a stats class that I might have understood straight from under grad, but I certainly did not understand 15 years later.

  7. A lack of understanding perhaps, but for the most part there was support.

  8. I suppose I would probably not do it again, since I have already done it and I don’t see much point in a Phd in my field. But I don’t regret it for a moment. I had a delightful time.

  9. No complaints or gripes. Actually, I am very happy I did it when I did. I got in and out just before the price of university went through the ceiling.

D’oh! Stupid lack of social skills. :dubious:


List of questions daunting. Will simply tell tale.

Began to attend Brandeis University in 1985, right after graduating high school, because they had a reputation for a good math department. It was my parents’ wish that I major in that.

However, many of the professors were so bad at leading a class that they would just come right out and admit it on the first day of class. Some didn’t even speak any English at all. Turns out the reputation was as a good math research facility. (What does that mean, especially in 1985, with the PCs back then and no serious mainframe on campus? Better pencils? More reliable batteries for your HP calculator?) Anyhoo, my bane as a student is that I can’t abide a bad professor, and don’t do work for them. Yes, I know, it only hurts me. Whadayagonnado?

At the time I began to attend, my family was coming apart at the seams. As a result, I was not stellar academic material, nearly flunked out my first semster, and spent at least one other. During a period of refelction, I found my young mind thinking this way: Shouldn’t my major in college be something that I enjoy being tested and challenged on? I like math, I engage with math to a degree that most people find psychotic, I like hearing about advances in the field. But did I care if I could prove how much I knew? I did not. What did I feel that way about? Music. I convinced my parents to allow me to get a Music minor, then a double major, then a Music major with a Math minor, which was dropped unceremoniously after I failed Topology.

By the middle of my Junior year, my parents had separated and one of the things that got caught in the middle was my tuition. My father made so much money as an actuary (What’s an actuary? It’s where they put dead actors… ba-dum PUM!) that I had never qualified for any financial aid, and the FA department was uninclined to believe that I suddenly had no access to funds. In October 1988, my senior year, I was told by the school to leave.

This was devastating to me. I had worked hard and overcome my earlier failings, and I was so close to graduation. My professors were sympathetic, and allowed me to continue into the spring semester, in the hope that I would be reinstated, which I never was. I went into a mental tailspin. What was worse was that my parents had always assured me that they would support me so I could focus on school: no job while studying. I had worked summers at the creative arts camp I had gone to as a child, and done some piano lessons and the like, but I was thrust into a receding Boston economy with no degree, no job history, no demostrable job skills, and a $15,000 unpaid debt in my name on my credit report. Lived at home until the mortgage got caught in the middle of my parents’ separation, and we were booted out. Stopped talking to Dad for five years.

Bounced from job to job, always wondering what to put on the application regarding my education, always wondering how I was going to convince a landlord I was not a deadbeat, lots of the work in informal education settings, getting gigs as a musician and an actor, reading voraciously to keep up in the fields of real interest to me, and taking night classes where I could, including an intro to comp sci course at Harvard, where I decided I would take a hint from the fact that I always became the de facto go-to computer guy in every office I ever worked at.

Reconciled in 1995 with Dad, who paid off my college debt (higher than a year’s salary at that point for me), leaving me free to ponder the future. The April Fools’ Day blizzard of 1997 convinced me to move out of the Northeast, and a detailed search of places led me to conclude that the widest array of choices of schools where I might be able to transfer in my music credits and switch majors to computer science (you don’t need a degree in music unless you plan to teach it) were in California: Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The latter would have been my preference, but LA seemed to offer more choices. So the plan was to finish school in LA, and move up north. A wife and house in Downey later, that’s not what happened, but that’s a different story.

Anyhoo, I enrolled at Cal State Domingues Hills (hey, it’s what I could afford) in 1999, majoring in CS. Seemed like a sweet deal at the time. Such a switch in fields I pretty much had to do my whole college career over again. Noticed that I was much better prepared mentally for the task. Wondered why the hell we send people to college so young in the first place, hell, they barely have a clue until they’re 20 anyway. Maybe we should promote a two-year, Amish-style rumspringa period right after high shcool. Then, those with the ambition can go on to college after finding out for themselves how full of shit the university graduates who claim you don’t really need a degree in this world really are.

Worked all day and attended classes at night. Very hard. Very, very hard. Didn’t have time to do much extracurricular stuff or socialize greatly, but got along wuite well with fellow students. Half of them were OLDER than me.

January 2002. Pressure really getting to me. Grades sliding, marriage tense. What goes? Shitty but much-higher-paying-than-anything-else-I’d-ever-had job coordinating education programs at the California Science Center. I had risen through the ranks by virtue of everyone above me being fired or leaving. Job had given me contact with JPL, whom I aspired to work with (found out later: with no PhD, forget it). Worked on campus maintaining databases for the last year until graduation in 2003, at age 35. Moved out into the world in what one of many employers who couldn’t hire me (but one of the few who was still in business) called the worst IT job market in two decades. Baaaaaaaaad summer.

Since it ended, I’ve been teaching Computer Science at a private school in Anaheim. I beat out 200 people, mostly out of work programmers, engineers, and IT techs, for the job, because I was the only one who knew how to teach. Which is funny, because all during my job hunt I’d been dope-slapping myself for spending all those years in education, rather than programming stuff.

I’m resting now. the last year and a half of school was really draining. The instant I graduated, though, I felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders. Would I do it again? I am. I am weighing my options for grad school, and plan to start next fall somewhere locally, maybe CSULB or UCI. Not so sure about the medium-term future of CS, but I’m leaning toward something in Bioinformatics, maybe.

I spent a decade being jealous of my friends who had degrees and career paths. Now I have my degree, and all my friends are second-guessing what they want to do. All are contempating a career switch that would entail more education. So I finally feel like I’m on the same playing field as everyone else.

Just for the record, I returned to school (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) for a Master’s Degree in Library & Information Science when I was 30.

I wanted to be taken seriously as a professional, besides having the job security and higher pay that comes along with being a professional.

My goal was a Master’s in Library and Information Science. I just got it this December and was already working in a library, although I’m applying to others.

In a sense, I’m already getting a little more respect – my ideas get listened to – but the paycheck doesn’t reflect the new degree. If I jump to another position, though, it should.

Pretty much quality of life and free time went down the tubes when I went back to school. When I started in 2002, I had an almost-3-year old and a 6 year old, plus was married and working 20 hrs/wk. I went from some leisure time to none, 7-8 hours of sleep to night to 5, stuff like that. My house got dirtier, too.

I applied for and received a librarian development grant from the state of Illinois to the tune of $7500. That paid for some of it. My workplace, a public library, paid my fees and books. That covered some of it. I ponied up about $3000 of my own, too. That came from the family’s savings, with the hopes that I’d eventually make enough to replace what I took. As a married person, I already had a place to live.

Things worked out better than I thought. I was afraid I’d have to take a loan at some point, but we managed to cover it. I do owe 2-3 years of (paid) work in an Illinois library in order to pay back the state, though.

I had very little social life connected with school. I was in a program where I could travel to school one day a week for classes, which I did. By the end of the long, exhausting day, I just wanted to get home to my family and collapse. I did make one lasting friend from the experience but joined no school organizations, etc. I just didn’t want to cope with any more responsibilities than I already had, and hitting the pubs would have been both expensive and time-consuming, two resources I didn’t have. The school was good about having plenty of activities, mixers, etc. that I could have attended if I’d chosen to do so. I didn’t feel out of place, but then lots of people from my profession go back to get their MLIS, so the class was full of older students.

Well, there weren’t any undergrads in my program, so let’s say: did my previous experience prepare me better than someone coming straight from undergrad? I’d have to say yes to that one. I had a double edge, though. I’d already done a master’s in English at UNLV, so I felt less pressure to make it as a grad student, since I’d already done it once. Plus, my life experience had taught me that procrastination is a bad way to go – family members can start vomiting, the printer breaks, etc. and then you’re screwed. I had lots of discipline and a better ability for writing than if I’d come straight from undergrad, and those things served me well.

My family and friends were very supportive, yes. My parents baby-sat my kids one day a week for 2 1/2 years so I could attend school. My co-workers were real cheerleaders for me, which was very sweet. Ultimately, though, I had to gut it out. Support is wonderful, but the will has to come from inside you, I think. At least it was that way for me. I deeply appreciate all the help I got, though, both tangible and intangible.

I’d do it again. I need the degree for the reasons mentioned above. I regret spending so much time on my homework instead of my kids; it feels like my second-born grew up in the blink of an eye while I was figuring out my homework. I only wish I’d done the MLIS earlier, before my kids were born.

My advice would be: don’t give up. Never give up. Keep your head down, take each day as it comes, be disciplined, get through it. You’ll thank yourself later, even if it’s not a fun existence day to day. Be proud of yourself for taking this step and don’t beat yourself up if you can’t manage everything you had before, plus school, to the same level. Oh, and here’s one last thing: if you’re having problems, car died, kids are sick, whatever, communicate with your profs. Tell them what’s going on, ask them for help if you need it, work out a schedule or an alternate plan. Most profs are very understanding of returning students’ lives, as long as they’ve been good students before and are obviously trying hard.

Good luck to you.

Mrs. Furthur

I’m an actuary and have been working in the actuarial field for 20 years. Three years ago I went back to university to do a law degree. I’m studying part-time as a distance student. I’ve just completed the third year of my law degree. I have another two and a half years to go.

Basically I wanted the challenge/stimulation of learning something new. Law appealed to me, and will be a useful additional skill for my actuarial career. It could also form the basis for a future change of career into legal/actuarial consulting.

Financially, there have been no sacrifices. My current employer is paying 100% of my costs. There have obviously been sacrifices in terms of my time. Even so, I’m finding that I work and study far more efficiently as a mature age student and so the time commitment has not been too arduous.

As to social experiences - there are none. As a part-time distance student I rarely go to the campus, and when I do I get there, I do my stuff and get out again ASAP. The other students doing the law degree with me are the same. They’re all working full-time in other jobs and aren’t interested in the “social” side of university life.

It might help a bit if you focused your question by telling us what your potential plans are for returning to school. In particular, are you thinking about returning to school for graduate work in ME? Or an MBA? Law degree? Or another undergrad degree – following your love of interpretive dance or Socratic philosophy, perhaps? The experiences of the students pursuing one of those degrees might be radically different from students pursuing another. Are you thinking about full-time of part-time? How long have you been out of school?

For me, I went back to school full-time about five years after getting my undergrad ME degree. I had been going to school part-time in the intervening years to get my masters, and I decided it was time to get a PhD.

Possibly similar to your situation – or possibly not. I enjoyed doing engineering work, but I saw that, in my current situation, I’d either be on a management track (and thus wind up doing less and less engineering) or I’d get shunted onto a career technical track (which meant less respect and compensation). I thought I could cut through that conundrum by getting a PhD. In addition, I was interested in engineering education (still am, as a matter of fact). It also helped that the company I was working for was slowly restucturing to focus more on contract manufacturing and less on engineering – it was clearly time to move on, in any case.

PhD, and I’m still working in mechanical engineering. Not really in the area of my dissertation, but I wasn’t expecting to anyway.

Pay went down, and we (I’m married, but no kids) had to cut back on some of the “fun” things – limiting restaurant meals, vacations, things like that. My wife, however, took up some of the slack, and overall we probably had a take-home income of ~60%-70% of what we’d been making before.

As far as free time, the first semester was something of a shock – I was almost in over my head. With three classes plus research plus studying for qualifying exams plus struggling to regain good study habits I would up doing school-related work literally all day long, six days a week (I intentionally set aside one day to be school-free). After that – especially after the qualifying exam – the work load eased up, and I was down to a more manageable, say, 50-60 hours/week.

Graduate assistantships paid all tuition plus a modest stipend. If you’re planning on heading back for full-time graduate work in an engineering field, you’ve got an excellant chance of doing the same thing. Interpretive dance? Not so much.

Heh. There’s nothing quite like the shared misery of studying for the qualifying exam to promote bonding. Seriously, though, this depends. I was married, and a bit older than my peers, and in a large department, so the experience certainly wasn’t like living in the freshman dorm. However, I did get involved wiht a study group from the get-go, which was good socially. Also, a large part of the PhD program is doing research, and I was working in a lab with 5-8 other people. We’d do extracurricular things from time-to-time (although, it should be noted, the younger unmarried students went out drinking much more often that I did).

Let’s amend this to “…straight from undergraduate.” I must say, it’s a bit more difficult to get back into the habit of studying when you’ve been out of practice for a few years. It’s easy to lose habits and knowledge if you don’t practice them. On the other hand, I think I was better prepared in some aspects, having had more experience and practice writing reports, and giving presentations, and ordering ideas and such.

Sure – my wife went back to school at the same time, so we were both pursuing the same goal for a while.

SUre; I’d do it again. Going back to school opened up some oportunities for me… but also effectively closed the door on other opportunities. You need to approach a decision like this with your eyes open.

OK. Answering in order:

  1. Basically, same reason as you. I was in a horribly mind-numbing career field that I increasingly hated. When I was on maternity leave, I thought seriously about going back to school.

  2. Right now, I’m going for my BA in Communication/Journalism. Eventually, I hope to go to graduate school; I’m applying to my uni’s MS program this summer.

  3. Basically, there are two sacrifices. First is money. I’m not working, so that’s money we don’t have. Student aid helps some, but not as much as I’d make working. The other is time. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to spend with my family. I’m trying to balance things out so I have more, but there’re so many hours in a day. Y’know?

  4. Since I’m still going to school, I can’t answer as to the future. But for the moment, I’ve got a state grant and loans. The loans mostly go to living expenses, but those will have to be paid back eventually. Airman works, so that helps quite a bit, as well.

  5. Most of my social life at school has been pretty positive. As a non-traditional student, I tend to hang out with either professional organizations (like the radio station) or other groups of people with whom I have some common interest. With a few exceptions, I haven’t had any problems fitting in.

  6. My previous experiences have actually prepared me pretty well. I’ve got an excellent grasp of time management, and I’ve got enough of an idea of what I want to do that I can use that as motivation, as opposed to a younger person who may have no clue.

  7. So far, I’ve had a LOT of support from Airman and his family. My in-laws take the kid when I have a night class or late meeting, so that’s a huge relief. And Airman is my biggest cheerleader. My parents have been wonderful, too, in terms of moral support.

  8. Again, I’m still in school, so I can’t really say I “regret” doing this. Sure, I’ve had my bad days when I wonder why I’m doing this, but, for the most part, it’s been a good experience, and I’m glad I’m doing it.

  9. The only real gripe I’ve got is that the administration doesn’t really do enough for commuter students. Parking is a huge problem, and some of their other policies tend to favor students living on campus. What can I do? :shrug:


Well, I left out that information because I didn’t want this to turn into a Ask The Disgruntled Mechanical Design Engineer thread, but rather focus on other peoples’ experiences. But since you asked (and I’m not above feeding my own ego) :wink: :

My undergrad is Mechanical Engineer, with minors in Physics and Math. I’ve been out of school for 9 years, with (hold on, gotta use both hands to count) 6 permanent positions in various industries and some contracting here and there. Every company I have worked permanent for in the past is either out of business or closed/moved/outsourced the division or functional group I worked for. We’re not talking mom-n-pop job shops, either; industry leaders, Fortune 500s, you know the story. The current position is as stable as defense contracting gets, which is to say not very, and I’m not thrilled with either the specific work or the general nature of the industry, though I have seen some very cool things. (Yeah, I know; boo-fricken-hoo. You’re right, you’re right, you’re right.) I’ve been in grad school twice; once right after undergrad, and the other as a night program in Milwaukee. I dropped the programs for different reasons not pertaining to the classwork.

As for potential plans: they’re pretty flippin’ loose, right now, which is why I’m soliciting people for their experiences. MBA, law degree, or other professional certification is right out, I think. I’m more interested in the sciences, particularly physics and biology, but I’ve seen what’s happened to physics research in the post-Cold War environment, and I’ve been repeatedly warned off from pursuing any degree in the biological sciences; this isn’t an absolute, though, as (at least at times) I think I’d be a lot happier bartending and studying something interesting but ultimately unrewarding as a career as opposed to trying to make a living in a career in which I have only a fiscal interest. Other times, I think I should stick with, or at least build upon, my engineering education. Or, perhaps I should take up a study of Classic literature. Yeah, it’s a classical second adolescence, except I that missed out on most of the first.

And then there’s the days I think I should chuck it all, focus on my juggling, and live on the beach on some far off, mythical South Seas Island. Just like Robinson Crusoe.

It’s true. :rolleyes:

And now, you know, the rest, of, the story.

Oh, and much thanks to you and everyone who has responded so completely and with such candidness. It was far more than I actually expected to see. :cool:


I’m 33; I started law school five months ago.

What made you decide or what impetus drove you to go to school?

I had a BA and an MA in English Lit. After bouncing from office to office, I’d actually landed a pretty good job, maintaining the Web site at the newspaper, but I’d been doing it for three years and I was getting extremely bored. Also, the paper was doing massive “reorganization” on what seemed like a weekly basis, so I decided it was time to get out.

What was your goal (BS/BA, MS/MA/MFA, DS/PhD, professional, perpetual student) and in what field? Did you end up working in that field or using your education?

Goal is a law degree. Can’t say how it’s paid off, as it hasn’t yet.

What kind of sacrifices (pay, quality of life, free time, choice of drug habit, et cetera) did you make in order to go to school?

Free time. Being a first-year law student takes a major time commitment. Also, I’d been out of school for seven years, so this whole “homework” thing took some readjustment.

How did you finance school and living expenses (pt/ft work, loans, blackmail), and how did that work out for you in retrospect?

My LSAT score got me a full tuition waiver, and for living expenses I’ve got massive student loans. So far so good.

What kind of social experiences did you have? Did you or were you welcomed to participate in extracurricular activities? Did you feel out-of-place?

It’s been OK so far. I got married last summer, so my social life is mostly at home anyway, but the other students are friendly enough. They’re generally in their mid-20s. I get invited to the same get-togethers that everyone else is invited to; I just don’t usually go.

Did your previous experience prepare you better or differently in comparison with students who came straight from high school?

(Or in this case straight from undergrad…) Yes, very much so. I’m a far more disciplined, attentive, and thoughtful student than I was in college or even graduate school.

Did you have supportive family or friends? How important was that in maintaining your will to finish your program?

Haven’t finished yet, but yes, everyone’s been extremely supportive.

**Would you do it again? Do you regret it? Is there something you wish you’d done instead? **

Ask me in five years.

Anything else you want to complain, gripe, moan, groan, or otherwise comment about regarding school?

See above about homework; I really miss leaving the office and going straight into leisure mode. But that’s about it so far.

Hokay. Seems like you’re in a “I don’t like what I’m doing now, but I don’t quite know what I would like” position. If you’d like a bit of unsolicited advice, if I were you, I’d sit down and start listing out the things you like and dislike about what you’re doing now, then list the things you think you’d like about other possible career paths. Then try to find a career where you can use your previous experience and education to your advantage (this’d make a good IMHO thread, IMHO), so you’re not quite starting out from square one. For example, based on the little you’ve said, maybe something like a materials science career would interest you.

But at least you’re aware that a return to school can be a shock to the system. Cautionary tale: my uncle has a story probably very much like yours. He’s a mechanical design engineer specializing in seat belts. And he hates it. Some years ago, after his own son (my cousin) was in college, he decided to take the plunge. Screw it! Quit his job, went back to school, and pursued his one true love…forestry.

Now, I don’t know exactly what happened, but I do know that he lasted all of one semester. Dunno if it was the additional studying, or the age difference from his classmates, or the loss of salary, but come the next semester, he was back designing seat belts.

Ok, here’re my answers. I’m 38 and recieved my architectural engineering degree in Fall of 2000.

  1. Wanted to go back to school as I was working retail which involved not much pay for lots and lots of hours. Plus, didn’t have a degree of any sort yet and everyone in my family has one so I was the black sheep.

  2. Decided on a civil engineering degree (later refined to arch eng) and, yes, I’m working in the field. Dunno if I’m gonna stay with it tho’.

  3. Sacrifices, very little free time or sleep. I dont’s have a family so there was no uprooting involved. It took me a while to get back in the university. First, I figured out where I wanted to go, moved to that staet, worked for a year to get in-state tuition, went to a local community college to pull up my grades, and then finally entered my degree program. I worked the entire time I was in school and lived in a tiny effecieny apartment. I was broke but I hadn’t been making all that money beofre so the change wasn’t as huge as it would be for you.

  4. Financing: worked (did some work-study on campus plus grading and other retail jobs), got some grants, and took out loans. Also got some acedemic scholarships. Hmm, don’t think I would change much. The student loan payments aren’t bad (took out maybe $15,000 total).

  5. Social Experiences: I didn’t really do the shcool thing the first time I tried college so this time around I swore to myself I’d take full advantage. So I joined the engineering honor society and became an officer. And I joined the crew team (further contributing to my lack of sleep). It was a little weird being so much older than many fo the kids but no one was hostile. If I hadn’t been in engineering (where everyone seems to go right through after high school), I probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all. Best comment: at a Tau Beta Pi meeting, some one told me they had heard I was born in the Sixties. :eek:

  6. I was definitely more disciplined this go around since I knew how much it sucked to have a crappy job.

  7. Family and friends: friends werern’t an issue as I had moved here for school. Family was cool but my family’s long distance. Grandparents helped out a little.

  8. I’d do it again. Dunno if I’d major in the same thing tho’. I never realized that if the home work was boring in school then the actual work in the real world would probably be boring too.

  9. Don’t underestimate what a huge life-style change this will be for you. I only gave up a retail salary the first time around. I’ve been tossing around the idea of going back for something else but the idea of giving up an engineering salary is daunting. I’d still say go for it but plan carefully…

Thanks for the advice, zut. I’ve done quite a bit of the list business, as you suggest, and it gives me a good general idea, or rather, several ideas, but I’m trying to hone it in from there. One consideration is going into biomechanics, which would use my previous degree, but I don’t know that I’d be any more excited about it when all is said and done. I know that no job is going to make me jump, spin and dance, except perhaps being a clown, but I would like to do something I’m proud of and in which I get some sense of…well, whatever it is that is supposed to motivate me to get up and go to work.

As tremorviolet points out, the biggest immediate impact is the change in lifestyle, but…maybe not so much. I don’t really have any family left, and due to my miserable social skills it’s unlikely that I’ll have much more than a dog or a cat, anyway. I do piss away a fair amount of money, but not on assets or even so much on stuff. Mostly, I spend it on expensive food (hello, Wild Oats), wine and beer, books (that’s a biggie), eating out, seeing films and plays, et cetera, and the rest goes to savings. My actual lifestyle is pretty spartan, to the point that people walk into my living room and say, “So, still moving in, eh?” I think I could transition back to the student lifestyle pretty easily, and frankly I wonder if I shouldn’t just stay there, as a part of my distress is how poorly I fit into the corporate world. I do have a chronic case of the worries when it comes to actually being destitute or homeless, as I’ve been there (though not to the extent or for the duration that many have) and don’t want to do that again.

The IMHO thread idea is a good one; I may do that. Thanks again for the response.


The thing is, though, that there’s a pretty wide range of job descriptions that fall under the category of engineering, and a lot of them require similar educational backgrounds. I might be misreading you, but I’m thinking that you might have been working at a series of similar, stare-at-the-CAD-screen design engineer type jobs. If you don’t particularly care for that type of work (like my uncle), it can be a bit of a catch-22: the longer you do the same thing, the more experience you have, and the more you’re pigeonholed as being on a specific career path, and the harder it is to jump into doing something different.

Which might be why going back to school is right for you: if you get a master’s degree in biomechanics, or bioengineering, or environmental engineering, or materials science, or even straight mechanical engineering, you might be able to market yourself to gain a different type of job – one that requires similar educational credentials to the one you have right now, but involves doing a different type of work.

Or, hey! You could join the Peace Corps! (I just had a notice from the Peace Corps pass my desk, looking for someone with roughly your qualifications.)

However, realistically, you probably shouldn’t listen to me, since I’m pretty convinced that anyone ought to be able to find an engineering position that would make them happy…and maybe that’s not really true.

I do think, though, that if you get serious about going back to school, you probably need to have a specific career goal in mind. I guarantee that, if you go back to school, you’ll have more than one “I hate this – what am I doing here?” kind of crisis. If you know why you’re back in school, it’ll be much easier to overcome such a crisis. If you don’t know exactly why you’re back in school, you’ll start thinking about all the books and expensive food you’re missing… and you might wind up chucking the whole idea overboard.

I’m curious about the nature or these warnings and what kind of reasons are given. I’m asking because I’ve been a computer programmer. In my casting about for something different to do I’ve been looking at bioinformatics, which has given me more exposure to the world of biology than I’ve had previously.

PhDs in the biosciences are a dime a dozen right now. The graduate and postgraduate research work is like indentured servitude, with professors basically using students and postgrad like hired labor, instead of mentoring and encouraging them to branch out, and the industry work is fairly low-paying for a technical PhD. Even the pharmaceutical industry is paying less and less, and fewer positions are open. And now that I’ve said all of this, my cites are on my work computer and I can’t find anything immediately from Google to back this up, but if you start looking around you’ll see a lot of complaints. (But for all that, it’s not as bad as the humanities, where if you don’t graduate from an Ivy League school you might as well put in your resume at McDonalds.)

That’s hyperbole, of course–you can find work if you want it, but you may end up being a glorified lab assistant or a high school teacher rather than doing original research or being a tenured professor, which is what most students think of when they enter grad school. But, for all the work you’ve put in, the loans you may have taken out, and the career advancement opportunities you’ve foregone, you probably won’t be earning in six figures unless you opt into management. Yeah, I know, boo-fricken’-hoo; there are a lot of folks living on Wal-Mart wage and not even making it, but it’s really discouraging to think of putting in the kind of time, energy, and passion, and basically suspending your life for half a decade, with not much confidence of compensation for your efforts. OTOH, you can go to law school and…okay, no lawyer jokes. Some people really enjoy law, but it’s not because of all the zeros on their W-2.

However, I have to believe that the future is going to get better for this. This country is rapidly dispensing with its traditional manufacturing/industrial base (and whatever the folks at the REASON Institute say, I’ve seen it happening), including high-tech manufacturing, and if we are going to continue to compete in the world marketplace we are going to have to build up new industries; specifically, bioengineering-related industries. That is, if the government doesn’t moralize us out of the business.

As for bioinfomatics, I think it’s probably a more secure field than say, zoology or molecular biology, by dint of being more of an engineering/applied science field than research science. Many of the underlying principles are applicable to other fields (like economics) and if you can’t find work in your own field you can probably shift over to something using the same skills. Just don’t expect that, unless you are very lucky, you’ll find a position in academia or doing pure research.

My $0.02, based upon reasearch, talking to grads, so forth. YMMV. Is there anybody else around who has a lot of experience in the biosciences? I seem to remember WhyNot having a degree, and no doubt there are others.


I’m 26, and went back to school for a Bachelor’s in Applied Science (Forensic Investigation) in 2003.

I had a lot of ambition after graduating high school, but unfortunately, not much mental or physical energy anymore. I was accepted to Washington University in St Louis on full scholarship. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to major in, so I decided I was going to go pre-med, double majoring in Chemistry and Physics, minoring in Biology and Maths. I tested out of the spectrum of first-year courses, and entered straight into second-year physics, chemistry, calculus, and english comp. Needless to say, I burned out during the first semester, stopped going to half the classes, and only passed 3. I didn’t enrol second semester, I just couldn’t find the energy to go.

I spent several years slogging away at thought-free jobs, always planning to go back to school but never making any concrete decisions. Finally, falling in love with an Australian citizen prompted me to look into student visas to Australia, and I found a forensic science degree in his city that really excited and interested me. I applied and was accepted, and began courses in 2003.

I’m getting a Bachelor’s of Applied Science in Forensic Investigation at the end of this year. My goal was really just to learn - I love learning, and taking some time off from it allowed me to replenish my enthusiasm for school. If someone would pay me to be a perpetual student, I’d sign up straight away!

I now plan to do one year of Honours study after I get the Bachelors’ degree, and then move on to a masters or PhD programme ASAP.

Due to my non-citizen status I cannot find many jobs in the forensics field here in Australia. I’m working to rectify my citizenship issue, and am happy to teach until then. Although I haven’t finished my degree, last year I taught classes for first-year students in my course, and I’ll be doing the same this year. It shouldn’t be much of a problem to continue teaching after my degree is finished but before my permanent residency comes through.

Well, I had to save up AUD$30000 before I could come here, and I had to move halfway across the world. I don’t work much now, so I guess I gave up a decent salary, but to be honest, I view all the changes that this required as good ones. I guess, maybe I sacrificed the concept of “free time”, as I don’t have any, and all I ever do is study! :slight_smile:

I saved enough money to pay for all but 1 semester of my tuition, before I began studying. (Provision of a student visa.) However, I’m taking additional classes at another university here (which is quite expensive), so my savings are all out. I do work part-time, lecturing and tutoring, but most of my support - financial and otherwise - comes from my partner, who studies part-time and works full-time. This is working out well, although it’s caused some troubles in my permanent residency application.

Everyone has been really welcoming and accepting, especially given that I’m one of two international students that have ever enroled in this course. The place I’m studying is a technical school, not a “proper” university, so there are other mature-age students there, and I get along fabulously with them. There is, of course, a bit of a generational gap between myself and the younger students, but most people in this degree are fairly mature, and we get along well and work well together.

I don’t drink, so that has always been a barrier to sharing social experiences with my classmates, no matter where I go or how old I am.

I really think this is the main advantage of going back to school when you’re a bit older. I seem to have a work ethic and organisational skills that really give me an edge over the younger students. I’ve consistently topped the classes in grades, and I’m pretty resourceful - although whether that’s an age issue or just a creativity issue is unclear to me. I really feel that, just after high school, I wasn’t responsible enough to handle the free-form structure of university, and now I have the responsibility I need to tackle this course full-on.

I’ve adopted my partner’s parents as my own, and they’re incredibly supportive, as are the friends I have here, and my partner himself. This is extremely important, because when you’re stressed out and 12 things are due over the next two weeks and you aren’t young enough to stay up all night without the use of serious stimulants ( :smiley: ), you really need someone who understands what you’re going through to vent at. It helps that my partner is a part-time student himself, as he can commiserate with me.

I would do this again in a heartbeat. The only thing I regret is that I could have been so much further along in my studies if I’d had the wisdom/responsibility/experience to keep going through uni the first time. Oh, and that I picked a degree that isn’t focused on laboratory work as much as I thought, but that’s hardly relevant to your questionnaire :slight_smile: It was a good thing that I came here, though, because as a smaller institution, I can really get to know the staff, and they’re helping me get to where I want to go. They’re wonderful people.

There’s really nothing I can think of that I’d rather be doing, besides sitting in a lab doing research - but I do a fair bit of that anyway.

I could complain, gripe, moan, groan, and otherwise comment for hours on the annoying, slack habits of some of the younger students, or the epidemic of disorganisation amongst the people in charge of the degree, but overall, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. :slight_smile: