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Going Back to College
Posted: 03 July 2009 08:11 PM   [ Ignore ]
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After 26 years, at the age of 54, I have decided to quit my job and go back to college. I never finished my degree because my wife got pregnant halfway through my junior year, which was her freshman year. I had enough education and experience to get a job as a journalist on the local bi-weekly newspaper. We struggled and my wife got through college with a lot of help from her parents. As I gained work experience and the economy improved in the 1990s I started making too much money to consider finishing my education.

Fast forward through the tech bubble bursting, four years as a motorsports photographer, and two years working at a local auto dealership setting appointments in the service department, and I realize I hate my job. I do not want to go to work in the morning. I’m fed up with whiney customers, coworkers who do the absolute minimum amount of work they can get away with, and mostly I’m tired of working at a job that has no rewards other than a small paycheck.

Yesterday i went to our local community college and took a placement test. I scored a 99 on the written portion, 96 on reading, and 28 on math. So I’m placing out of freshman comp and taking introductory algebra. I plan to get an associate degree in Spanish and take one math course each semester until I hit a brick wall. If I can tear down that wall I’ll pursue a degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences, which will require biology, chemistry, physics and calculus. If I run into a mathematical brick wall I’ll pursue a degree in American Studies with a concentration in Environment, Science and Technology.

Either way I’ll be much better off than I am now.

My wife is pursuing her second master’s degree (MS in Organizational Leadership and Ethics), and I am helping her with her classes. She is very smart, but has poor writing skills, so I am doing extensive editing on her papers, and have learned a lot doing so. One thing I have learned is I can make it through graduate school. But one step at a time. First, the AA in Spanish, then I’ll know which direction to go with my major. If all goes well I’ll graduate with a PhD at the age of 62 and begin my final career. I don’t care if I end up as a freelance science writer making $6,000 per year, I never want to work another customer service job.

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Posted: 03 July 2009 08:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I say GO FOR IT! Life is too short, and there is not going to be anything else after it! grin

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Posted: 04 July 2009 01:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I, like you, left my job, involuntarily, in retail banking, and enrolled in college after a few months of depression. I have to say it’s probably the best thing I have done so far in my life. Having been in customer service,specifically banking, for eight years instead of going to college right after high school was a choice I had always regretted, particularly because I had always hated it even though I was doing fairly well, and for the same reasons as you have noted.

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Posted: 04 July 2009 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Sounds like a great idea, fotobits. Glad to hear it. Let us know how it goes!

I will say that if you scored 99 in writing, perhaps you should consider pursuing courses that involve writing rather than math? Might be an easier row to hoe ...

That said, I’m sure whatever path you pick will be fascinating and rewarding in the end.

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Posted: 04 July 2009 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Fotobits- you said you have a massive music collection. I’m guessing you’re familiar with a certain Steppenwolf tune?
“It’s never too late”.

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Posted: 04 July 2009 11:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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dougsmith, I’ve thought of sticking to writing too, and may very well do that. It all depends upon how I fare in math classes. The reason I scored so poorly on the math test was because I have not practiced math for 25 years. When I looked at some of the problems on the math test I was thinking “I used to do this stuff in my head, and now I can’t remember how to solve this equation.” If I can make it through the math, fine. If not, I’ll stick with the American Studies major and take science courses designed for liberal arts majors.

VYAZMA, Yep. “It’s never too late to start all over again.” I think that will be my theme song. Thanks for the reminder.

(Edit: added reply to VYAZMA)

[ Edited: 04 July 2009 05:51 PM by DarronS ]
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Posted: 04 July 2009 12:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I agree that you have to find pursuits that you can enjoy, and that does include learning in school.  My first jobs were acceptable, but my final one was the best.  I played about 200 hours a month, worked four hours a month (filling out expense reports), and got far better compensation than in my prior job, even though it was in lab management (but still poorly paid).

Occam

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Posted: 04 July 2009 01:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Congrats!  I wish you a lot of luck finishing this time.  You will have a very good feeling when you finish.  smile

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 04 July 2009 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Co-workers encouraged me to return to school. When I used the excuse that I would be 32 in 4 years, they made the point that I would be 32 regardless, and it was better to be 32 with a degree. Made a LOT of sense—-I went back to school! Never regretted it! grin

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Posted: 05 July 2009 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Great decision fotobits!  Good luck with all your efforts.  I can relate to you because our situation is very much the same.  After high school, I went to an automotive trade school with aspirations of becoming a master automotive technician.  I very quickly realized how much I hated working on other people’s cars and realized I only wanted to work on my own car(s).  At the age of 20, I decided to go to truck-driving school.  I got my C.D.L. class"A” at the age of 21 and I started driving across the midwest (USA).  I I found myself making a lot more money than the average college graduate.  A few years later, I obtained all my endorsements including tanker and hazmat and I found a job working for an oil company delivering fuel from federal ports.  The salaries of this position at this particular company ranged from 60k-95k/year.  I felt like I was on top of the world, but there was something missing.  I was working 60hrs/week and life became very monotonous.  I severely lacked physical and mental exercise.  I found myself acquiring a huge thirst for knowledge and began reading various topics on the internet such as science, math, and history.  One day, I decided, ‘if I was doing this on my own free time, why not sign up for college and get credit for it?’  I decided to go to college and I had to make a hard decision of quitting truck-driving because of the demanding work schedule.  I found a full-time job working at a warehouse making VERY little money, but I am currently halfway thru my semester with a 3.9GPA and I already have 5 classes under my belt at the age of 30.  I realized there is no greater satisfaction in life than quenching the thirst for knowledge.  I don’t think I will ever stop studying because I now feel that education is a life-long quest, not a 2, 4 or 8-year journey.

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Posted: 08 July 2009 02:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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fotobits - 03 July 2009 08:11 PM

I scored a 99 on the written portion, 96 on reading, and 28 on math. So I’m placing out of freshman comp and taking introductory algebra. I plan to get an associate degree in Spanish and take one math course each semester until I hit a brick wall. If I can tear down that wall I’ll pursue a degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences, which will require biology, chemistry, physics and calculus. If I run into a mathematical brick wall I’ll pursue a degree in American Studies with a concentration in Environment, Science and Technology.

Congratulations on your decision and good scores, fotobits!
Keep moving forward, ever forward!

Important:Make sure that your professors are helpful to you by answering
your questions about the course work.  If they are not, then maybe
another school has professors who are helpful. 

Ugh fotobits, you break my heart when you talk about a brick wall
pursuing math!  You sound like another victim of the bad way that
math is taught in K-12, sadly that is true for the first couple of
years of college too.

Math should be the simplest subject though, because the elementary
mathematics is so logical and the proofs are right there in class. 
What could be easier, right? 

Don’t let calculus scare you, it is not a scary subject either.
Everybody learned to calculate the area of a rectangle as length
× height, that’s easy.  But your teachers skipped telling you
how to calculate the areas of those funny curves (parabolas,
sines, etc.).  At its core, integration is a technique to
calculate the area underneath a function (such as those curves).
Integration is one of the techniques in calculus.

Integration: Imagine approximating the area under a curve
with a group of slim tall rectangles which reach down to the
horizontal axis and up to the curve.  The more slim that the
rectangles are then the more precise the approximation will be.
Calculating thousands of these rectangles underneath the curve
would give a quite precise result but is laborious; it turns
out that after thousands of years of mathematical proofs using
this and other techniques there have been discovered some simple
patterns in how you can convert (integrate) a formula to arrive
at the same result as the rectangle technique.  It turns out that
these patterns are a faster and more precise technique, than the
labor of calculating thousands of rectangles.  The resulting
area is exact when you use the modern conversions rather than
the ancient laborious rectangle technique.  Calculus class teaches
you the modern conversions of integration.

There are more techniques and possibilities than just integration,
but that is at the heart of the matter.  That’s not scary is it?
This is some of the work that Archamedes, Sir Issac Newton, and
Leibniz did, at the heart of their great genius and achievement,
and you can learn that genius too!  Don’t you want to know?

As a simple example integration:

                dy = ∫(x^2)dx =  (x^3)/3 + C

  1. Surround the formula with Leibniz’ notation (the differential
  of y and x; also the elongated S), indicating that we intend
  to integrate.

  2. Increment the exponent of x.

  3. Copy that exponent downward, placing it as a denominator of x.

  4. Add the constant of integration (C).

  5. Remove Leibniz’ notation once we write the rightmost side of
  the equation, we are done integrating.

The impact that calculus has had on our daily lives is huge!
It is such a large part the basis of the great technological boon
that we live in.  And its future potential is unlimited!

But Newton was not really a mathematician, he was more of an
alchemist (the turning lead to gold stuff), and so the math was
just a tool to him, one that he took farther than anyone else
had before.  That playful curious creativity should be at the
heart of all math classes.
He wanted to know the
areas (slopes and other qualities) about objects flying through
the air and other physics.  Mathematics was the tool to get him
to his answers, with precision.  So, if you pursue physics, or
engineering, they teach you to learn mathematics as a tool to solve
real world problems, which is the appropriate way for many to learn
mathematics and the way that everyone is complaining about missing.

There are people who care only about pure mathematics without
application, they are the people who pursue a Ph.d. in mathematics.
But most of us do not do that.

Since most of us don’t want to have a Ph.d. in mathematics, that
creates a conflict that is at the heart of all math classes in the
USA, and at the heart of the reason why people complain about math.
Most people don’t see the great science of math as an end to
itself, instead they want to see it applied to real world problems.
This is part of what scientists and engineers do in their work.

Math is NOT about endless repetition and memorization, but is really
about creative expression, experimentation, playful discovery, and
precise analysis.  It is the language of science and engineering.

Of course, if you want to pursue the spoken languages, then they
don’t seem to want to do any math at the undergraduate level,
so you won’t be given any exposure to this topic if you prefer.
Language is a fine subject, I just think that people should be
aware of their options.

archimedes90a.jpg GodfreyKneller-IsaacNewton-1689.jpg leibniz180.jpg

tcm92678 - 05 July 2009 05:39 AM

Great decision fotobits!...  but I am currently halfway thru my semester with a 3.9GPA and I already have 5 classes under my belt at the age of 30.  I realized there is no greater satisfaction in life than quenching the thirst for knowledge.  I don’t think I will ever stop studying because I now feel that education is a life-long quest, not a 2, 4 or 8-year journey.

Congratulations tcm92678.  We grow is size from child to adult,
but the growth doesn’t need to stop there, and can continue by
growing in knowledge!

[ Edited: 08 July 2009 02:48 PM by jump_in_the_pit ]
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Posted: 08 July 2009 03:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Yeah, I had one very bad math teacher my second year of college algebra. I did fairly well in Elementary Algebra, breezed through Geometry (I really enjoyed Geometry), the got a D in Intermediate Algebra. I took the class again my senior year and got a B. My teacher the first stood at the blackboard with his back to the class and talked in a monotone as he worked equations. The next I had a teach who would write part of an equation, turn around to engage the class, walk around the room, and encourage us to ask questions. If I work at it I can make it through.

Since I originally posted this I spoke with an admissions counselor at St. Edward’s University in Austin. They have a program geared toward older students who are returning to college. The cost is breathtaking compared with community college, but I can get a BA in two to two and a half years. Some students attend part of their classes at St. Ed’s and part at Austin Community College. At St. Ed’s I’ll get credit for the classes I took 26 years ago, so won’t have to start over with zero credits as I would at ACC. I applied for St. Ed’s last night and will see how that goes.

In some ways I want to get a BA as soon as possible. I also want to learn math and physics.

Decisions, decisions.

tcm92678, Good for you. you’ll be much happier in the long run.

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Posted: 08 July 2009 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I’ve been mulling this over a bit since coming home. I’ve never asked a bunch of strangers on an Internet forum for advice before, but I respect the people here and would like some input.

My goal is to do what I set out to do in 1982 when I started college: I want to be a science writer. I don’t just want to write about science, I want to share the intangibles, the sheer pleasure of learning about our world and our universe.

The shortest route to the goal is getting a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from St. Edward’s with concentrations in Journalism, Professional Ethics, and Environmental Science and Policy. This would take five to six semesters at $12k per semester. If I attend summer sessions I could have a BA by the end of 2011.

The longer route is to attend Austin Community College until I get through Calculus, two semesters of Physics, and introductory Chemistry, then transfer to a university and major in a humanities discipline with a minor in Astronomy or Physics. The possibilities here are pretty much endless, and include transferring to The University of Texas at Austin and getting a degree in History with a minor in Astronomy, or moving to Albuquerque (which my wife wants to do for her own reasons) and transferring to the University of New Mexico to pursue a degree in either American Studies or Environmental Science with a minor in Astrophysics. This will take until spring 2014.

No matter which of the options I choose, I want to move to Albuquerque eventually and get a PhD in American Studies from UNM. My wife wants to get an MFA from UNM.

I’m torn about what to do because A: I already know how to write well and can take some courses to hone my writing skills while studying science and B: Concentrating on math and science gives me a greater chance of failing.

Bottom line:
Option A: Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from St Edward’s $60k to $72k
Option B: BA in History from UT with a minor in Astronomy: $20 to $25k
Option C: BA in American Studies or Environmental Science from UNM: $12k to $15k

I hear the weather is nice in Albuquerque. What do y’all think?

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Posted: 08 July 2009 04:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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fotobits, you can take the majority of your classes at the community college (they will have MANY older students and working adults) for a fraction of the price, and transfer them afterward. You can also take classes at the community college at the same time, while pursuing your degree at a private school or state school, mix them in with your other classes, to save money.

Our local community college has excellent professors. The same professors at the community college also teach at UCONN and local private colleges like Sacred Heart and Fairfield U. The community college students get the same class, same professor, at a fraction of the price. 

I found out the hard way when I decided to further my studies that the degree I previously had - those credits were un-transferrable after 10 years, due to state law. Oh how I wish I’d not passed the 10 year mark! So I’ve been taking everything over again, in my spare time as a hobby, for the past couple of years. Nights and weekends, one or two classes at a time, painfully slow. But as I said, it’s a hobby. I’m enjoying it so much more as an adult than I did as a teen. As a kid I just wanted to rush through and get the grade. Now, I like to expand on my lessons and research, and take great pleasure in the classes. Philosophy, religion, history, biology, literature, public speaking, composition - it’s a beautiful refresher. For a time I was even partially reimbursed through my office (although that benefit was canceled with the current economy, understandably).

There was recently a retired gentleman in one of my classes that I adored. He already held a graduate degree. He was simply looking to keep his mind sharp as he aged, make friends, and spend his time wisely. He was taking only classes he enjoyed - foreign languages, history, etc. He was so cute, he said “Those French classes, they’ve made me a big hit with the ladies at the retirement village!”

Since I started taking classes a couple of years ago, my husband has started doing the same. He’s going back to get his graduate degree. One or two classes at a time, as a hobby, just as I am. He’s really enjoying it as well. We alternate each semester - one takes a weekend class and the other takes weeknight classes - so we don’t have to get a babysitter.

And our son (8 years old) is getting a good example of parents who find education worthwhile to continue as a life-long pursuit. But he doesn’t see it that way yet. He recently said “I’m going to do ALL MY COLLEGE when I’m 18 so I can RELAX on the weekends when I’m grown!” We tried to explain that to us, taking a class is relaxing, or at least interesting and enjoyable. But as a kid who thinks that school stinks, he didn’t quite see it that way!

And college right out of high school does not work out for everyone. My father was absolutely brilliant, he started at RISD for architecture when he was only 16. But he was a troublemaker! He got booted after only a year or so due to pranks, drinking, etc. He joined the military and sowed his wild oats. Then he met my mother in the service. After his service was up he went to UCONN on the GI scholarship. He eventually got his MBA. He told me there was no way he was mature enough at 16 or even 18 for college. The military and the passing of time matured him enough to be able to focus. A lot of people are like that. Timing is everything.

[ Edited: 08 July 2009 04:44 PM by Jules ]
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Posted: 08 July 2009 05:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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fotobits, have you looked at the various virtual options?  I see that
many colleges are offering online classes.  I don’t know if any are
accredited or if they give you a chance to get answers to
your questions.

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Posted: 08 July 2009 05:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I have looked at online options, and our local community college and universities offer them. Frankly I think I will work harder, learn more and have more fun in a traditional class. I’ve always functioned better as a member of a team than working on my own. I like the interaction. That is part of what attracted me to journalism courses at San Antonio College so long ago.

Jules brought up a valid point. I’ll lose my previous credits at a public university. St. Ed’s, as a private school, is not bound by Texas law on this point and will count my previous credits. I can also receive credit by portfolio for some of my professional work. I can get a minor in journalism using my credit at San Antonio College and my professional photography experience. This will cut down the number of classes I need to take and get me out of undergraduate school sooner.

But I’ve always wondered how far I could have progressed in Astronomy and Physics if I had a better math background. I also suspect that I will never understand science well enough to explain it to others unless I can get through Calculus.

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