Back to School at 46

A couple of years ago I decided that my life had hit a dead end and that what I needed was a massive “do-over”. So I quit my job, sold my house, and went back to college to get my third degree. The first time around I was straight out of high school, and it was a different experience entirely. Going back again at this advanced age really made it obvious to me just how much I’ve grown and changed with time.

First of all, I’d chosen to major in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management, so there were only 12 students in class, and we took a great deal of our classes together. We seemed to be divided into two groups: those in my age group who were seeking a career change, and those who were fresh out of high school who for the most part didn’t take their education particularly seriously yet still seemed to do very well.

The younger group assumed that their life was going to work out and they’d have this smooth sailing career with no challenges. Ah, to be young again, full of confidence and free of cynicism.

I noticed that the two groups even sat on different sides of the room. And we old-timers would dress for comfort, whereas the whippersnappers were fashion plates for the most part. That pretty much says it all in terms of a difference in priorities. We would ask questions. They would barely take notes.

And not once in my two years at that school did I participate in any social activity, in stark contrast to my last time around. It was a completely different mindset. No dorm drama, no parties. I was strictly there to reach a goal, and that was my only focus. This was my life. My whole life. You don’t see it that way at 19.

Moot point, as it turned out to be a gigantic waste of time. Of the 12 of us, only two got jobs in the field, and they were both from the younger group.

When you see all those commercials about going back to school to pursue a new career, a career that’s simply desperate for employees, a career that’s guaranteed to pay you a fortune and transform your life, what they don’t tell you is that this is actually a great big steaming pile of bs. These colleges are businesses. They are there to make money, and the way they make money is by getting warm behinds in those classroom chairs.

Don’t believe me? If you are considering going back to school, before you sign on the bottom line, ask the department head for statistics. What percentage of their graduates have actually gotten careers in their chosen field? I guarantee you that they will tell you that they don’t keep statistics of that nature. Of course they don’t. They don’t want you to know how long your odds truly are.

And do they help with job placement? If so, they should be able to provide you with a list of business partners. Call those businesses and ask them how many people they’ve hired with that degree from that school. You’ll be disappointed by the response. I’m telling you people, don’t waste your time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong advocate for getting a college education. Everyone should go to college after high school if they possibly can. It will teach you more than just what you need for a particular career field. It prepares you for life in so many ways.

But going back later in life? Unless it’s your first degree, which will indeed greatly improve your earning potential, it’s an exercise in futility. Like I said, the odds of getting a career in your field, regardless of that field, are long. But they’re 10,000 times longer when you are competing for those jobs against people who are younger and stronger and healthier and more attractive and have decades ahead of them to dedicate to that industry.

I love school. I loved that two years. Every single second of it. And I would have loved to have worked in the industry. But after graduating summa cum laude I applied to 198 labs all over the country and nothing. Nothing at all.

It wasn’t worth the risk. I sacrificed too much. I lost too much, and now I’m worse off than I was when I started. Go to school when you’re young. And once you’re done, don’t bother going back. That’s the advice I’d give anyone who asks.


(Image credit:

“I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper
And I was free.”

               -The Indigo Girls “Closer to Fine

6 thoughts on “Back to School at 46

  1. Pingback: College Later in Life: A New Perspective on Professors | The View from a Drawbridge

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