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A non-traditional student who could use some life advice

  1. Jun 9, 2012 #1
    I will try and keep this to-the-point.

    I'm 26 years old. I've been going to school on and off since I was about 19 while working. The years from when I was 19 until about 24 I was in exploring mode. I took a lot of generals. Neither of my parents went to college so I did not have a lot of guidance. I was working and goofing off a lot with friends. Typical stuff in your early 20s (at least for some people). Then I thought I would be a computer science major; turns out there is no way I could write code for a living. Finally, almost 2 years ago at 25 I found out I wanted to be a chemical engineer. Because of so many failed or withdrawn classes from my young and stupid days I had to go through an appeals process to get financial aid. We wrote up a contract, and off I went.

    I took Calc 1, 2, ODEs, 3 semesters of chem, phyiscs, thermo, matlab, etc. I did well, even as a part time worker I pulled As and Bs. Everything was going great as far as academics are concerned.

    Well, from 21 until just this past Feb., I was in a long-term relationship. When it ended, it completely shattered me. I had to withdraw from 2 out of my 4 classes. There were numerous reasons it ended, but being a busy student and being stressed out a lot played a role. Well, it violated my contract and I can no longer receive financial aid. My completion rate is not high enough. This is not something I'm proud of, but I was just a kid who had no clue what I really wanted to do with my life.

    Now, a few months later I'm thinking about school again. I'm registered for classes this fall, about 9 or 10 credit hours. I have a good part time job lined up, that has benefits including tuition reimbursement even for a part time worker. Right now, I'm living with family. I live in my grandma's basement. I plan on moving out as soon as I save up a bit of cash.

    My question is this : Is it possible to work part time, take upper division classes on a part time basis (and do well), and still have somewhat of a social life? I'm at a point in my life where I'm pretty depressed because I feel like I've given so much of my 20s to school. It will probably be a couple more months yet, but I want to start dating again eventually. Having a cool, long-term girlfriend is awesome. However, I know now what a toll school can have on relationships.

    With my plan, I will be broke (but still out of my family's house), and busy but still have enough to support myself, have insurance, etc.. However, I was thinking with 9 or 10 credits I will still have time to go to the gym, and, *gasp* go on a date once in a while. From my perspective, even if it takes longer to graduate, it's worth not being a hermit and basically ignoring other aspects of my life. I did that for the past 1.5 years and I was getting very burned out.

    Has anyone pulled this off successfully or been in a similar situation? I'm at a crossroads in my life right now and could use some advice. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 9, 2012 #2


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    My daughter goes to school full time, works 30+ hours a week, plus tutors at a local college, she is doing research and is managing editor of the undergraduate journal for her university. She has a boyfriend and an active social life and has a 4.0 GPA.

    So, yeah, I'd say part time school and a part time job should have no negative effect on your social life.
  4. Jun 9, 2012 #3
    Props to your daughter. She works her *** off!
  5. Jun 9, 2012 #4
    Sometimes I think some people's days have more hours than mine do.
  6. Jun 9, 2012 #5


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    She does and I don't recommend that kind of schedule.

    I would say go for it, but maybe focus more on finishing your education. If the right woman comes along, she will support you, not be a drain on you.
  7. Jun 9, 2012 #6
    I did my undergrad working full time and going to school full time. And yeah, I even had a serious girlfriend through most of it. My grades weren't all that great though. Not terrible but no great either. You can do it, it just takes discipline. Just be sure to first ask yourself, "how badly do I really want this degree and what am I willing to sacrifice for it?".
  8. Jun 9, 2012 #7


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    I worked full time and took engineering classes. But, to be honest, engineering classes were actually an upgrade to my social life.
  9. Jun 9, 2012 #8
    People I met in my engineering program were much better for me than those in high school because I could relate more to them. So, it was an upgrade to my social life also.

    You can socialize with the people in your class just fine.
  10. Jun 9, 2012 #9
    I'm actually the opposite. I'm extremely popular and my social life dominates my day because I have so many friends. But my computer broke so can't talk to them, so that leaves plenty of study time.
  11. Jun 9, 2012 #10
    Don't get me wrong, there were a few people who were really cool in my math and science classes but a lot of them.....not so much. Maybe I'm being arrogant but they just didn't seem like interesting people to me. Then again, I live in Utah and half the class it seems is married.
  12. Jun 10, 2012 #11
    I pulled this off successfully for the most part (very similar situation), but I got burnt out before my senior year, rented out my house, quit my full-time job, and moved back into my parents' basement for a year. I'm 29 years old and I just graduated a couple weeks ago. So yes, it's possible. Best of luck.
  13. Jun 10, 2012 #12
    The fact that you're worried about a social life after failing to achieve your goals so many times sounds to me like you're still not serious about pursuing a degree. My advice would be to quit while you're ahead and just do something besides school.

    Have you seriously looked at the job opportunities in that field for someone who's your age and only have a B.S.? Especially since you'll be competing against people your own age who have masters or even PhD's.

    I personally know and I see far too many kids who are in a program they don't belong in - they aren't committed, they don't take it seriously, and they just end up wasting their time and money. It sounds to me like college just isn't for you, and there's nothing wrong with that.
  14. Jun 10, 2012 #13
    My first year or two of college I worked full time and went to school full time. My grades suffered from it. I don't recommend doing that. Now, I work full time (40+ hours a week) and go to school part time (one or two classes). Seems to work best for me, but it will be a while before I graduate. I'm ok with it, because I too live at home. I know the issues you are having and I seem to have found what works best for me, just sucks seeing all my friends get degrees, but most don't have jobs. If they do have one, it's no better than mine, so I'm ok with it all. I'm happy where I am and you can still have a relationship :)
  15. Jun 11, 2012 #14


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    It is completely possible with good time management and wise choices outside of your studies (relationships, activities, etc.). Avoiding drama is impossible, but minimizing it is important.

  16. Jun 12, 2012 #15
    The only time I failed to achieve my goal was when my gf dumped my ***. I dropped some classes because I felt like complete **** and could not focus. It's called being human. Again, when I actually began studying engineering IN EARNEST, I made good grades. In the math, science, and engineering classes I've taken so far I have a 3.5 gpa. How is that not serious? Did you not read the post?

    Is only having a BS and being 30 (probably the age I'll be when I graduate) bad? Seriously?

    I have no real job skills. I have lab experience and could probably find a job paying around 15 an hour. Are you suggesting I just settle for that? I think you're being very condescending without actually reading what I typed.
  17. Jun 12, 2012 #16
    I want to emphasize I like science and I think about it often. It's definitely something I am interested in. I just want to have a somewhat balanced life is all. Doing full time school and part time work was really tough is all. I never saw family or friends. I WANT to get that degree, I am just saying I would like to go at a little slower of a pace for the next while. If anything, a more moderate pace would keep me MORE motivated.
  18. Jun 12, 2012 #17


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    Your balance point is your balance point. It's a sign of maturity that you know where it is, and that you know how important it is to stay balanced.

    I worked and took classes part time - took me 9.5 years to get my BS. I'm an introvert, and I didn't need a lot of socializing. So the fact that I spent all my spare time studying didn't bother me as much. A more extroverted person *will* need that social time in order to stay sane.

    I was nearly 28 when I graduated. Then I took 9 years to be a stay-home mom. Did the late start and time off affect my career? You bet it did. But I've enjoyed the journey, I have no regrets.
  19. Jun 13, 2012 #18
    (ARGH! Just wrote a LONG reply, pressed submit and it had logged me out and I couldn't go back. I'm gonna try again).

    It sounds like you are in a similar situation to me, though with a bit of a different background and being 3 years older than me as well.

    My parents never went to highschool. My mom used to be a hair dresser and my dad used to be a decorator. I went to high school however and I had my mind set on going to university and in the end possibly getting a ph.d.

    Here in Denmark you have to choose between the math side of things (high level maths, physics, chemistry...) and the language side (high level English, Spanish/French, Danish...). I chose the language side, cause I was always interested in writing when I was younger. It was a fading interest though. Eventually one of my teachers sparked an interest for Linguistics in me, and I decided to go to university studying Linguistics.

    Linguistics is an interesting course, no doubt about that. 20-25% of it was really interesting, but the remaining 75-80% didn't really fit in with what I wanted to use my degree for (not that I had a plan set in stone - I never have...), and I couldn't really see what I was going to use those classes for. So after a year, I quit.

    At that point my girlfriend, who I had been with for 3½ years and lived with, broke up. That sent me tumbling down the hill, having no place to live, no job, not really a whole lot of friends left, no idea what I wanted to do etc. Couldn't find my feet anywhere.

    One of my old friends then said he was going into Danish at university and I decided to jump into that boat. I entered that, but after a 3/4 of the year I was starting to get over the break up, ever so slowly. I realised I had started this in a wrong manner. It didn't feel right and never really had. I did it only to have something to keep me from spiraling totally into deep, deep depression. So after a year, I quit.

    I did however think that I had to be studying. I was 22, it's what you do! So I went into social care/paedagogy. I even had to send an application for dispensation of the "3rd time rule" (that you officially can't enter a course for the 3rd time without getting at the bottom in the pile of applications), to which you need to have a valid reason. I had that, so it was no big deal in the end.

    Half a year into that, I realised I didn't HAVE to study and that I needed a long, hard think without having the constant "you're not doing your homework (cause I wasn't interested enough"-thought hanging above my head. So I quit that and went on to get a full time job.

    During my years of studying I only had a part time job the first semester of Linguistics. I managed to get by another year after that from financial aid and my then girlfriend having a part time job. However the last year of my studying (½ a year of Danish, ½ a year of Paedagogy), I had to take some loans to get by (in Denmark you get financial aid that you don't have to pay back when you go to university, but you can decide to get some on top of that, which you HAVE to pay back). That means I owe a bit of money now. Not a whole lot in the long run though.

    I went on to get a full time job though, as I said. Behind a phone, interviewing people. Turns out that wasn't for me at all and along with not knowing what I wanted to do, it sent me right back into depression as well as suddenly sparking anxiety, which I had never experienced before. I missed intellectual conversation and input.

    So I've now taken a break from it, and I'm not sure if I can return, but I hope so - part time.

    In the past few weeks I've been going to some mandatory meetings with other people in a similar situation, who don't know what they want to do either. I narrowed it down to Physics and some other stuff.

    However, I never took the right classes in highschool, so I have to relay that route now, so I'm spending a year taking the needed classes to enter Physics at University (that will be a year of what we call Maths A, Physics B and then A and Chemistry B).

    I do feel ready to have a part time job and studying again, but it's only something that I've felt ready for in the past few weeks. My balance point prior to that was in a rut, but it's slowly shifting.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that you have to be self aware, and it seems that you are exactly that. You have to know where your balance point is, and it shifts from time to time.

    My problem having a part/full time job (and that at something boring) was that I came
    home having spent all my mental energy and wasn't up for anything else than just laying in my bed. And that's not really ideal!

    On another side of things is financial aid. In Denmark, when you enter university, you are granted 6 years of financial aid. 72 months. So if you waste them on a wrong course, then you only have 60, then 48 and so on. I have 42 months left of financial aid if I go to university again. That means I will have 1½ years without financial aid. I'm not too worried though, even if it means I have to work full time those 1½ years, cause if it's the right place for me, then I will make that happen. On another note I have a friend who spent 12 years getting his degree, which means he was without 6 years of financial aid, having friends and family bug him about getting it done, but he says he's fine with that these days.

    Oh, and time heal all wounds regarding relationships. I know that's as cliché as it gets, but we all know it to be true. About one year after my ex girlfriend broke up with me I went into another relationship and have been with this girl for a year and a few days now. I can't say I was totally over my ex-girlfriend going into this relationship, but I am now! Sometimes you have to take those chances, know where you're heading etc. It's again a matter of self awareness, and it seems you have that.

    Going into university at 26 or in my case 23 is not a big problem in the end, I'd say. You have become more mature, and you know yourself a whole lot better than those who start at 19.

    Have you considered going into something completely different? A completely different field? Or at least checked out your alternatives? Zoo keeper, bicycle mechanic, physio, you name it... Just checking out what other options you have, even if you have to go back and take some classes you never took. It might open up some possibilities that you never thought about. I'm not saying they necesarily will, but knowing your alternatives is never a bad thing, in my opinion.

    I'll stop it here before this becomes too long, but I could go on and on... I do hope you could take something from my story though.
  20. Jun 13, 2012 #19


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    It's possible. I worked during my undergrad and graduate years. My parents could not afford to pay my way, although the contributed a bit. I had worked during high school, because around 10th grade, my mom started telling me they couldn't afford university, so if I wanted to go, I'd have to work and save up money. So during 11th and 12th grade, I worked full-time during summer and part-time during school. I saved up enough to get through my first year. Then I found a job on campus in the maintenance department for the first summer. That basically paid most of my second year. I also kept the job part-time during school. Then I got a job washing dishes for the food service - and that paid for room and board. I also worked as a janitor part-time at night. I had an active social life (too active somtimes), and my grades suffered somewhat.

    I changed majors and universities. Through a friend, I found a job as a iron worker. During the summers and holidays, I did iron work, which I loved doing. I made more than enough during the summers to pay for school and had plenty of money left over. The extra money went to my parents and friends who needed some support. I got married at the end of my undergrad program.

    In grad school, I received assitantships - some research and some teaching. I also got a full-time job at a local municipal water department. I was a full time operator, and that allowed me to study in the evening. Then I did graveyard shift, which was not a good idea. At the end of my MS, I was sleep deprived. But I managed to earn enough to pay of my wife's undergrad loans and buy her a new car.

    I kept the operator job into my PhD program, but gave it up because I couldn't do both effectively. My wife also worked on campus and got a full time job after her master's degree. My paycheck covered our expenses, so we put hers in savings. I left university before completing the PhD program for a good job in industry.

    Some folks are late bloomers or unconventional. One just needs to do the best one can do, and move forward.

    One does have skills, e.g., lab experience. It's a matter of recognizing the skills and developing new ones.

    As for a social life - the world is full of people. I've been browsing my high school senior class panorama photograph, and there are over 700 fellow students. I wasn't very social in high school, but I did have some close friends - one with whom I am still in contact. If I didn't have a social life, it would be my own fault. Whether at school or work or out in the community, there are plenty of nice folks to meet.

    ps - my dad worked full time during his masters and PhD programs. I probably take after him. He did a lot of work around the house, and repaired our cars, even rebuilding engines. I helped as much as I could. My grandfathers were also examples of hard workers. My dad and my maternal grandfather also gardened and raise chickens. We had to give up chickens when we moved into the suburbs/city.

    I had my first job at about 13 or 14 working in a bike shop building and repairing bikes. I made less than min wage, and it was only part time - evenings and mostly weekends and summer holiday - but I did get discounts on parts for my bike. During junior and senior high school, I took 3 classes for 6 weeks during the summer at a local university. I was most interested in math and science, but my dad decided I should take some courses in humanities - history, language (German), and religion/mythology. I enjoyed math and physics the most. During the summer between 11th and 12th grade, I did an 8 week program in electrical and nuclear engineering at CSM, Golden, Co.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2012
  21. Jun 13, 2012 #20
    Astronuc's insight is invaluable!
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