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I'm an older grad school candidate (just turned 41 this past December) looking to start an English/Lit M.A. program in the fall, assuming I get accepted and get funding (big assumptions). I don't know anyone else who has gone back to grad school at this age for a humanities degree, so I'm just curious if there are any other older, "non-traditional" students out there who could share their experience once they got into a program.

I didn't finish up my undergrad degree until recently, so going back won't be the shock it might have if there had been a 20-year lapse. But I do wonder how well I'll fit into a program, whether I'll feel out of place. The nice thing about literature is that it's timeless, so I don't think I'll feel like a dinosaur, exactly. But what's the typical mix in a small (< 100 students) English M.A. program? I assume that the majority of English grad students enter a program soon after college, but maybe there's more variety than I would expect. Not that I mind being in a classroom with a group of younger students... I just know that my own goals and background will likely be very different from theirs. Which could (should) be a very good thing. Variety is good.

So this is just an open question in case anyone out there has something to offer. No matter what I'm looking forward to going back...

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I think you're right that the majority of students will be in their 20s, but there are typically more than a few students in their 30s and older. This, at any rate, was true of the students where I got my MA. I can also report, though my experience may not be representative, that the older and younger students mixed well and there was very little age-related awkwardness that I could tell. By the way, hope Arlington is treating you well. I'm a native (grew up not too far from the intersection of Lee and Glebe and worked at Cherrydale Hardware all through high school). Good times.

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When I got my Master's, I observed quite a diversity of ages among the other MA students. I was 22 went I started the program, and I think I was the youngest student. A lot of people were in the mid-20's, going back to get certification for teaching, or just finishing their grad degree. There were a few people in their early thirties, and one man in his fifties. There was very little "age-related awkwardness," the only thing I noticed is that the man in his fifties (who hadn't recently finished his degree, unlike you) seemed to have some trouble taking direction or accepting ideas from the professors who were ten years younger then him (and also happened to be women). I think this was more of an individual problem of his--he *was* kind of a dinosaur, and had the thinking that went something like "literature is inherently great, shakespeare is better than everyone, and racism is just a pyschological hurdle that people can 'overcome' by believing they can 'achieve.'"). It seems like you're not going to have these problems, though, and it definately helps that you recently finished your undergrad degree, so you know what's going on. Overall, I wouldn't worry about it. I think students/professors alike are used to dealing with people from all different backgrounds and with different goals.

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I'm an older grad school candidate (just turned 41 this past December) looking to start an English/Lit M.A. program in the fall, assuming I get accepted and get funding (big assumptions). I don't know anyone else who has gone back to grad school at this age for a humanities degree, so I'm just curious if there are any other older, "non-traditional" students out there who could share their experience once they got into a program.

I didn't finish up my undergrad degree until recently, so going back won't be the shock it might have if there had been a 20-year lapse. But I do wonder how well I'll fit into a program, whether I'll feel out of place. The nice thing about literature is that it's timeless, so I don't think I'll feel like a dinosaur, exactly. But what's the typical mix in a small (< 100 students) English M.A. program? I assume that the majority of English grad students enter a program soon after college, but maybe there's more variety than I would expect. Not that I mind being in a classroom with a group of younger students... I just know that my own goals and background will likely be very different from theirs. Which could (should) be a very good thing. Variety is good.

So this is just an open question in case anyone out there has something to offer. No matter what I'm looking forward to going back...

I'm writing from the perspective of the youngster: as a 21 year-old on a Masters course (though admittedly not english/literature), a lot of my peers are older. However, there's little (if any) age-related animosity or awkwardness. One of my better friends from the program is 48, with two kids. We work closely with people who are 24, 28, and even 71 ( ! ) years old. So if it's not a problem for you, it's not a problem for us.

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I went back as a mid-thirties mother of one to finish my graduate degree, and there are a few things I noticed specifically (that may or may not apply to you, dependent upon your seriousness in the field/ about school overall) - I am a very serious and driven student, and was even more so with a one-hour commute and a young child, plus a full-time job, while I was doing my degree. needless to say, my only real contact with these people was during class and during the breaks in classes/ times between them, but you do learn a lot about one another through discussions and such - I never felt I was missing out socially, mainly because I was older and didn't WANT to go to frat parties and sorority stuff. We occasionally went to the local pub after classes, which was a great time to just relax before driving home, but not often, because I had to get up and teach the next day.

I do remember being just floored at some of the shenanigans going on during class (especially in one upper-division undergrad/grad class blend, which ostensibly only had junior and senior English majors and graduate students enrolled in it). I could not believe some of the behaviors - personal conversations, texting (despite its being expressly stated in the syllabus this was not allowed) - and the number of classes some students skipped. One girl had a pizza delivered on an evening during which the professor had us watching a film in class - harmless stuff, really, but there was definitely a lot of immaturity going on, more often than probably should have been the case. I remember feeling really almost despairing over all the wasted time, both in the class and outside of class, with some of these students. I know undergrads are a different sort, and certainly, I myself had some less-than-stellar moments in some of my classes, but it seemed really in-your face and disrespectful (and the professor did eventually have to say something about the texting, which prompted the person in violation of the syllabus doing it to accuse her of picking on him, go figure). I remember that some of the undergrads were amazing, so focused and prepared, and I was really impressed with them. The serious younger students congregated together, they formed something of a core, and I never had trouble talking with or forging relationships with them; in fact, they sort of adopted me as their role model/mascot, in a way, which was fun and funny. Mainly, the undergrads were in-between being younger and starting to professionalize, and class discussions were really good some nights, not so good other nights - typical. I did enjoy class.

I remember that among my fellow graduate students there was a lot of complaining about the reading for some classes in comparison to others, which I was annoyed by - you're in graduate school for English, what the hell did you expect it was going to be? There were several women in their late thirties in the program, and I am certain there were older students as well, just not in the classes I was taking, they had a more modern bent. I do remember that I was disappointed my fellow graduate students weren't more advanced and weren't trying to be more advanced - I wanted to have really in-depth, serious, academic discussions about Middle English and Old English meter and so forth, and none of my cohort was vaguely interested in trying for anything like mastery or proficiency, they just wanted to do the work, get the grade, and get out. One woman in particular got her nose all bent out of joint because she was working in Early Modern and claimed Chaucer was a contemporary of Malory (neither of whom is an early modern author and who are in fact NOT contemporaries at ALL). In a room full of undergraduates who thought the grad students knew everything and were writing down notes, I felt compelled to correct that comment; the professor corroborated, and that woman never spoke to me again (I guess she showed me...) because "I made her look bad in front of the professor". But, the mistake she made would not have been made if she had bothered to do ANY research on EITHER of the figures in question. I was disappointed in the lack of initiative so many upper-division students showed...didn't they WANT to know more? (answer, because I asked one of them - not really, they were just trying to get their degree). I was just different, I was surely in it for the degree, but mainly for the information and the research and writing and debating and discussing - in short, I was academically inclined, and they were job-inclined. Once I understood that, it got better because I realized I was only there for me and therefore had to work at my pace, my pace was faster and on a different track than theirs, and that was totally OK. (More than OK, really; my professors loved me. I had one petition me, pregnancy and all, to please, PLEASE just take the class, they'd make any necessary arrangements when I gave birth, but please just be in the class to bring up the level of discourse more - which was maybe the best academic compliment I ever received as a student. :P)

Long and short of it is - why are you going to graduate school? It will be whatever you think it is. I had an amazing time, some of the undergrads I was in courses with are my Facebook buddies, and the rest...well, I think they probably are not on this forum trying to get into graduate school for further study of English anyhow, so, meh. :rolleyes:.

Edited by Medievalmaniac
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I'm in my early thirties in a social science graduate program--also a mom of two little ones. I was really surprised to find that I was one of the older students in the program. I think "where" you go can have a huge impact on the type of people you will be with. My program is at a very selective school--which allows for an incredible population of intelligent, ambitious students. My peers are really wonderful to be around and very excepting of me--granted, our social time is spent quite differently. I'd rather be home with netflix than out at a concert or drinking at a party. But I definitely feel like I have friends where I am.

I think the most important thing is determining who you want to work with at a faculty level. As an "older" student, I find that certain faculty personalities just don't work with all students the same way. A good number of faculty members can have control issues and really expect their students to "bow" to them--and as a mother of two and coming out of a career, I found it difficult to be pushed around. Thankfully, I've found another advisor who is much more collaborative and really appreciates more independent students. I would contact advisees and be frank about your curiosity--many may be afraid to be too honest out of fear of having their cover blown.

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I think Medievalmanic has a lot of helpful insights - particularly the question of why you want to be there. You said you were looking to enroll in an MA program; are you looking to continue to a PhD? Why do you want that degree? The answers to these questions, and your ultimate career goals, will determine your relationship with your cohort much more than any age discrepancy.

Depending on the MA program you go to, you can expect a lot of fresh-from-undergrad early 20 year olds or very few. Students who make it into a PhD program with funding are serious and dedicated, no matter their age, and you would not witness the shenanigans MM discussed (at least, one would hope).

Two points I wanted to address specifically:

The following I did not understand. Perhaps there were a lot of "blend" grad/undergrad classes at this school, but I could not imagine anyone from my MA program going to frat parties, and, as a youngster, the insinuation was vaguely insulting:

I never felt I was missing out socially, mainly because I was older and didn't WANT to go to frat parties and sorority stuff.

Obviously, if you want to steer clear of Greek life like any normal person, you'll not fraternize with undergrads. There was a large mix of students at my program; some (old and young) chose not to interact with the larger group, and those who did (again, young and old) were not segregated along age lines. And they did NOT go to frat parties - there was a pub downtown that was a weekly (sometimes daily...) hangout; sometimes there would be potlucks, bowling, that sort of thing.

That said, I absolutely agree with the discrepancies between what I wanted out of the program and what many of my cohort wanted, particularly situations like this:

I remember that among my fellow graduate students there was a lot of complaining about the reading for some classes in comparison to others, which I was annoyed by - you're in graduate school for English, what the hell did you expect it was going to be?

which drove me batty! They were often unsubtle about it, too, and might complain to the professor! Ridiculous! But I digress. However, this seems likely from any lower tier (or unscaled) MA-only program (and perhaps from more prestigious ones?), where students come for a degree for a job, not for learning or as a step toward the PhD. This is NOT to say you won't get a fabulous education or have an amazing, life changing time at said institutions (I am very thankful for the experience I had), but it's something to keep in mind.

Good luck :)

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I do remember being just floored at some of the shenanigans going on during class (especially in one upper-division undergrad/grad class blend, which ostensibly only had junior and senior English majors and graduate students enrolled in it). I could not believe some of the behaviors - personal conversations, texting (despite its being expressly stated in the syllabus this was not allowed) - and the number of classes some students skipped. One girl had a pizza delivered on an evening during which the professor had us watching a film in class - harmless stuff, really, but there was definitely a lot of immaturity going on, more often than probably should have been the case. I remember feeling really almost despairing over all the wasted time, both in the class and outside of class, with some of these students. I know undergrads are a different sort, and certainly, I myself had some less-than-stellar moments in some of my classes, but it seemed really in-your face and disrespectful (and the professor did eventually have to say something about the texting, which prompted the person in violation of the syllabus doing it to accuse her of picking on him, go figure). I remember that some of the undergrads were amazing, so focused and prepared, and I was really impressed with them. The serious younger students congregated together, they formed something of a core, and I never had trouble talking with or forging relationships with them; in fact, they sort of adopted me as their role model/mascot, in a way, which was fun and funny. Mainly, the undergrads were in-between being younger and starting to professionalize, and class discussions were really good some nights, not so good other nights - typical. I did enjoy class.

I'm sorry you had this experience. And while I don't doubt the truthfulness of it at all (I see this behavior from undergrads constantly both in my class and the class I TA for another professor, and it's ridiculous), I'd like to chime in and say I had no problems like this in my own MA program. I got my MA at a big mid-level state school, and most of my peers were early- to mid-twenties. For the most part, they were professionally behaved and always did the reading (or acted like it). Sometimes class discussions weren't all I wanted them to be, but that just comes with the territory.

I switched to a different school for my PhD, and I have to say that my current program has more of a "laptop culture." Which drives me crazy. Some of the younger MA students like to sit in seminar with their laptops open and they occassionally diddle around on Facebook and email. There's no obvious disrespect going on, but it's annoying. I don't see this behavior among PhD students or older students, who tend to take notes the old fashioned way.

To the OP: I have seen people over 40 in both my graduate programs, though I have to admit that people in their 20s make up the bulk of the population. If you want to go back to graduate school, then go. But you should be especially aware that the job market is cruel and unforgiving, and while I have seen "older" people get hired, the preference, as in all other fields, is for young upstarts with long lives in front of them.

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Thanks everyone for the thoughtful replies. I'm not actually uncertain about the decision to go back, and I usually don't think about my age. Was just wondering about it, because it's something else to wonder about. :)

I'm sure the choice of school matters more than the age of the students, too. The schools I'm applying to are all very urban and international, so age should be just one more variation among the students.

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