1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

32yr old, 1st time student, school choices anxiety

  1. Oct 9, 2012 #1
    Hi, I hope someone can chime in and offer some advice.

    I'm 32 and made the decision to go to college for the first time and earn a Physics degree and then to ultimately pursue a doctorate in a specialty to be decided later. (as of now, from what I can learn on my own, I'm up in the air between astrophysics and quantum entanglement).

    Aside from all that, like I said, I'm 32 and want to attend college for the first time.

    I've been lurking on these forums for quite awhile now and from what I can tell, early choices in my education are vital to being accepted in to a "good" graduate program. Being a non-traditional student, an advisor at a local community school informed me that I may have many scholarships available to me as long as my grades are high. Her idea was that I go to the community school to build up a strong transcript, this particular school offers an a.s. in engineering science, and thus, this is where my confusion starts:

    Like I said above about the choices in my education, from what I can read here, it seems a crucial key to being accepted in to a "good" graduate program is undergrad research (as long as my GPA is high as well).

    I've also read that some schools offer undergrad research starting in the sophomore year, and others in the junior year.

    Do you think transferring in to a bachelors programs from a community school would hurt my chances for undergrad research opportunities? (I know not all schools will accept all credits from my local community school as well, so depending upon where I do end, I may have completed two years, but still transfer as a 2nd year, another point of confusion).

    Secondly, if transferring from a community wouldn't hurt my chances, would taking calc and basic physics courses at a community school hurt my base of knowledge later? Or at this level is this generally the same for every student in the beginning?

    Additionally, I've read here as well, that smaller schools will give a student a better chance of getting in to some undergrad research, as well, I've read some stories (here or some place else) about how a group of physics students kind of went through it all together. Reading that seemed like it fit well with me, so any tips on bachelor physics program sizes, combined with my other questions would be greatly appreciated...

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 9, 2012 #2
    (subscribed to this thread with hope that it matures)

    This thread grabbed my attention due to the similarity it shares with my experiences. I'm 27 and have just recently started higher education after leaving a career I had for about six and a half years. I am currently at a community college with plans to transfer into a bachelor program for Mechanical Engineering. Sorry I don't have much to add to your inquiry but I feel like we're in comparable situations and I would love to see input on this topic from anyone that has some!
  4. Oct 9, 2012 #3
    I appreciate the company.

    I think it's great though, that people are changing careers and getting in to STEM.

    I always dreamed about it and when I spoke to a close friend at length and realized it was actually possible it was like the first of hopefully many dreams to come true.

    I hope someone here with some experience and/or advice can chime in.
  5. Oct 9, 2012 #4
    hello, i don't know much about grad school or anything because i am too studying at a community college and am entering university next september. i don't have much information on what would be the best fit for you. i just have one thing i want to say before others start commenting because i have seen it so many times

    do NOT let people tell you not to do it. there will be many many people telling you about how the job oppurtunities are sh*t and that you shouldn't waste your time on getting your phd. do not let them change your mind. they will keep telling you and telling you " your not gonna be the next feynman" you have no idea how many times i've seen that in these forums. and it absolutely sickens me when i see people crushing others' dreams saying its not "realistic". no one has ever been great by thinking realistically

    sorry for not helping much. i just needed to post that before those people start coming in and telling you these things. if this is what you want in life, do it.

    now that i got that off my chest, this is what i am doing:

    community college (upgrading grade 12 courses)
    University ( with scholarship over 91% in math,physics,chem,english)
    while i'm in university apple for nserc( canadian version undergrad research )
    apply for grad school

    i could also do what you guys are doing by choosing an engineering program then transferring but i thought about it and i want to get my algebra,trig,precalculus, and physics foundations nice and strong.

    and from talking to many people, undergrad research and high gpa is more important then what undergrad university you are going to. that is why i am choosing a smaller university rather than a "prestigious" one. those rankings mean nothing for undergrads.

    i hope that helps... and again don't listen to people telling you not to do it!
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2012
  6. Oct 9, 2012 #5
    I'm currently in grad school doing physics. In my program (a top 20 program here in the US) we have a couple students who did the community college -> transfer to university thing as undergrads, and they're just as successful as other students. At least at our school, community college isn't a barrier at all.
  7. Oct 9, 2012 #6
    This is great news, thanks for the reply.

    Would you happen to know if any of them earned an A.S. in lib arts or engineering science at their community schools, and even, if that affected anything for them when they moved to university, such as research opportunities?

    I do really like the idea that jimmyly had. I too would like to strengthen my base education before starting to learn physics at a university. It seems like a great way to (hopefully) more easily earn a high GPA, increase my overall scope of knowledge and get in to the flow of academia.
  8. Oct 10, 2012 #7
    I am a 33 year old first time undergrad student in engineering. I've just begun my first semester at university after having done some prerequisites at community college. The school I'm attending is one of the top 5 undergrad engineering programs in the country.

    Having been exactly where you are (and thinking the exact same things that you are) I can tell you a few things I wish I had known myself last fall/spring. First of all, don't get too far ahead of yourself. The transition into university is huge. It is much, much more challenging than I had anticipated. I was always wholly focused on getting into the best school I could (I chuckle now at my heartfelt desire to get into MIT) never worrying at all about what being in one of those programs would actually be like. The thing I know now is that the top schools are hard. Mine is at least. I'm not discouraging you from aiming high, just remember to be realistic as you're setting timelines and making decisions.

    That said, get into the best undergraduate program you possibly can. This, more than anything, will dictate the grad programs to which you will have access. There are obviously no guarantees either way but, assuming you do well, the institution from which you earn your bachelor's is pretty much the biggest indicator of where you will go for grad school.

    But, again, get into that undergrad program, meet the other students and see what it is like there. It's a truly different vantage.

    Regarding finances, in my experience your CC counselor is dead wrong. People seem to assume that this is so, ie there's lots of money out there for adult students, but this is just not the case. I haven't found it to be so, anyway. There's a lot more for women, mothers in particular, than there is for men but all of the money I've seen people awarded is the same stuff that is there for everyone else. Overall, there are many more scholarships targeted at high school students specifically than there are to adult students.

    The thing that will get you money, however, is the lack of money. If you are unemployed then you will be in much better shape than someone who has been working the past year. Everything is awarded based on the year prior, too. So, even if you will have nothing the first year you are in school, you will receive no money until the year after you've been dirt poor. Fortunately for me I was dirt poor coming in -- musician -- so I've received more money than anyone I know.

    There isn't much money handed out for academic achievement and less even at the top universities.

    Another thing to bear in mind about money is that private student loans are only given to people who have great credit and are also gainfully employed. Clearly this second part is an issue if you're going to be a full time student at a good university. Perhaps your credit is so much better than mine that you will be able to get private loans on your own but I was not able to do so. I would advise you to figure out someone who can cosign for you. They, too, will need good credit and to be employed although banks do seem to make exceptions for retirees with good credit and some income.

    More succintly,

    1. Focus on getting into the best undergraduate you possibly can. School rankings are exactly like grades, they're totally meaningless and they're the only thing that matter.

    2. Don't make any assumptions about where the money is going to come from. I'm not suggesting you freak out about it but make sure your ducks are in a row unless you've got 60k or so to spare.

    3. Be as poor as you can possibly be.

    4. It's extremely difficult but a totally awesome experience. If you're like me you will find that it's the best decision you've ever made.
  9. Oct 10, 2012 #8
    I forgot to mention research. A lot of what universities are ranked on is the research that is going on there. At my school there is a TON of research going on and there's no shortage of positions for undergraduates. Of course, I only know my school but I have to assume the situation is the same at a similar school.

    This isn't the case, however, with other solid schools in our area. This basically brings me back to the main point of the last post, get into the best undergrad program you can.

    I really hope to get involved with the research here eventually. At the moment, I'm just trying to get through my first semester alive.
  10. Oct 10, 2012 #9
    first time i have ever heard this in my life, i should get out more often lol
  11. Oct 10, 2012 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    First time I've heard that as well haha. Did something drastically change in the last month?
  12. Oct 10, 2012 #11
    It's not too difficult to figure out where a given undergrad program is likely to get you into to grad school. Most programs are going to have a page with statistics about what their alumni go on to do. If their students go on to notable graduate programs then they will surely brag about it.
  13. Oct 11, 2012 #12
  14. Oct 11, 2012 #13
  15. Oct 11, 2012 #14
  16. Oct 11, 2012 #15
    do you know how many international grad students in the top schools that came from low ranked universities? if you have a 3.5gpa and another student from a lower ranked university than you both apply to the same school and you both have the same gpa but he has a better reference letter or maybe a couple more research papers than the other person would get in hands down
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2012
  17. Oct 11, 2012 #16
    I'm not sure what spamming links to other threads proves but it seems to be a bit beneath the usual level of PF discourse. None of them seem to me to contradict what I'm saying but I'm happy for you to enjoy your own opinion.

    To answer your question, no, I do not know how many international grad students in top schools came from low ranked universities. Do you?

    I think it's entirely naive to think that people anywhere in admissions departments or otherwise view a degree from MIT or Stanford or where ever else in the same way that they view a degree from Northern Illinois University.

    Furthermore, I do not think that school rankings say much about quality of education but they say a lot about prestige and prestige matters. I feel that I chose my words carefully in my first post to reflect that fact.

    I've also made sure to use operative words like 'likely' because there are always exceptions to rules. In fact, I'm an exception to the rules. I just learned elementary algebra for the first time in my life last spring by teaching myself in 3 weeks. Now, just over a year later, I'm in a highly competitive engineering program and doing better than many of the people who have come from far more solid educational backgrounds than me.

    It's unfortunate to me that my earnest attempt to help this person with whom I empathize greatly seems to has raised your hackles so.
  18. Oct 11, 2012 #17

    I am also in your age group, at 28, and I am in my second year at my local community college. I'm majoring in chemical engineering and looking to transfer to my state school next Fall (I'm actually dual-enrolled at the CC and satellite state school as of now, so I just need to do a change-of-campus form come Fall and move hundreds of miles away).

    While I have yet to take physics, and I'm only starting calculus, I have taken chemistry courses geared for science and engineering majors (three quarters worth), so I hope my experience can help alleviate some worry. My class wasn't particularly fast-paced, but it wasn't slow either. Periodically, I would watch OCW MIT chemistry lectures and I could easily keep up with what they were learning. One of the major differences I've encountered is that since the classes are smaller, the students feel they can interrupt the lecturer more often, causing the class to fall a bit behind. This is easily remedied by reading the entire chapter before the lecture and doing all the problems in the book, time permitting. I've always seen it as my responsibility to understand everything in the text book, whether it's covered in lecture or not -- in short, how much I learn is entirely dependent on how much work I'm willing to put into the subject. If you take this same view, I don't see how you would be worse off for going to a community college. Yes, it will take some will-power, but we're grown adults (albeit still quite young): we've held jobs and we know what it means to work. That's a good thing, so use it to your advantage!

    I wish I could comment on how calculus at my CC compares to the few MIT lectures I've watched, but I'm only a few weeks in. It seems a bit slow right now, but I'm hoping the pace quickens. I'm remedying this by studying on my own, and I'm a chapter or two ahead right now. I'm not too worried about the pace of the class, because I still have the text and office hours available to me if I want to move ahead, which I enjoy doing.

    One more thing about community colleges: before you take a single class, make sure the school you want to go to will accept most, if not all, of your credits! That could be a lot of money and time wasted. Usually same-state public universities will accept most of the credits taken at a community college. Some even have contracts to do so, like mine.

    As for the graduate school portion of your question, I'm afraid I have no experience with that and cannot make a helpful comment. From what I've read on my own, going to a CC shouldn't affect your chances. I haven't put much effort into researching this, however, as I plan to go into industry for a few years, and then make a decision regarding attending graduate school.

    TL;DR -- If you're worried about the education you'll receive at a community college, there is nothing to worry about. Don't expect to learn everything you need to know in lecture. Be prepared to put in the time and effort to teach yourself anything that doesn't get covered -- this is a very useful skill to learn. Some professors simply teach for the test or there simply may be not enough time to cover all of the material, so you may find a class where it's up to you to learn whatever isn't covered.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2012
  19. Oct 11, 2012 #18


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    There are countless people I know (not exactly personally) who went to CC and ended up at awesome grad schools for physics and chem and what have you. While what was said before about prestige of unis is not wrong, take it with a grain of salt.
  20. Oct 11, 2012 #19
    I started out at community college, transferred to a tier 3 state school and ended up in a top 20 US physics graduate program where I am making steady progress towards obtaining my PhD. I started at community college right out of high school though so I wasn't quite the same as you.

    I did very well in high school so I probably could have gone to a more prestigious university right out of high school but I chose the path I did to avoid taking on a lot of student loans. I ended up getting through my BS without taking on any debt at all and I don't regret my decisions at all.

    I hope this personal account helps you to feel better about starting out at community college. As long as you are serious about your goals and work hard for them you will be just fine.
  21. Oct 11, 2012 #20
    How do you know this??
    Were you ever part of a grad school admissions committee?? If not, how do you know that what you're saying is true?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook