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Around the Block more than a few times: Older grad students


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Hah, we founded an unofficial club we called "the geriatric club" (twice monthly meetings at the campus bar) for the older undergrads at my school. It was pretty popular (10 regulars) at the end.

I am a mature student as well. I have started my MSc at 28, and PhD at 30. I used to be ashamed, but in the end I find that I have an advantage compare to younger student. First because I have more experience in my field, so everything is a bit easier for me. Also, when you are older, you don't have time to lose anymore, so you are more focus, you know what you want and you work more efficiently. since it is easier in the lab and the studies, it kinds of make up for the time you have to invest taking care of the familly.

I love being a mature student. It is a big advantage, even for scholarships, my past experience contributed a lot in getting funding. I actually recommend people to try to be mature students :D

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I can relate - I'm in my first year and I do feel a bit ashamed at times...Rationally, I know it makes no sense - because my circumstances were such that going direct to grad school from undergrad wasn't an option. I didn't have a supportive family and I wasn't that academically inclined. But after growing up a little I learned to motivate myself to pursue my interests and ended up taking a lot of additional courses as a non-degree student. I also worked. I'm proud of my achievements and happy that I have this background. It's tough being older at times because you do feel like it would be nice to be doing this when you are younger in some ways, but then you wouldn't be the same person...

I also find that the younger students have a lot of time to kill and I don't - I don't have a family but the last thing I want to do is burn time! I don't mind socializing sometimes, but I really am serious about school and when I'm not doing coursework I like to think about and work on research. My peers don't seem to have realized that this is why we are here yet. They seem to focus more on fulfilling "requirements" than setting their own goals and pursuing things for the sake of their own interests.

Haha, I agree: I think people should try to be mature students, at least by taking off a couple of years between undergrad and grad school. A couple of years may not be enough, but for many students one year off is already "crazy" - they're in such a rush to get ahead.

I am a mature student as well. I have started my MSc at 28, and PhD at 30. I used to be ashamed, but in the end I find that I have an advantage compare to younger student. First because I have more experience in my field, so everything is a bit easier for me. Also, when you are older, you don't have time to lose anymore, so you are more focus, you know what you want and you work more efficiently. since it is easier in the lab and the studies, it kinds of make up for the time you have to invest taking care of the familly.

I love being a mature student. It is a big advantage, even for scholarships, my past experience contributed a lot in getting funding. I actually recommend people to try to be mature students :D

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This may be true for your program and your field, but I can assure you it is not the case in general. I think there are many factors that may determine whether or not an age gap will be felt: age variability (70% younger than 35 years is not too bad; I'm in my early thirties and I'm several years older than all but one person in my class; the year before didn't have anyone older than 25; the incoming class may have one 30 year old, everyone else is under 24); field (I think things might be different if you are in psychology versus the humanities), gender breakdown (I think it's worse when most students in your department are female), program reputation (this is more speculative, but I think when it's a very competitive environment, more cattiness and immature tendencies prevail), and whether the department offers MAs or just PhDs (my department doesn't have an MA stream and I think maybe this changes things). I find that in my department, there is not that much diversity in terms of age, gender, life experience, background...Not to say that it's totally homogeneous, but I can imagine that other departments might be a bit more diverse. I'm in my first year and so far I have found that gossip (about other students, faculty, the department itself) is rampant. I like to talk about other things and having been away from school for a while, I find that what people are talking about doesn't matter as much as they think it does. Rampant gossip is also a sign of competitiveness and insecurity, which everyone has but for me I know that gossip isn't the answer.

Anyway, that's been my experience but I am not sure that this is representative of what others will face at all. I was hoping to connect more with the older students, but because they are at a more advanced stage in their grad work, they aren't around as often and it's more difficult to connect. It may just take time though.

I will be 35 in the Fall when I enter a PhD program in the humanities. I am currently in an MA program where about 70% of my classmates are younger than me. Honestly, age differences seem to melt away at the graduate level. I think there is a much smaller gap in maturity/intellect between people from ages 25 to 55 than there is between people aged 20 to 30.

For others here who might be worried about an age gap - the worry will probably wear off after the first day or two of classes. Age differences will be put on the back burner. If you are good at what you do, you will be respected regardless of your age, and other students will relate to you once they see your work.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I am 43, married, with a nine-year-old, and I'll be starting at CUNY in the fall.

One of the big selling points of CUNY for me was the abundance of students there with work experience. I don't think any of them are necessarily my age, but they've had some life experience. In addition, one of the profs with whom I interviewed does a lot research in the work/life balance area and she gave me the impression that the department was supportive of students (and faculty) with children. I guess I'll see what it's like when I get there...

Old lady & Nyuma --

Take heart! I am 44, just finishing an MA this May & off to CUNY to begin MFA in the fall. It gets a little strained sometimes when all my kiddie peers snort at me because I can't meet up at a bar at midnight (I'm too old & too tired!) to celebrate one of their under-25 birthdays, but all in all, I've learned to embrace my role as the granny of the pack. I'm REALLY enjoying being in grad school & I'm not going to let anyone dampen that for me just because of my age! Relax & enjoy! It's a wonderful to be in school & learning, age and agism be damned :)

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I'll be 33 this fall when I start with my cohort.

My program had a group interview so I know I've met everyone who could possibly be in my cohort, and it didn't feel like a huge age gap. At my current school I'm easily 13-14 years older than everyone around me. A lovely young thing -- a new member to my sorority -- met me just this week and excitedly said, "oh! coyabean! I had to learn all about you when I was learning the sorority chapter history."

History?

HISTORY?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That happens about 12 times a day and that I haven't jumped or developed some kind of eating disorder or something is a miracle.

So, I'm actually looking forward to not going to school with 19 year olds. Like someone said above, during my interview it was hard to tell who was what age because it was all a conversation among equals. There may be some younger folks but it seemed to matter less when discussion quantitative methodologies in bi-lingual communities. Current conversations with my classmates include Drake's lyrical ability and if rapper Nikki Minaj is a real artist. I try, I really do, but it's difficult.

It may help that I do not have a mate or children. I can only begin to imagine that juggling act. It could be stage of life is more important than age in graduate school? Or, it could be a discipline thing. Most in my field have work experience and/or master's degrees as a matter of course.

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I'll be 42 when I start grad school in the Fall. I'm really excited about it but dreading being away from my husband (and dog!) for a good portion of the year. They'll be staying in RI since we own a home and my husband has a good job, while I'll be in North Carolina going to school. It'll also be a bit of a culture shock going from working a manual labor job full time and going to school part time to just going to school full time. Like a lot of folks have said on here, my life experience has given me the determination and focus to see this through even though it will be hard.

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I'll be 42 when I start grad school in the Fall. I'm really excited about it but dreading being away from my husband (and dog!) for a good portion of the year. They'll be staying in RI since we own a home and my husband has a good job, while I'll be in North Carolina going to school. It'll also be a bit of a culture shock going from working a manual labor job full time and going to school part time to just going to school full time. Like a lot of folks have said on here, my life experience has given me the determination and focus to see this through even though it will be hard.

Another person here doing the commuter marriage thing, huh?

Well, email me if you want to whine. It can be tough but it's doable.

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I'll be 42 when I start grad school in the Fall. I'm really excited about it but dreading being away from my husband (and dog!) for a good portion of the year. They'll be staying in RI since we own a home and my husband has a good job, while I'll be in North Carolina going to school. It'll also be a bit of a culture shock going from working a manual labor job full time and going to school part time to just going to school full time. Like a lot of folks have said on here, my life experience has given me the determination and focus to see this through even though it will be hard.

Good luck to you! I'm in North Carolina now, and it's a great place to live (at least Charlotte is). If there's any way I can help you or answer questions, I am happy to do so!

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This thread is breath-taking, and I would like to share my story with the ones who added their's hereby:

For many people of my generation native from my small village ofPalmarin in Senegal, unlike Henry Adams, education has never been the pursuit of the “ideal ofsocial respect”. We were the first ones who; within our respective families, would have hadthe great opportunity of benefiting from the legacy of the French educationalsystem. In fact, as a result of what we called “independence”, that school thatwas previously devoted only to the “assimilatednationals”, was now accessible to the “indigenous” that we were. At term, Iachieved a two-fold objective in gaining the utilitarian skills to hold aliving

occupation, and in internalizing the ideal qualities of my own culture.

A decade ago, in August 2000, I arrived in New York City from Senegal West Africa with the thought that Ihave made a rational assessment ofthe comparative opportunities and prospects between my homeland, and a foreigndestination. In the pursuit of that intuitive opportunity, my confidence tobuild a better life stemmed from the previous professional experience that I have had accumulated while working for the US diplomatic mission in Senegal.

I was wrong.My then, Senegalese formal education was not sustaining the unquestionablepractical credentials that I claimed to holding. Considering the

inescapable existentialconcerns, I could have chose the easiest side and contend myself with what wasavailable. Instead, I decided to confront the educational

challenge. The problem with that was that in an American perspective, I was too old for the level that the system judged I should have restarted.

At first, I was disappointed and the struggle with the inescapableexistential concerns could have thrown me off track toward my objective. I resisted following the easy side of thesituation, adjusted my aspirations to what was presently at my reach, anddecided to confront the educational challenge that would further support my expectations. During my undergraduate bound, I have always been one of if not the oldest of the class. In addition, I sought, and went on two study abroad programs. On the first one, I spent a semester long living, and going to school with not only people sometimes 10 years under my age, but also all ethnically different than me. For the second one, everyone questioned my choice to going in a European country where I will be ethnically disadvantaged (I am black of course).

Personally, none of these considerations have never been mine. At no time did I feel the difference of age with my classmates, or the color of my skin. I managed not to have a generational conflict, or an ethnic one by focusing on why I wanted to be there. I really enjoyed being around people that could benefit from my difference, and from whom I received so much.

Now I applied to a graduate school to pursue a Master. I have been admitted for the fall 2010. After I attended the admitted student day, I have a pretty good impression that I will be in the same situation than when I was in my undergraduate (average age there is 27). I always hate to hear people talking about age, and I do not usually ask people for their age. During self-introduction, I befriended with two prospective students who told me that they where respectively 42, and 37. I was obliged then to disclose my age which is now 49. We all laughed at ourselves and decided that if all three will be attending, then we ought to form a club of the aged ones.

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I'm 41, an finishing up my 2nd semester in an MA program.

I got an AAS in my 20s, but went back for a BA a couple years ago, and finished up last May. I really enjoyed being an older student, but there was a slight social distancing. I made friends, but certainly wasn't part of the usual social peer groups. As an older student, I was more focuses, more likely to ask questions/speak up, which made me appreciated by both profs and young students (thy often knew me even when I still couldn't tell them apart, especially those from larger classes).

Here in my MA cohort, of 17 of us, 1 is in her 50s, 2 are in our 40s, a couple are in their 30s, and the rest re 20-somethings; mostly at the older end of that range but a couple that have continued straight high school-BA-MA program without any interruption.

Of all of us at the older end of our spectrum, I'm the only single one; everyone else has family and pre-existing communities ties. I'm the only older student who moved here just for school, so I'm the one least connected socially. I do socialize a bit with the others (peers and younger), but I'm a bit of a 5th wheel at times.

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I'm 41, an finishing up my 2nd semester in an MA program.

I got an AAS in my 20s, but went back for a BA a couple years ago, and finished up last May. I really enjoyed being an older student, but there was a slight social distancing. I made friends, but certainly wasn't part of the usual social peer groups. As an older student, I was more focuses, more likely to ask questions/speak up, which made me appreciated by both profs and young students (thy often knew me even when I still couldn't tell them apart, especially those from larger classes).

Here in my MA cohort, of 17 of us, 1 is in her 50s, 2 are in our 40s, a couple are in their 30s, and the rest re 20-somethings; mostly at the older end of that range but a couple that have continued straight high school-BA-MA program without any interruption.

Of all of us at the older end of our spectrum, I'm the only single one; everyone else has family and pre-existing communities ties. I'm the only older student who moved here just for school, so I'm the one least connected socially. I do socialize a bit with the others (peers and younger), but I'm a bit of a 5th wheel at times.

That is similar to my undergrad experience. I am "popular" in the sense that all of them seem to know me. And they like me fine. And vice-versa for the most part. But no one wants their, um, eldest sister hanging out with them...no matter how cool she is. :)

I'm just hoping for something better in grad school, but I do worry that in my age group being single and childless makes me as much of an oddball as being old has in undergrad.

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That is similar to my undergrad experience. I am "popular" in the sense that all of them seem to know me. And they like me fine. And vice-versa for the most part. But no one wants their, um, eldest sister hanging out with them...no matter how cool she is. :)

I'm just hoping for something better in grad school, but I do worry that in my age group being single and childless makes me as much of an oddball as being old has in undergrad.

I'll be single and childed when I start grad school in the fall, but I'm not too worried about it. My social life's been fine as a single mom, and I don't really expect that to change.

If you'll be in Kentucky, I'll hang with you, Coyabean. :)

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This actually made me feel a lot better, like I wasn't alone. I'm 38 and going to a masters program that I always wanted to attend as an undergrad but never had the courage to try (a masters in architecture). So, after like (literally) 10 years of night classes, and working full time at a job that would allow me to go to class at nights (without distraction), I did it. I'm actually concerned about the stipend also (to be honest, I'm more concerned because I haven't heard anything from anyone about whether I have loans or not. I have no problem taking all loans, because I'll be paying these babies back for the rest of my life, but I'd like to know that the loans cover everything, expensive and moving across country with all my crap, rather than having to sell everything I have.) I especially wonder if they (in Georgia) know how expensive San Francisco is by comparison. I just did an income comparison, and I could be making 50% less and still have the same standard of living in Atlanta...the differences are that stark. Any ideas?...

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This actually made me feel a lot better, like I wasn't alone. I'm 38 and going to a masters program that I always wanted to attend as an undergrad but never had the courage to try (a masters in architecture). So, after like (literally) 10 years of night classes, and working full time at a job that would allow me to go to class at nights (without distraction), I did it. I'm actually concerned about the stipend also (to be honest, I'm more concerned because I haven't heard anything from anyone about whether I have loans or not. I have no problem taking all loans, because I'll be paying these babies back for the rest of my life, but I'd like to know that the loans cover everything, expensive and moving across country with all my crap, rather than having to sell everything I have.) I especially wonder if they (in Georgia) know how expensive San Francisco is by comparison. I just did an income comparison, and I could be making 50% less and still have the same standard of living in Atlanta...the differences are that stark. Any ideas?...

The loan limits are standard for federal loans so cost of living doesn't factor into it. The only thing the FAFSA determines is how much of your loan package is subsidized versus unsubsidized. You'll be fine financially in Atlanta. :)

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Another person here doing the commuter marriage thing, huh?

Well, email me if you want to whine. It can be tough but it's doable.

UnlikelyGrad,

Yeah, my husband is really supportive and we'll be able to see each other once a month I think, plus e-mail and calls so we'll make it through. I've actually been reading your blog during my application cycle and it's given me some hope. Also like your blog since you talk about flying on Southwest Airlines, I've worked there as a baggage handler since late 2004, haha!

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UnlikelyGrad,

Yeah, my husband is really supportive and we'll be able to see each other once a month I think, plus e-mail and calls so we'll make it through. I've actually been reading your blog during my application cycle and it's given me some hope. Also like your blog since you talk about flying on Southwest Airlines, I've worked there as a baggage handler since late 2004, haha!

Also in that boat. I'll be in Mass. and wife will be in CA while we both do our PhDs. I'm really concerned about being granted time off to visit her.. though I imagine the PI should be somewhat sympathetic.

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I'm 38 years old, with four children (8 to almost 18). I'm handling it well, but mostly because my husband is handling all of the kid-related stuff.

Networking? There are two other non-trads in my department but they're both reclusive males. I interface better with my profs than I do my cohort.

I do work with an undergrad (senior) who's a bit older than I and also mom of four. That's fun in some ways, but she's headed for a high school teaching career and therefore has absolutely no interest in research.

I am in geology as well and a non-trad student- I am a 31 year old single mother of two boys and about to start grad school this fall. I'd like to poke your brain (and I apologize for the hijacking). I imagine that my graduate (and if I choose to pursue it- doctoral) research will have some field component to it- does your work require some field time. How do you cope with the kids? My boys are 1 and 5 and after my undgrad research experience (which required a 3 week field season- and was accomplished thanks to my mother) and my field camp I have a tough time getting coverage for the kids and, more importantly, I struggle with helping my older son understand why I am gone fo field work/class field excursions or so busy all the time.

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Hi all,

I'm a 33-year-old single mom headed for a full-time PhD program in the fall. I'm definitely nervous about finding people to relate to among the other PhD students, since having a child changes my perspective so much. It's really great to hear from all of you about your experiences.

My biggest concern is living off of my stipend for the next four years; I may find that I have to supplement with loans, but we'll see. I'm hoping that the work load will be okay... my son will be in school all day, plus I'll be able to work at home after he settles down and goes to bed.

Are any of you single parents? I'm definitely curious about your experiences. Thanks so much to all of you for sharing!

I am a single mother of two and I am interested in the experiences of other single parents in professional programs as well. I definitely plan on taking loans out- My oldest starts kindergarten in the fall but my youngest will be in daycare for the rest of my academic career (or much of it) most likely and I know my stipend will not cover the bills.

wordslinger- I think you'll do wonderfully and I wish you and your son all the best! Incidentally, how the h*** have you managed to have a social life- between school and the kids I find very little time for myself and even less to go out and mingle with other adults (particularly guys)? I am both jealous and intrigued and I yearn to know your secrets!

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I am a single mother of two and I am interested in the experiences of other single parents in professional programs as well. I definitely plan on taking loans out- My oldest starts kindergarten in the fall but my youngest will be in daycare for the rest of my academic career (or much of it) most likely and I know my stipend will not cover the bills.

wordslinger- I think you'll do wonderfully and I wish you and your son all the best! Incidentally, how the h*** have you managed to have a social life- between school and the kids I find very little time for myself and even less to go out and mingle with other adults (particularly guys)? I am both jealous and intrigued and I yearn to know your secrets!

Geochic,

Wow, I'm so glad to "meet" another single mom here! I feel for you having to cover daycare in addition to other expenses. I think my saving grace has been finally having my son in school instead of day care.

Thanks so much for the well wishes, and right back at you! In terms of a social life, I have an extremely supportive family. Also, my son lives mostly with his father in the summer, which expands my work and play times considerably during the summer months. Since we'll be living further away from my family starting in August, I definitely do not expect to have as much time to go out, which is okay by me, since my workload will be heavy. I think I'll be able to find the friendship I need in ways that don't include bar-hopping at all hours of the night, and I'm not going to try to begin or sustain a relationship while in grad school. :)

Would love to talk with you some more!

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I am in geology as well and a non-trad student- I am a 31 year old single mother of two boys and about to start grad school this fall. I'd like to poke your brain (and I apologize for the hijacking). I imagine that my graduate (and if I choose to pursue it- doctoral) research will have some field component to it- does your work require some field time. How do you cope with the kids? My boys are 1 and 5 and after my undgrad research experience (which required a 3 week field season- and was accomplished thanks to my mother) and my field camp I have a tough time getting coverage for the kids and, more importantly, I struggle with helping my older son understand why I am gone fo field work/class field excursions or so busy all the time.

My situation is totally different from yours so I'm afraid I'm not going to be any help at all.

I came into the geochemistry field with a chemistry background, and as a result am doing some remedial work in geology right now. The project I wanted to work on is still unfunded (GRRRR), so the project I will be working on this summer has to do with aquatic chemistry/freshwater systems. We are using some local waterways as our field sites--I can walk to one of them in 10 minutes, and the other two are within a 10-mile radius.

But if I do ever end up going out for field work (which I hope to do next summer; that's why I went into geochemistry instead of chemistry), it's not a problem. My husband has the kids right now--we're still living apart--so having me gone for a week or two is nothing new. Even if that weren't the case, my oldest is 18, and my second oldest 15 1/2, so I could easily leave all 4 at home by themselves for a while. (I'd still get a trusted friend to drop by every day or two.)

Have you decided where you're going yet? If you don't feel comfortable posting publicly, PM me. Let's talk!

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Also like your blog since you talk about flying on Southwest Airlines, I've worked there as a baggage handler since late 2004, haha!

I didn't have a SW Rapid Rewards account until last August, yet somehow I've managed to accumulate almost enough credits for 2 free tickets. :blink: This long-distance relationship thing is really expensive!

BTW, if you haven't already figured it out: Skype is a lifesaver. Or marriage-saver. Sometimes we just leave it running while we make dinner in our respective kitchens and chat while we work...

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  • 1 month later...

I just thought of a great idea: starting an older graduate students group at my university. I checked the listing a while ago and was sad to see that there was no such group...but there is nothing preventing me from starting the group on my own. I need to just make the time to do it!

The rest of you, if you are interested, might look out for such groups at your school.

Hi Phyllis- I was just reviewing some of the reply to my 'older student' post. Did you establish this group? How did you go about it? My university doesn't even have a regular informal graduate group!

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Hi Phyllis- I was just reviewing some of the reply to my 'older student' post. Did you establish this group? How did you go about it? My university doesn't even have a regular informal graduate group!

Hah, we founded an unofficial club we called "the geriatric club" (twice monthly meetings at the campus bar) for the older undergrads at my school. It was pretty popular (10 regulars) at the end.

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