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Thread: Help me *want* to go back to school

  1. #1
    Senior Member treehugger's Avatar
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    Question Help me *want* to go back to school

    (warning: this is way longer than it needs to be, so feel free to skim)

    I need an attitude adjustment. I am 37 years old (will be 38 next month) and I need to go back to school to get a bachelorís degree. I am two years into a great career as an environmental consultant, with a great company that encourages personal/professional development. They provide a decent amount of money per year for continuing education. I sort of fell into this career by luck; I started here as an administrative assistant (which I had been at various companies since 1996) and then was in the right place at the right time to advance to project work.

    I donít already have a degree for several reasons. I had to move out of the house at 18 and, of course, work full time. People can obviously work full time and go to school, but I honestly had no idea how to pay for college, nor did I really think I was smart enough to go anyway. So, I didnít go (well, I did go to community college for a while right after high school but dropped out because of money and lack of motivation; I also spent 2.5 years of night school getting a useless horticulture certificate in 2001-2002).

    I thought I was one of the ďsmart kidsĒ when I was younger, but I distinctly remember suddenly losing all confidence in my intellectual abilities part-way into my junior year in AP History. And I never got it back. I coasted through senior year, did surprisingly OK on my SATs, graduated easily with a B average (public high school was really easy after all), and scraped together the money to apply for one college ($50, UC Davis), but of course didnít get in since you need more than Bs and OK SATs to go to a UC school. And again, I didnít know how to pay for it even if I had been accepted. So, all of that silliness behind me, I went about my life. Iím only explaining all of this to illustrate that school and I never had a good relationship. September and school supplies do not give me the warm fuzzies.

    I got married in 1996, and had a series of crappy, decent, then better office jobs. When I ended up here in 2008, I never dreamed that this would finally turn into a *career*. Pretty cool, actually. So, until now, not having a degree hasnít really got in my way, although it has always been a source of personal shame. But, if I want to continue to advance and get promoted, I will need to get that degree. Everyone here has one and uses it (with the exception of admin. and a few other support roles). There are a lot of different types of engineers and scientists here.

    So, why the need for an attitude adjustment when work will pay for most of school and it can only help my career? Because the very idea of school terrifies me. All those not-smart-enough feelings come back with a rush. Itís not my age, honestly, because I know perfectly well that there are all ages in community colleges and at whatever university I eventually transfer to. But the amount of time it will take looms ahead of me and makes me feel like, even starting now (well, next month, ďfallĒ) I will still *never* be finished. Ugh. Thatís exactly what my mom just said to me when I inadvertently let it slip that I was going back to school. That annoyed me, but only because she is right. Since I know I will not be able to handle full time school *and* full time work, and I need to work full time, school stretches on endlessly into my future. One too-hard-for-me class at a time.

    Then, aside from all of that, I also have to (eventually, but not yet) decide what to get the degree in. Something in the broad categories of the environment or health and safety, since those are the 2 giant umbrellas over what we do here. And there are fewer health and safety consultants at my company, but this is a growing need for our clients, so I am leaning towards that. So, lots of choices, but nothing that stands out for me.

    Oh, and math. Math?? I never ďgotĒ algebra, even though I passed the classes. My last math class was way back in 1991. Eek. Not to mention, night school. Double eek. My internal clock is morning-oriented, and I know from experience that going to school until 10 at night is really tough for me. My brain shuts off by 9. Unless I am under a deadline at work, which I have been since February, and then I can work until 10, but only a few days a week before I canít even put thoughts together any more.

    So, I know that was long and whiny, but this is the first time I am putting all of these thoughts down. And if you were able to read even 25% of that, maybe you can offer some suggestions for how I can turn all these negative thoughts around and embrace the experience of school, to try to get the most out of it and enjoy the journey. Cause goodness knows, I donít think I can do that on my own.

    Kara

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    I graduated high school with a 2.9, and it was only that high because I took super easy classes my senior year. I worked in dead end jobs for a few years, got married, had babies. I NEVER thought of myself as smart. Really, never. Math still terrifies me. When I was 35 with 3 kids, hubby decided to go to college. I figured I might as well apply as well because it would help financial aid wise. I got in, started taking courses, and was actually one of the best students in my classes. I got a 4.0 my first year! As an older student, you have interesting insights that the younger students don't get. You also have a more in tune work ethic and desire to do the work. I liked it so much that I went on to graduate school!

    Look into online courses (which are offered at reputable state schools), which can give you more flexibility in your schedule. That way you won't be tied to evening coursework.
    You can do this!

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    Also, math terrifies a lot of people. Most colleges offer assessment and place you accordingly. There is plenty of tutoring and also workshops on dealing with school anxiety. I have heard good things about the Khan Academy videos.

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    Well, it took my husband 11 years to get his bachelors degree due to a move and "losing" credits due to going to a more highly regarded school at the new location. He committed to working full time (managed 40 people) and doing full time school work. But, we did nothing else in life. Nothing. He graduated second in his class at Indiana University.

    I am a planner and would like all details before I would make a committment. Explore what degree, what costs, what are all !! the requirements and what accomodations could your employer make to allow you to take all the classes. Some might interfere with normal business work hours. Online or classes? Very important to find out when and how often required classes are given.

    Realize what you will have to do to get the degree after all the investigation above and then make the decision.

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    Senior Member fidgiegirl's Avatar
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    I know it was for context, but no use in beating yourself up for not having done this up until now. There are a lot of "first generation" college students that end up in your same boat. We can't turn back the clock . . .

    Perhaps it is worth chilling out over it for another term or two. Aren't you relatively new to this job? See if some aspects of it emerge as really engaging. But the main reason I say this is so that you can take time to carefully choose your institution of study. In the Twin Cities area, and I imagine in the Bay Area, there are several programs geared toward adults returning to study at several public and private not-for-profit colleges and universities. Examples: they might arrange coursework for a certain program as a cohort, so you know your classmates as you move along through the classes (very common in education degrees, not sure about other areas). At least two institutions let people design their own degrees so they don't have to fit into the box of a certain major. Then there's my alma mater and others, with weekend programs where you attend two weekends per month rather than in the evenings or during the day. And I believe that the weekend students move at the same pace as a traditional "day" student, so it wouldn't be the eternal project that it seems to be right now. It's worth it to choose your institution carefully. If there is no rush, I'd take some time to do local investigation. Institutions used to working with adults no doubt have tools to help them understand the college process, help them confront the math phobias (there are SO MANY tools online now to help people understand math - you are no longer stuck with just your math teacher as a resource - thank GOD!), help with the scheduling challenges, etc.

    But once you've chosen, START! Time flies so fast, that even if it's a lot of coursework, you'll be done before you know it. The time is going to go just as fast whether or not you're in school!

    Good luck, Kara. It will be a worthwhile project!!!!!! You've already said it's something that bothers you. And you are so well-situated to have part of it paid.
    Kelli

    My gluten free blog: Twin Cities Gluten Free
    Our house remodel blog: Our Fair Abode

  6. #6
    Senior Member fidgiegirl's Avatar
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    And OMG, I didn't even think of the online courses until I saw the other posters. Golden. Though with one caveat, I am not entirely sure that all-online programs like University of Phoenix are highly regarded in some fields. Anyone know about that? My sense though is that if you do online courses as part of a brick-and-mortar institutions programming, no one knows the difference.
    Kelli

    My gluten free blog: Twin Cities Gluten Free
    Our house remodel blog: Our Fair Abode

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    Yea around the same age, I never went back to get a degree either because I never needed one to earn more than enough to live on, and work was quite enough to fill most of my time, and I wanted the rest of the time devoted to *MY* life, not what society wanted for me, or employers or etc. (besides the fact that it was never primarily intellectual development that I lacked growing up, what I lacked was emotional and interpersonal development - though one can always gain in intellectual development of course and heaven knows I do believe in that pursuit).

    1) You don't absolutely *need* to get a degree. I'm not saying don't get one, just calling the attention to "needs" versus there may be a "lot of good reasons" like career advancement and job security, to take the path of getting a degree and that is for you to evaluate rationally. Just thinking pushing ourselves on some path we feel we "must" do (there are no alternatives!) never works. Shoulding all over ourselves, and musterbation as the CBT folks say . It's not about "musts" and "show no mercy" it's about rational evaluation in the context of our goals in life and maybe just experimentation (the world would not end if you only took a few classes and decided to bail on the degree, it's ok to experiment).
    2) On the subject of intellegence, I don't think you need to be all that intellegent to get a bachelors degree, everyone has one these days. I'll say that point blank. I'm not going to speak about graduate degrees because they do require more (to speak nothing of graduate degrees in the sciences, many of the smartest people I know felt dumb there). But really you don't have to be that intellegent to get a bachelors degree, which is another way of saying without even knowing you that you are probably MORE THAN smart enough.

    I also spent 2.5 years of night school getting a useless horticulture certificate in 2001-2002).
    Shows commitment, don't knock it, accepted it may not have market value.

    So, until now, not having a degree hasnít really got in my way, although it has always been a source of personal shame.
    I hear you, I figure when I confess this, people lump you in some category of "dumb and lazy", and I don't like either epithet (or even slightly think I'm "dumb ). I think it's more I was very confused in my youth and I do tend to march to my own drummer. But I do hear you about the shame.

    But the amount of time it will take looms ahead of me and makes me feel like, even starting now (well, next month, ďfallĒ) I will still *never* be finished. Ugh. Thatís exactly what my mom just said to me when I inadvertently let it slip that I was going back to school. That annoyed me, but only because she is right. Since I know I will not be able to handle full time school *and* full time work, and I need to work full time, school stretches on endlessly into my future. One too-hard-for-me class at a time.
    The classes are probably not too hard for you. This is probably why you need to experiment as it were with just taking a class or two at first without making the grand mental commitment. Then if you do make the commitment it will be in the context of actual evidence rather than mere projections of your fear and your lack (sometimes I should take my own advice ). Anyway, then you can evaluate in the context of your other goals in life, if there is something you really really want much more than a degree (from kids to becoming a great poet) then do that (there's no "must" - you are free!). But if not the saying usually goes you will get older and time will pass anyway (it will), would you rather this time pass working toward whatever goals you want to work for in life (which may be a degree) or just pass without having worked for them? Would you rather be, I don't know, 45 having acheived a degree or 45 not having done so. If there is something in life you want more than a degree you might choose the latter but otherwise you will choose the former. Always better to be older and having pursued what we want. Don't listen to your mom, parental poison, she's degrading your abilities, it's BS.

    Then, aside from all of that, I also have to (eventually, but not yet) decide what to get the degree in. Something in the broad categories of the environment or health and safety, since those are the 2 giant umbrellas over what we do here. And there are fewer health and safety consultants at my company, but this is a growing need for our clients, so I am leaning towards that. So, lots of choices, but nothing that stands out for me.
    What woulld you PREFER to study? What interests you? What will hold your interest through all the years of getting a degree? If the only thing that can hold your interest in the world is say philsophy then you might still look better on a resume with a philosophy degree than no degree. But more realistically you do have a lot of not so esoteric and very practical choices here of degrees, which one interests you more as a thing to study? Really asking yourself what interests you would seem very important to me.

    Oh, and math. Math?? I never ďgotĒ algebra, even though I passed the classes. My last math class was way back in 1991. Eek. Not to mention, night school. Double eek. My internal clock is morning-oriented, and I know from experience that going to school until 10 at night is really tough for me. My brain shuts off by 9. Unless I am under a deadline at work, which I have been since February, and then I can work until 10, but only a few days a week before I canít even put thoughts together any more.
    Possibly consider distance education, now be very very skeptical as there are a lot of scams out there, but if you can find it at a truly reputable college it is something to consider (I only wish the California college system offered more of this). Some reputable private colleges offer partial distance education where you only meet a few weekends a month, they generally cost and arm and a leg though, I can't in good conscience recommend massive school debt.
    I hope that someone saves a seat for me on the last plane out

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    You may find it helpful to go to an accredited college geared towards adult learners. A friend went to Thomas Edison State College and got credit for all past college courses, work experience, technical training from the military, etc. He took classes locally but got his degree from Thomas Edison in New Jersey. It has worked out fine on his resume since it is a 4 year degree from an accredited college. The other two main colleges like that seem to be Charter Oaks and Excelsior.

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    There are two issues here, the psychological and the logistical.

    In terms of worrying about your ability to handle it, and the amount of time it will take--College as an older student is so very different from high school...yes, you have been away from school for many years, but you have also been gaining maturity, independence, a wider perspective. I often think that education would work better if people worked in their late teens and early twenties, and went to school in their late twenties when maturity has settled in. For instance, even as a very bright student I struggled with literature classes. I just couldn't see what the teacher was trying to help me appreciate in terms of theme, style, symbolism. Around 30 I started reading some of this stuff on my own, and all of sudden I got it. I just needed more life experience to understand what other people saw in great literature. And a lot of professors really appreciate older students who understand the value of what they are doing as opposed to the younger ones who are in school just because "that's what you do next." In terms of the time it will take...in ten years you will be 47. Do you want to be 47 with or without the degree and the new career achievements it will help you toward? My mom finished her master's the same year her third child graduated college...and she started when I (her oldest) was still in high school! And here's the thing--education can be emotionally rewarding, and exciting. It isn't all the time, or maybe even 50% of the time, but it's not all grim drudging toward graduation. There will be moments of discovery, achievement, camaraderie with classmates, inspiration mixed in with the very hard work. And the other nice thing about college is that grades matter only to the degree you think they do. In high school, grades are so incredibly important because college admission and scholarships are based on them...but it's pretty rare that anyone looks at a college transcript unless you are going to graduate school. You get out of education what you put into it, so I'm not encouraging slacking, but if you get into a class where the subject material or professor don't work for you...you'll be on to something different in the next semester.

    Logistics-wise, there are just so many different choices these days. Not all continuing education is at night--if you are an early bird, you might want to do online courses where you can do the work first thing in the morning, (maybe you could negotiate a work start time an hour later than usual, or something like that). As long as you take your courses from a university that you recognize as a real campus somewhere, you should be fine. More and more schools are offering distance education. And in terms of trying to figure out your degree choice...I would just ask around. Offer to take some of your colleagues who are on a track you admire out for a cup of coffee, and ask what they think. People LOVE giving advice (you're not under any obligation to take it) especially when there's no possible hidden agenda (ie, you're not hinting around for a raise or something). It's a compliment to them that you think they have something valuable to say.

    Good luck!

  10. #10
    Senior Member KayLR's Avatar
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    I SO agree with what Amelia Jane is saying. College is so much different as a mature adult than it was when you were 18-19. You have fewer "distractions," have better coping skills, probably better study skills due to maturity and dedication-motivation.

    Math was not my forte, either, but there were some resources through the department for those who struggle: tutors and special workshops on how to study for math tests and how to study math, period.

    You don't have to go full-time; I got my 2-yr degree by chipping away, 2-3 classes a quarter; and after my old credits were applied, it didn't seem like it took all that long to finish up. Then I did actually go full-time for the rest of the 4-yr. degree. I loved every minute of it---loved working with and being around the younger students. I was 50 when I earned my BS Summa Cum Laude.

    My only regret is that the market for someone entering the field with my degree has completely gone to crap. When newspapers started laying off reporters, the PR-outreach type jobs were all sucked up by them. I still do some writing here and there, but nothing like I would like to do. And yet, I still have lovely student loans to pay, so am back doing office management like before. So, moral of the story: Make sure the degree not only is in something you feel passionate about, but will also be around when you finish up. I couldn't have predicted what was going to happen, but maybe that's something to consider.
    ďIf you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." - Dr. Wayne Dyer

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