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Another 'too old' thread... Apologies


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Hi all,

I've been perusing around here, as I have the last few rounds, watching the dread and excitement wheel turn. I finally decided to dive in with some queries of my own, and hope I'm not wasting anyone's time. 

My undergrad was over back in '07, but I never dipped my foot into grad school as I was fulfilling my duty to my partner at the time. When we got married we decided I would work, she would go, then we'd trade. As life would have it, soon after her grad years were up, we were filing for divorce. I then moved, had to start a new career in a new city (IT), between falling quite ill myself, and dealing with a few deaths in the family since, I have not had the opportunity nor time to entertain going back. 

I am 34 now, what feels like a ripe age to be returning to school. I don't have children, and will not have them in the future. I understand, and am prepared for, taking a few classes to get in the swing of things, going the master's route first, etc. I am not afraid of the time commitment, and I expect networking issues will still be there should I fail, but my fear is, is it too late to be seen as a serious candidate? 

My undergrad was at small liberal arts college, but I received encouragement to take extra courses elsewhere and did so. I don't think I'd get far without a master's program first. Given how long I've been away, most of what admissions will see will be fairly recent. 

 

Edited by unclaimedata
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Hey there! Congratulations on making it through all that and finally getting to think about grad school. 

I've been on two campus visits and found that the grad student population was more diverse in age than I expected. At one school, quite a few people were in their 30's. At another, there weren't as many and most were young, but there were still a couple of people who were older than average. It is not uncommon for people your age to be returning to school. 

If you have the money, I'd recommend applying to quite a few MA programs (especially those with good funding--Georgia State and University of Houston are good for that, I've heard). Depending on how good your grades were in '07, and if you get any good LORs, you could even try some PhD programs--but I agree, you'd probably be looking more at an MA, especially because it'll be hard to get good LORs after all this time. 

But I don't think you should be discouraged by your age at all. Some people go to PhD programs right after undergrad, some have life get in the way and have to wait a few years (I'm one of those people, but I'm still in my 20's). I promise, the admissions committee has seen cases like yours before. 

EDIT: I'd definitely find a tasteful way to address the gap in your Statement of Purpose. Find someone to look over it and confirm you stated things well, but definitely do explain briefly why you should be taken seriously after the gap and I think you'll be fine. 

Edited by Nothingtown
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54 minutes ago, unclaimedata said:

Hi all,

I've been perusing around here, as I have the last few rounds, watching the dread and excitement wheel turn. I finally decided to dive in with some queries of my own, and hope I'm not wasting anyone's time. 

My undergrad was over back in '07, but I never dipped my foot into grad school as I was fulfilling my duty to my partner at the time. When we got married we decided I would work, she would go, then we'd trade. As life would have it, soon after her grad years were up, we were filing for divorce. I then moved, had to start a new career in a new city (IT), between falling quite ill myself, and dealing with a few deaths in the family since, I have not had the opportunity nor time to entertain going back. 

I am 34 now, what feels like a ripe age to be returning to school. I don't have children, and will not have them in the future. I understand, and am prepared for, taking a few classes to get in the swing of things, going the master's route first, etc. I am not afraid of the time commitment, and I expect networking issues will still be there should I fail, but my fear is, is it too late to be seen as a serious candidate? 

My undergrad was at small liberal arts college, but I received encouragement to take extra courses elsewhere and did so. I don't think I'd get far without a master's program first. Given how long I've been away, most of what admissions will see will be fairly recent. 

 

You are not too old of a candidate. As the poster above me said, grad schools are often quite diverse in age range (like 22 thru 42, though most are late 20's, early 30's). You can be taken seriously if you put out good work.

I would encourage reconsidering grad school for other reasons, though. Grad school in humanities is for most people a professional dead end.* Not because they aren't good, but because the market is so harsh and the process of completing so grueling. I am in for the long haul, but I reassess my goals and justifications for completing my program every week or two. It isn't a terribly taxing reconsideration, but I'm acutely aware of the low probability of doing what I want to do. My situation is not unique, not even remotely.

My comments here are not directed toward you only. Grad school in humanities is a dead end for someone who is 22 years old, has good grades, can do good work, and can reasonably get into a good school. The fact is that the academic system has serious problems and PhD students (and those with PhD's in-hand!) suffer long and hard before they give up. Over and over and over again.

My comment is directed toward you in that if you can continue in IT and do philosophically interesting things (reading current journal articles; discussing with friends or acquaintances at deep level, say at a local coffee shop; engaging with people online; etc.) as a well-invested hobby, it might be in your best interest to take that course. I know no one wants to hear this, and some people reading will buck against this until they face it themselves, but I think it is good for you to hear it. I hope this is helpful.

 

* do the stats. Almost half of all PhD students don't complete their degree. The average successful placement into gainful employment is not at half across PhD granting institutions. Even among the top programs, it is not above 80%. Thus, for most people, literally most people, who begin grad school will eventually find it to be a professional dead end.

Edited by Duns Eith
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Not a philosophy applicant, but I noticed your thread and thought I'd chime in.

I think @Duns Eith makes some very good points. If you're starting this degree with the intention of teaching, you're likely to be disappointed. Having a master's in philosophy may also make it difficult to continue your current career, as it suggests you'd rather be doing something outside of IT. However, if you are interested in teaching, consider getting a teaching certification along with a master's. Teaching English or history at the high school level (and perhaps being an adjunct at a community college on the side) could be a satisfying, intellectually stimulating career path. Plus, your master's will still afford you a higher salary, and in some states will help you get certified.

That may not be the best option depending on your goals and temperament, but I think it's a solid option that many GC users overlook.

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Hi All,

Thank you for the kind responses thus far. All very much appreciated. During my first go round in undergrad, I expected to be a lifer, myself. The job situation wasn't much better, and coming from a small school, I knew there was quite the hill to climb.  I was, and still am, highly aware that I may be relegated to exactly what I am doing for work at the moment. I was eager to embark, however. I never wanted a family of my own, and grew accustomed to the idea that most of my life would be spent trying to 'make it in Academia.' 

Teaching was a goal, and tenure would be great, but what I want is the access, networking, conferences and hopefully to write and collaborate with others to write. I'm running out of leg room on taking long shots with my life, and this happens to be one I simply have not had the opportunity to take. 

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Do an MA but taking another 'long shot' at 34 in something like academic philosophy of all things is risky to say the least.

What exactly do you want out of becoming a graduate student in philosophy? Not sure "access, networking, conferences" are clear/good enough reasons. Your money and time, I won't care what you do - just giving things to think about.

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11 hours ago, Prose said:

Do an MA but taking another 'long shot' at 34 in something like academic philosophy of all things is risky to say the least.

What exactly do you want out of becoming a graduate student in philosophy? Not sure "access, networking, conferences" are clear/good enough reasons. Your money and time, I won't care what you do - just giving things to think about.

Trust me, I understand the sentiment, and I'm thankful for the candor. I felt a bit robbed of the possibility, and understand there is some romanticizing/nostalgia going on. I do think that my stated reasons are worth it, however. Of course, I'd love to teach, and I'd teach anywhere if provided that opportunity, but I don't believe I understated the value that a graduate education has on continued access to academia as well as future collaborators. There is simply more opportunity with than without. Now are these opportunities financially profitable? Doubtful, but perhaps worth it nonetheless. 

I've moved around my entire life, and I've grown accustomed to it. I don't have, nor plan on children. At the moment, my life will be what it is for the foreseeable future with likely opportunity for career growth in a field I am skilled in and tolerate. That's more than a lot of folks, I get that, and I'm not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth. If this risk proves an abject failure, It wouldn't take much to get back into the swing of things in my current career. If even remotely successful, I'd have my graduate education, new colleagues, hopefully some collaborators, probably some debt, and I'll probably find myself competing for comm. coll. teaching gigs, not get them, smile and thank them for the opportunity. 

All this to say, I understand the risks, but I feel my values, attitude, and current place in life welcome these very risks. 

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Look, going to grad school in any humanities field at any age is a risk. You’re investing a lot of your time and energy into something that’s not likely to give you a ready-made, stable career. This makes it worth warning someone who isn’t informed about the job market, but on its own isn’t reason to tell someone that they shouldn’t do it. After all, almost all of us in this forum are doing it. I’m not sure why being older changes this.

@unclaimedata, you’re a bit older than most people who are going into programs, but who cares? It’s also less unusual than you probably think. Plenty of people in philosophy grad programs are in their 30’s.

 

Before you decide that you’re set on grad school though, you should take some upper-level courses at a nearby institution. This will help you see if this is really a path you want to follow, and help you get some new letters so you can apply to MA programs and get re-seasoned.

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I think it's awesome to want to get back into philosophy! I think it'll be important for you to really focus on why you want to pursue grad school and why you might not want to pursue it, especially given the emotional attachments you're likely to have to your options. Here's my limited view of your situation:

Good reason(s) to try to go:

  • You want to experience graduate study in philosophy
    • I think this may be basically the only really good reason to apply to grad school. As your posts above suggested, however, this can be a weighty consideration. There are things you just want to study, learn, and write about in an intense way that can't be replicated by treating philosophy as a hobby. This is the reason that has motivated me to pursue a graduate career and I will happily defend its weightiness!

Bad reason(s) to try to go:

  • You want to get a job in professional philosophy
    • This is just not a good reason to go to grad school anymore. While we can all aim to get one of these coveted positions, as my undergrad adviser once said, "only go to grad school if you would still go if you knew ahead of time that you would have to do something else if you graduate."  It seems like you're up for that, but it should be noted.
  • It's what you've always planned on or imagined doing
    • I tend to think this is just not a good form for a reason in general. Independent of other considerations, such as reasons that following the plan is a good idea, one's planning to do X is just not a reason to do X. I do think this is a pretty prominent psychological tendency however, so it's something to look out for. Just because past you thought you'd be in grad school by now doesn't mean present you should go.
  • You experience regret about past events that prevented you from going to grad school or nostalgia for your younger aspirations
    • This is a really relatable emotion, and I frequently find myself thinking that I can somehow undo or make up for past decisions if I do something different now. But once you spell out that that's why you want to do something, it isn't hard to see that that's not really a rational way to make life choices.

Good reason(s) not to try to go: 

  • Grad school would expose you to unacceptable risks
    • Grad school can produce horrible career outcomes, life outcomes, etc. as people often discuss on this forum. While this is true for all applicants, a person's risk profile often does change with age. With respect to this decision, for example, a younger person might be able to begin a second career and still save substantially for a retirement if his or her philosophy plans go belly up. This might be substantially harder for an older person, who may also face a different set of options for an alternative career.
    • This consideration will vary depending on what your options will be if everything goes wrong, of course. If you're really confident you could resume your old career after a decade (give or take) doing philosophy, then maybe that assuages the worries to some degree.

Bad reason(s) not to try to go:

  • You worry that you won't fit in/your age will make it harder to network
    • This isn't a formally bad reason, I just don't think it's very likely to be a problem. A lot of people in graduate programs are older, at least by the end of their programs (I'll be 32 if I graduate in 6 years) so it's not like professors always deal with students in their twenties. I think your fellow students and professors will be happy to hear what you have to say and engage with you without problems. And even if there was some friction, I'm not sure that would be a decisive reason not to study what you want to study.
  • You worry that you won't be seen as a serious candidate
    • I'm not sure why this would be a reason not to try. If you're willing to risk the years of opportunity cost that go along with graduate study (along with everything else), why not risk a few hundred bucks to see if some programs might be interested? If this was a point about job market competitiveness, I would refer you to the point above about why wanting to get a philosophy job isn't a good enough reason to try to go to graduate school.
  • You are anxious/embarrassed etc. about being a nontraditional applicant
    • I'm not sure if this is something that you're feeling, but it's another very relatable emotion that might be involved in a choice like this. I get nervous going to shoot some basketball at the park because I'm bad and the part of my brain that enables me to survive as a social animal gives me a talking to about deviating from norms in public. This is, of course, a great strategy for never playing any basketball, and I have to resist this impulse if I want to grow and enjoy my hobby. I feel the same way about your kind of choice. It might feel like grad school is somehow "not for you" because your path was a little different, but that's not a feeling that's really tracking anything important about the situation. If it's what you really love, do it, even if it feels weird.

How you balance these things will have to be up to you, but I think those are the reasons I would be weighing in your position.

Edited by mithrandir8
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It’s interesting, I had a friend, at a similar age, decided to uproot his established legal career and did in fact enter a PhD program in his mid thirties. He never did pursue an academic position, but strangely enough was recruited by several VC firms, and did that for about 4-5 years (and presumably made a wheelbarrow full of money) and now is at the head of a large philanthropic concern. 

What starkly comes to mind in potential differences: he already had an appreciable skill set and had some money saved; he was a Yale Law graduate, and I think, he always knew he could fall back in practicing law again, and he never intended in pursuing anything related to a career in the academy.

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I was going to make a comment about reasons to apply, but @mithrandir8 has pretty much covered it - great post! :) My adviser told me that a good reason to apply to grad school for philosophy is if you think you would like to read and write and talk about philosophy for about five years, regardless of what happens beyond that. So your interest should be for grad school in philosophy itself, not extrinsic aims - basically what mithrandir8 said in their first point!

For what it's worth, I think 'access, networking, conferences and hopefully to write and collaborate with others' is therefore a pretty good reason to want to apply (as long as you aren't expecting any guaranteed rewards out of those!). Big reason I want to go to grad school is basically so that I might discuss and learn about philosophy with people who are a lot smarter than I am!

I do think the warnings from Duns Eith and others are important, and to be considered by anyone thinking about applying.

 

Apart from this side-discussion, to your original question. I agree with others who have said your age by itself shouldn't be an impediment. I think the greater hurdle as you go forward, though, might be the fact that you've been out of academia for quite a while now. That doesn't make it 'too late' for you, but it probably will mean you'll have to take some steps to show that you're still up for it. Do you plan to get letters from your undergrad professors/instructors? Probably the most important thing would be to get in touch with them as soon as possible, and let them know what your plans are. I'd suggest doing this as early as you can, since, unlike current/recent students, they'll need much more information from you to be able to write something. They might also be able to give you good advice on how to go forward. If you're planning to get letters or advice from a different set of philosophers, you should also do that early, for the same reasons.

It's really good to hear about people continuing to be so interested in philosophy. Good luck, I hope it works out! :)

Edited by Kantattheairport
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