Should I go to college?

OK. I’m 30 years old. I have no “higher education” at all (except for a few random “fun” classes I took at a junior college years ago). I don’t doubt that I could succeed, but I’m wondering if it’s really worth it. The only career I’m really interested in is writing, and it seems to me that a degree isn’t necessary to pursue this ( I could see going to college for a more specialized major). So let me ask you all: should I? Would it be to my benefit to spend 4 (or more) years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars to get that piece of paper? Would it really make me more desirable to employers if I held a degree in English? I’ve got quite a few friends who majored in English (and other Humanities-type subjects) who are currently working in retail or as administrative assistants. I do love learning, but I think I’m doing pretty well on my own - I’m an avid (nonfiction) reader and try to keep up my math skills with computer programs. Also, to achieve my goal of making every thread I start almost unbearably long, a further question (mods, this might be better in GQ, but it fits here thematically): What’s to stop me from attending college for free? At least undergraduate courses. I’ve noticed that most professors allow students to bring in friends to sit in on classes. This wouldn’t work at a small private university, but couldn’t I just go sit in on classes all semester at some institution with 200+ students in every class, such as UC Berkely? How would the teachers even know I didn’t belong there?Any clues as to the feasibility of this? (All right, I’m being sort of half-serious with that one, but I’d still like to know). Anyway, let me know if your degree has done for you what you thought it would. Thanks.

Well, I have my BA in archaeology, and generally work in the computer industry… so that should tell you something. What, I don’t know, but something.

I say go for it, if you have the money/time and all that. I’ll be paying for my degree for the rest of my life it seems, but I’d say it was worth it.

Actually you are, IMHO, at a good age to go to college. You are mature enough to realize exactly what college is costing and what you would be gaining. I think you should ask yourself, why just go for an English major. Why not some other major that is of interest to you that would help out your writing as well as being a useful money making career (to tide you over til your book hits the best sellers list). Why not concentrate on the sciences. I say that because some of the most interesting books, again IMHO, have a good science base.

I notice you are in Cali, why don’t you just take some classes at a junior college. They are cheap and would allow you to take a variety of different classes and it doesn’t sound like a degree is your goal.

FYI, I went to college at the age of 30 and got a BSEE and have never regreted it. But then again, you should be wary of taking advice from someone who can’t get motivated enough to go back for her masters. :wink:

I’m in the same boat you’re in, woodstockbirdybird.

This may sound very stupid, but my dream job is to work in a museum, caring for, cleaning, and preserving the antiquities. {blush} Not very glamourous, but it’s what I’d really love to do. And I don’t think there’s a degree that suits my dream.

I thought about going to school to get a History degree, but have never gotten around to doing it. I’m still going to . . . things just have to settle down a little bit for me. Hubby gets transferred about every two years, and I’d hate to start school and then have to change.

My husband is strongly encouraging me to go back to school. He loved college, and said it was the best time of his life. In his opinion, college teaches you more than just the course material . . . it teaches you a lot about life and a lot about yourself.

If you’ve got the money and time, I’d say go for it. One should never pass up an opportunity to learn, grow and explore. You would probably be eligible for government grants, so I’d at least look into it, if I were you. Hell, if you get there and don’t like it, quit! You’ll be richer for the experience, anyway.

“I notice you are in Cali, why don’t you just take some classes at a junior college. They are cheap and would allow you to take a variety of different classes and it doesn’t sound like a degree is your goal.”

I think this is a fantastic suggestion. By beginning your studies at a junior college you guarantee yourself two things. First, you won’t be committed to making a choice of majors right away. You’ll also allow yourself time to re-acclimate to a college atmosphere without having to worry that the readjustment stage will compromise your goals. College probably isn’t terribly different now than it was when you went before, but depending on the level of technological integration, there might be a few things you’ll need to learn.

Nothing says that you’ll have to commit to a full Bachelor’s program when you’re finished with your Associates degree. That’s entirely up to you. One of the benefits of getting a BA in English as a writer is that you can use it to get jobs as an editor. This would at least satiate your literary inclinations as you wait for your novel to sell. :slight_smile:

I go to a large public school. There’s really no way for a professor to tell that you belong in their class unless they’re required to take attendance. If they aren’t, you could do it–but the only drawback to the idea is that you wouldn’t get credit for the course. My thought is that if you’ve already contemplated sneaking courses, you might as well actually register for them. I couldn’t see taking a course without having it count towards my degree. Good luck. :slight_smile:


What are you doing now? What do you want to do (not in general terms, but in fairly specific terms)? How do you see yourself getting from where you are now to where you want to be by getting a college degree? How do you see yourself getting from where you are now to where you want to be without getting a college degree? If you want answers that are more specific than “College is nice” or “College is useless,” you’re going to have to be more specific about your circumstances.

After 6.5 years of painful toil I finally got my BA in Journalism in December. I soon discovered what a lot of people already know: that BA is worth a lot less than the BS in civil engineering I originally set out to get. You ask if going to college is worth it to be a writer. The answer is solely up to you. There have been a lot of great writers who never had much formal schooling, but not too many of them in the last 50 years. Being a writer is a tough way to make a living-that’s why so many people get degrees in English and then become administrative assistants, as you mention. I think the intense reading and writing you will have to do as part of college couldn’t fail to expand your literary horizons and make you a better writer. But… a lot of great writers are working as administrative assistants. Becoming a well-known author has less to do with the quality of your work these days than it does with having the will to stick through the tough times and agressively market yourself. I think going to college would improve your writing, but ultimatly would have little to do with your professional success or failure.

As for sitting in on classes…speaking from experience, not much real learning happens in those huge class sessions. Most of the time they only meet all together once a week, and meet in much smaller groups more often. At those small-group meetings the professor has a list of who is supposed to be there and who isn’t. Unless he never does the roll call, sooner or later he’ll wonder what the hell you’re doing there.

I have a few random thoughts about this subject:

First of all, I took last semester off to get myself situated. I decided to live at home, transfer and commute to UMBC, and decide on my major once and for all, and I also had to buy a car and get my liscence. I had a lot of time to regroup. I worked with a lot of people who are in their mid-late twenties with shitty jobs in retail that they hate. Hands down, every last one of them warned me that this was due to not going to college, or to dropping out. I do believe that, even if you major in Anthropology and want to work as a grocery store manager, you will still have a better shot with a college degree. Just MHO, though.

Second, the part I love about taking classes so much is the act of learning. So many people see it as a means to an end, but for me, it’s much more. I’m an English major too (doubling in Anthropology and minoring in Ancient Studies), and what I missed most of all was going to class and having regular epiphanies. This might sound cheesy, but after my Brit Lit class studied “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and the prof translated the Italian from Dante’s Inferno at the beginning, and the whole meesage of that became clear by itself and in relation to the poem, I was awed. Learning has always been a very powerful thing to me.

Third, maybe you could just take classes without pressuring yourself to get a degree. Being an English major kicks ass. I love going to class every day - this semester I’m taking Study in Shakespeare, NeoClassical and Victorian British Literature, and American Lit: 1600-1870, and I cannot wait. I love to read, and I love to write, so it’s never a trial. It’s not like work at all because I’m so passionate about it. If you just take a few random English classes, you can get the credit toward a degree and if you don’t finish, you won’t be too disappointed.

My dream job is to write for National Geographic. My 5 year plan is to graduate college, join the Peace Corps, write about my experiance, and try to get it published, which would hopefully lead me to my goal. If not, I’m going to law school. Either way, having the degree opens all the doors: the Peace Corps prefers college graduates, especially those with English degrees, and my majors relate to what I would do with law. So it’s neccessary to me if I’m to pursue my dream.

Hope some of that helps. :slight_smile:

Some of the barriers to a mature student include not wanting to cut back in family time, job time, and income, not wanting to incur high expenses, and not being interested in stepping back into a young-adult’s lifestyle. Accredited universities help meet these concerns through on-line programs. The International Council for Open and Distance Education is a good place to start hunting for open universities and universities offering distance education.

For example, here are programs offered by the U.K.'s large Open University, and Canada’s small Athabasca University.

An undergraduate degree in arts is somewhat helpful in opening doors to employment related to writing, but under-employment is still often a problem. A graduate degree is much more helpful, so when you take your courses as an undergraduate, do so with a view to meeting graduate admissions requirements, such as grades and languages. Graduate work can also be hugely satisfying in and of itself, for it lets you intellectually soar with the tools you developed as an undergraduate.

Something which universities offer is the opportunity to explore new areas and develop new interests. In the drive to specialize for employment purposes, this is often overlooked. Keep an eye open for inter-disciplinary electives. If you are interested in writing as a career, but are after a broad education, as opposed to a specialization, keep you eyes open for “integrated studies” programs, particularly at the graduate level, for they offer wide latitude.

Each degree has provided intellectual, social and financial opportunities well in excess of the cost. This has led to a high level of personal satisfaction, including the freedom to pretty much do what I want. The other day in the thread Song Lines that sum up your world view at this very second, I posted Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World.” I believe that my degrees have helped me appreciate just how wonderful the world is.

Would you be interested in writing for a newspaper, woodstock? Smaller newspapers can always use part-timers. If you’re a good writer, that’s a freaking bonus – as a sports editor at a small paper, I can tell you that I’m pretty pleased if I can find people who will bother to show up and do the stories they say they’re going to do.

In case you’re curious, my degree is not in journalism. It’s biology. As I recall, most of the people who worked at my college paper were not journalism majors.

In any case, I think deb2world makes an excellent point. You’re old enough that you’re thinking about college for the best reasons. Me? I wandered into college because that’s what the smart kids do after high school.

God knows I’m the last person you’d want to take life advice from, but all the same…

I think it’s a great idea to go to college if you have the time and wherewithal to do so, but unless you need specific training it’s certainly not necessary. If the only reason you’re considering it is to further a writing career, then it depends on what kind of writing you plan on doing (career-wise, that is). Some types of professional writing–like business or technical writing–can certainly benefit from college training, both on the resume and in reality. But the degree is not necessarily mandatory for finding a job and the skills and techniques can be learned from books (although constructive feedback is a big help). The same could be said for jobs in journalism, especially if you’re thinking of freelancing. I can’t quite tell from your OP if you’re thinking of college as something you want to do or something you feel you ought to do but that has to weigh into the decision also.

As for my own college experiences, I’ve had a few stabs at it and have benefitted from it in a lot of ways. I had a few years in Math and Comp Sci early on before I succumbed to the temptations of illicit substances and disreputable women. A few years later I hit the classrooms again and managed to stumble into a BA in English (Lit). I did avoid the retail trap, but a movie projectionist’s life is certainly no better. So I took a third whack and got a BS in Civil Engineering, just so I could get a job. And I did.

Sure it’s a loser’s tale, but the the real value of all that to me has been the horizon-expansion element. The great thing about college is not the degree and its job-landing value. The great thing about college is how many other things you learn and are exposed to. Your eyes are opened to a lot of things you may not have discovered on your own–not just in terms of academic knowledge but of cultural, interpersonal and self awareness. As a writer, those things could prove invaluable to you. I was always a voracious reader too, but I would never have found all that at Barnes and Noble. There’s a lot to be said for being forced to delve into subject matter you may not feel a particular interest in, because it’s often in the depths of a subject that you find a hidden gem that gets you going.

Deb2world is right that you’re at a perfect age to go to college, not just because you’re mature enough to take it more seriously but because you have a lot more to bring to it. Life experience is the best prep course around.

All that being said, it really does come down to what you want from a college education. If it’s career potential you’re looking for right now, there are some pragmatic decisions you need to make based on your specific career goals and how a specific degree may or may not get you there more effectively. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for some kind of personal benefit, too, then college is a good option to consider (but there are other options as well). Whatever choices you end up making, though, don’t sweat it too much. And don’t let time or age play too big a role. At 30, you’ll spend a lot more years enjoying the rewards of your efforts than you will getting yourself situated. Good luck!

I think it depends on what kind of writing you want to do. If you want to write novels you probably dont need a degree. If you want to be a magazine writer it might be a good idea. You could work for the school newspaper. Some schools have literary magazines or political magazines. Writing for these would get you experience and published works to show prospective employers as well as leads to alumni who work in the business.

Once upon a time, I counseled college students and career-changers and, today, i fill my spare time as a freelance magazine and newspaper writer.

First, let me recommend a great movie: “Educating Rita.” Michael Caine stars in it, but it has much to say about your concerns and will get you thinking.

Second, adults your age make super college students. I’ve seen literally hundreds of adults who in earlier years had bombed out of college–or just flailed around and racked up debt–only to return five, ten years later and kick ass in ways they never had thought possible before. Not only are their grades solid, but they’ve gained enough life experience to know how to process the information and what to do with it. Sitting in class (auditing) sounds like a good idea to you, but it’s bogus. Really now, just how faithfully would you continue this–putting in hard work and have nothing on paper to show for it?

Third, do your groundwork first. Do an internship somewhere, even if part time and for free. Find something that appeals to you and really check it out. Go on information interviews. Ask someone in a job you find appealing what it’s all about. Research it. Most college students do poor prep work and find out the hard way that their degree won’t lead to much. Grad school then becomes for them a way to make an expensive course correction.

Last, if you like to write and find literature interesting, consider doing so in your spare time. Many people who are editors and who once nurtured dreams of becoming writers find that their 50-hour weeks burn them out on writing and the last thing they want or can do is write their own material. They need a break from it! Read and study writing on your own time, through community college or writer’s groups.

I might add this last note: lots of people will tell you to find something you love. If you can, go for it. But the fact is that most folks do NOT love their jobs; they are NOT passionate about them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. As long as it is reasonably enjoyable or interesting, that’s a success in my book. Save your real gratification for your own time, for family, etc.


I’ll second Muffin’s suggestion on looking into colleges that offer distance education courses. I teach several web-based courses for Columbus State Community College, and the college offers close to 200 courses on-line.

However, since you’re located in California, you would need to contact the instructor of the web-based course taught at CSCC to provide them a point of contact - a nearby college where the exams can be mailed/faxed. But it’s relatively easy - I do it all the time for the students who are taking my web-based courses out of state.

If your interested, check out the CSCC site. I’ll be happy to answer any questions and assist you in anyway if you’d like.

Thanks to all of you for your advice. I’d like to take some time to address your points/questions individually, but I’m at work now and don’t have the time. I promise I’ll get to it later. And, just to let you know, I’ve decided to enroll in some classes at the local community college (in large part due to all your suggestions). Thanks again - you guys are awesome.

which college dude?

Of course not. The way you phrase the question dictates the answer. But if your real question is whether there are benefits to a college education, the answer is just as obviously yes.

The world (and, it seems, the SDMB) is full of people who’re bitter about the “uselessness” of whatever degree they got. I maintain that this says more about the person than the degree. A college degree, whatever the field, is not a warrant for a successful career, intellectual stimulation, or a fulfulling sex life. In fact, a college degree per se is worthless; a college education, on the other hand, is invaluable. To complain that one’s degree is worthless because it doesn’t guarantee you a successful life is no different than complaining that a driver’s license is worthless because you don’t own a car and you got a speeding ticket the last time you borrowed one.

It would to many employers, myself included. It wouldn’t, or would make you less desirable, to many others. The ones who would consider it an advantage are those who’re looking for people who can learn quickly, make connections between what they learn and what they already know, synthesize new information from that, and communicate the results to others. Any employer who’s not looking for, and doesn’t value, those skills is one I wouldn’t want to work for.

Again, with no offense intended, I think this says more about your friends than about their degrees. When I bailed out of graduate school, my first job was as a proofreader for $14K/yr. After three years or so, I’d only managed to double that. After another three years, I’d doubled that again, and I’m on pace to continue that progression. I’m now QA manager for a software developer, and have been Vice President and General Manager of another software company. My undergraduate degree: English. My grad school field: English lit (late medieval/early renaissance). I manage a team of six QA engineers and testers. Two never finished college, and the rest have liberal arts degrees (psychology/English double major, two education majors, English major).


You can certainly go sit in a lecture hall with little risk of detection. Education is something you do, however, not something that’s done to you. Most of the learning that goes on in college doesn’t happen in large lecture classes that are intended to provide enough general information on a subject to serve as a foundation for more advanced explorations. Simply sitting in a big room with someone (most likely an overworked graduate student) lecturing to you won’t do anything for you, whether you’re officially matriculating at the institution or not. Engaging with other students, the instructor, and the material will. That’s something you can’t really do without being enrolled, however.

I couldn’t be more satisfied with the results of my college education; it’s provided me with skills and talents my employers have been happy to pay top dollar for. My degree hasn’t been an issue one way or the other in years.

If you think you want to pursue an education, go for it. If you’re mainly interested in pursuing credentials, why bother? If I’m hiring someone for a writing position, a technical support position, a QA position, or any number of other positions, I want to know whether they can learn quickly, assimilate what they’ve learned, make connections between that and other information, and communicate effectively in writing. A college degree in certain fields may make me think it likely that a person possesses those qualities in some measure, but it’s no guarantee. It means no more in that regard than do the vendor-created computer industry “certifications” that exist mainly to ensure that the workforce is filled with people who have a vested interest in maintaining the vendor’s market share.

It looks like one of the colleges out here in the East Bay, oldscratch. Merritt or Vista, most likely.

I’ve taken classes at Merritt and College of Alameda, and like them both really well. Vista could be cool, because you get greater exposure and access to Cal, since some of the classes are housed there.

I pretty much stopped attending high school at 15. I screwed around for a couple of years and then realized that I didn’t want to work at the Mervyn’s costume jewelery counter forever. I continued to work full time and started the junior college thing. Seven years and a LOT of hard work and sleepless nights later I had my degree. (B.A. English, University of Southern California) It was definitely worth it. I started young, so I actually ended up graduating at 24, but I was definitely not experiencing school in the same way my peers were, I was working 40-50 hours a week dispatching tow trucks.

If you want to write I think a degree in English will help you with it, it forced me to read things I really hate, and that’s a good thing because it changed my perspective on literature as a whole, I now see it as art and have a much easier time picking something apart critically and finding the good pieces of my own work. It also helps you learn how to deal with criticism well. After you’ve spent a couple of years having your work criticized by both completely thoughtful and helpful people, and absolute pricks, you develop a thicker skin and an ability to differentiate.

Career-wise, I never would have gotten into the company I work for, at the level I am (quality engineer), without the degree. I’m also looking at moving into technical writing, so I can finally use that degree ‘officially’. I think you should go for it, the worst thing that could happen is you get a few weeks into classes at Vista and decide you hate it. If so, you’re out maybe $150 bucks in tuition and books, and have the knowledge and peace that you tried and didn’t like it. It’s a lot better than wondering ‘what if…’

My husband is a consultant. He’s run practices from Boston to San Jose and has hired people with English degrees, engineering degrees and biology degrees.

His advice is to just get a degree, it doesn’t necessarily matter what it’s in (unless you plan to go into something specialized) because there are always entry level jobs you can get somewhere. The degree (and the time and effort put in) mean the most. It shows you have the gumption to commit to something that takes four years of your life.

FWIW, I’m in the same position as you. I’ve decided to go to a JC next semester and just get it done. I’m going to major in whatever gets me my degree the fastest (as I have a bunch of classes under my belt, but was always too flaky to finish what I started). This time, I’m just going to get it done.

Good luck to you, maybe in six years ( :smiley: ) we can have a joint graduation party!