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Are there any older students who want to connect?

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Hey there! I was wondering if there are members who would like to talk about the experience of being an older graduate student. 

I earned by BA in History in 1995 and spent the next 20 years working as an IT Manager. It's been a good career, but no longer offers the same challenges and interest for me, so I decided to craft a new second career for myself. I completed my Master's degree this spring as well as a graduate certificate in Contemporary Gerontological Practice. As an undergraduate I went to school full-time as well as working a full-time job and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. This time around I not only took classes and worked full-time, I also have a family and all of the obligations that go along with that and still graduated with a 4.0. I was lucky to have some really terrific advisors who encouraged me to keep going, so I start my doctorate in Health Education this fall. 

As an older student I find myself in a very strange place both in and out of the classroom. My friends (and especially my husband's friends who are older than me) find it very strange that I would want to go back to school and create a new career at this point in my life. I'm "only" 48 so I have a lot of years ahead of myself that will involve work, and the thought of spending all of that time in IT makes me want to cry.

I work for a manufacturing company and my co-workers have no interest in what I'm doing - not that they're hostile, they just don't care - so it's this whole thing that consumes my life but that I never speak of to people I spend 40+ hours a week with. 

It is a very humbling experience to be a seasoned professional who is "The Expert" in the workplace, but the grasshopper in the classroom. In my career I wrote a national training program for a major insurance provider, and in the classroom I had to learn how to write a literature review and deal with the eight thousand edits that are entailed in a thesis. It was a good experience and it taught me not to be cocky (or at least I hope that I learned that lesson!), but switching between the roles of expert and novice can be exhausting. 

On the plus side, I have all of that "getting married and raising a family" stuff out of the way. I have a good, stable, well-paying job with supportive bosses so I know I won't have Raman Noodles for dinner every night as a student. I have a strong support system in my husband and daughter and even my parents. I pay for my classes out of my own pocket without any student loans so I'm not indebted to anyone. Yes, I have to save, save, save, but I don't have to worry about funding or soul-crushing debt. I have lots and lots of time to write and work on assignments. 

On the negative side, I have a full-time job so I can't take a GA and get the experience that younger students might on campus. I have a shorter time-frame to work with, so my end goals have to be simpler and more realistic. I can't relocate, so I didn't have the same options for applying to different programs (although I'm lucky that a top ten program in my chosen field is offered at the University one mile from my workplace). 

It's both scary and liberating to be an older student. I'm doing this because I want to, not because I have to. I'm doing it on my own terms and I'm having fun. There's a good chance I'm doing all of this for nothing and will die of old age in my server room, but if that happens at least I gave it a shot.

Are there any others out there like me? If so, what do you find to be the best and worst thing about being an older student?

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Older student here - somewhat different experience.

I started out as a traditional aged college student (way back in 1979).
switched majors, switched schools - several times. What I was doing was learning enough along the way to keep getting better and better jobs - in the early 80's only talent and the ability to learn was required to do software development back then.

In the late 80's real life intervened - family, kids, homes etc...

In 2002, the consulting position I had was off-shored, and I was having problems getting a new position (no degree). I eventually landed a decent (but much lower paying) development position at Rutgers. Since 100% tuition remission was part of the employee benefit package, I figured that I would go back to school and finally finish my undergrad degree as soon as possible.

Life intervened again - another kid, medical issues with the in-laws, so the going back to school plan got put on hold for a few years longer than expected.

In 2007, I started going back to school again. I was able to transfer enough credits from the previous century, to fill most of the basic education requirements. I finally finished my undergrad in 2014, but I also knew that I really wanted to get a PhD eventually. The PhD program I am interested in, requires a specific masters in order to apply, so right now I am finishing up the MI/MLIS degree before applying to the next program (Fall 2017, the application is in progress, I just need to verify some LORs and tweak the personal statement before pressing the final submit button)

Like you, I have all of the marriage/family stuff out of the way, and a decent paying position where I am supported in going back to school (working for a university certainly helps in that matter). The negatives are the same too, I can't get a regular GA position since the full time job takes precedence, but I have been offered a adjunct faculty position which will start as soon as a course opens which fits my schedule. I can't easily relocate either, since I am relying on tuition benefits to pay for this (unfortunately I passed the salary cap on the 100% tuition and have been downgraded to 50%, so I really need that adjunct position to help pay for things). I am also fortunate enough to have a wife who tolerates me being out late several nights a week for classes.

I have the same feelings - scary and liberating at the same time. Scary since there are times where I find it difficult to keep up, liberating because the industry experience means I know how to tolerate corporate/academic BS. Like you, I am doing this because I want to,  but it is also a plan for something to do after I eventually retire. I can easily see myself teaching at a small college somewhere in the future.

I think one of the best things is that I now have a better relationship with my daughter - she is also a grad student at the same university (different school & subject area), but being around younger students who are about the same age as her gives me a better perspective on what her life is about. She is also planning on applying to a PhD program after finishing her master's - and we are both scheduled to graduate in May 2017.


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Hey I'm not alone!! Sounds like we're going down sorta similar paths. I do appreciate that you're older than me, it makes me feel less like an outlier! :-) Perhaps the one advantage you have over me is that you're staying in your industry. I'm not sure my extensive networking experience is going to help me in health education or gerontology, but you never know! I would agree that the experience navigating through a work environment helps a lot. 

Teaching is a good choice for you considering your profession. The IT/IS field has to be one of the worst when it comes to agesim, especially when it comes to pay. Please do hire the 20 year old who fixes computers in his basement over me - it's not like the years and years of experience are worth more than 30 grand a year. I don't even take calls from head hunters anymore. 

That's great about your daughter. Mine is still in high school, but when she graduates she'll attend the same university that I am, so we may have a couple of years together. I think it's been good for her to see me do this; even if she is in her self-absorbed high school phase, I think she sees what I'm doing. 

I believe what we're doing-planning a second career-will become more common in the coming years. My husband's daughter swears she will love her job for the rest of her life. Ah youth! Once upon a time being in charge of a large network and overseeing the IT functions for a company were exciting and new and I swore I'd love it forever. I really don't know what I'm going to do when I finish, I have several ideas but nothing concrete, but I do know that today when I got up to go to work I didn't feel trapped. 

I do feel a lot of empathy for the young students. I'm a little behind you on the time line, but I also remember the day when you could work hard and move up the corporate ladder. How scary it must be to start out today! Getting older has its own baggage, but it's a lot easier to think about career planning when you know that your mortgage is almost paid up and your kids are about to leave the nest!

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks for starting this thread! 

I have a similar story and would love to hear more about your experience and share mine as well but it's 3am where I am so will write again when less sleepy. Just wanted to say you're not alone!

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  • 2 months later...

Oh my lord - yes, relate to this thread.  There's another older students thread, but would love to talk with others.  I'm 1.5 years into my master's and there's light at the end of the tunnel, but I would say almost 90% of my stress is working with younger students.  Definitely will be watching this with interest - maybe people will contribute again after the term ends ;)

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It was nice to find this thread today! I'm 36 and just now applying to graduate programs; if accepted, I'll be 37 when I start.  I'm married and my husband's job makes moving permanently out of the question, and while we're prepared to be away from each other for a few years while I get this done, I don't feel comfortable being completely removed from him for so long, and limited my search to programs in the northeast. I have 13 years of military experience that is at least tangentially germane to my subject, but knowing that doesn't do much to quell the intense feeling of being from another planet during this process.  

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