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Any older students around here?

  1. May 15, 2008 #1
    I'm 30 years old and would like to apply to grad school in physics. Currently, I'm a stay-at-home mom (seriously!) who is dying to go back to school. I have a BS in physics with a minor in math (graduated cum laude).

    Has anyone here taken a "break" from physics and successfully got into grad school for physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 16, 2008 #2
    If you keep refering to 30 as "older", I'm going to have to hit you with my cane. :smile:

    I'm coming from a computer background, so I can't really say I took a "break" from physics, but now I find myself in an M.S. program. We'll see what more I can do after I finish with this...

    But the answer has to be "Yes, it can be done. But it's a lot easier taking a more traditional route..."
  4. May 16, 2008 #3
    Yes! I'm a non-trad undergraduate -- not horribly out of place, but I took time off to go "Find Myself" for awhile, and will not have my Bachelor's until I'm ~ 27.
  5. May 16, 2008 #4
    Anyone can continue studies at any time as long as they feel up to it and able to do so. At least in my personal opinion.
  6. May 16, 2008 #5
    For what it's worth, I've only just started a BSc in Physics (1st year undergrad) and I'm 26...my biggest issue lies in the fact that, in the seven years since I finished school, I've basically forgotten everything I knew (it's amazing how useless I've become at Maths :biggrin:)

    But I'm enjoying every minute of it. It is immensely satisfying be doing something that stimulates the old grey matter again.
  7. May 16, 2008 #6
    I'm going on 27 and still have 2-3 years left on my Bachelor's in EE, so I'll likely be 30 by the time I graduate and finally get a real job. And ditto on what phyzmatix said...I took Calc I in High School, but had to go all the way back to PreCalc my first year to brush up. I still feel like a mathematical idiot compared to what I used to be, but it'll be back. Best thing is that I'm having the time of my life...and I absolutely love what I'm doing and all the exciting things I have to look forward to, despite being absolutely broke for the first half of my adult life. :biggrin:
  8. May 16, 2008 #7


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    I remember reading somewhere that most graduate students are in their 30's. I suppose it depends on the program though.

    BTW that is NOT OLD! :smile:

  9. May 16, 2008 #8
    I'll be 29/30 by the time I finish my BS in Engineering.
  10. May 16, 2008 #9
    Apply. I'd bet your great transcript and unusual situation will get you accepted into most of your choices - especially if you take the GRE Physics exam and do well on it.
  11. May 26, 2008 #10
    There are actually quite a few scholarships for women that have taken 5+ years off between their education for family reasons and now want to go back. So, I would guess that it's a fairly common thing. As far as in the physics community... maybe not as much. But, I did take 8 years off school and then jumped back into upper division math. It was hard, but after a couple months it was like old hat.
  12. May 26, 2008 #11
    The record for a BA degree in the US (World?) is 95. Until you approach that age, you can't claim to be an older student.
  13. May 26, 2008 #12
    Hey, finally a record I have a chance of breaking!!!
  14. May 26, 2008 #13
    Interesting thread. I'm 34 now and a wan-a-bee physicist;) Did an engineering undergrad (University of Toronto Engineering Science) and after 10 years of low level systems computer programming have come to wonder how on earth I ended up doing this when I started off wanting to understand how the world worked!

    My problem is IBM pays me too well to do computer programming, so with a mortgage, two kids with a bazillon extra curricular activities, and a wife that spends too well I can't afford the not working required to go back to school;)

    Seriously though, for somebody with some math/engineering background but not hardcore physics, if I was to go back to school for physics I'm not sure where I'd have to start?

    I think I've retained a lot of my math skills despite not using them too much (this past half a year of self study of geometric algebra and related physics has helped get me unrusty). I'd expect a lot of repetition in first year material (calculus I-III, complex vars, DEs PDEs, and other basic tools). On the other hand I'd also expect a physics major to cover a lot of stuff not well covered in engineering (like relativity&quantum for example). Assuming I win the lottery to finance back-to-school I'm curious how placement in a physics program work for somebody like me?
  15. May 27, 2008 #14
    You've already got an undergrad degree, so you don't need another. Find a university that will let you take a few upper division physics courses, and build up an undergraduate physics background, then apply directly to an MS program.

    That's been my path from computer programming to physics, anyway. :smile:
  16. May 27, 2008 #15
    Well.. The first semester I was back in school, I couldn't even remember integration. I was pretty scared. But it all comes back pretty fast, and now I've recovered what I've known and greatly added to it. It will happen to you. Don't let it scare you away.
  17. May 27, 2008 #16
    Starting back

    I plan to start college in January and I'll be 37. If all goes well, I probably will be done when I'm 45 unless I decide to go for a doctorate degree. I seriously doubt that I will want to go that far so I'll be happy with a master degree.

    I'll start out at Austin Community College studying mechanical engineering and I hope to transfer to University of Texas and study aerospace engineering. If all that does fall in place, I got a lot of work and studying to do. I know it will be very hard but also wil be a blast to know more of how airplanes and spacecrafts work. I've always loved airplanes when I was growing up and still do today.
    Last edited: May 27, 2008
  18. May 30, 2008 #17
    When the hell are you too old to go on to postgrad ? I know of one guy who has just been admitted to Cambridge Uni for his PhD and he is in his 50's. Like one of the posters said, being older just means that you've probaby accumulated a wife, kids, mortgage etc so going back full-time for a postgrad is usually too much strain on the old wallet.

    Be aware as well that most of your colleagues will be fresh out of undergrad school so you need to get that stuff down cold before you go forward. Apart from that, fill your boots and good luck. I'm planning a sabbatical of 1 year to take a Masters in Theoretical Physics and I'll be 45 when that rolls around.
  19. May 30, 2008 #18


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    quite a baggage. (-;
  20. May 30, 2008 #19
    There's some related threads that I found useful to read:


    For myself, I looked and did a good chunk of the math GRE and other than speed I think I was doing fairly well (didn't grade myself, and was working on it while waiting for my daughter's gym class to end with Dora the explorer and Bratz blasting on the nearby TV, and younger kids bouncing off the couches;)

    Having looked at the physics GRE prep test on the other hand I expect I'd do very poorly at right now with only my engineering degree. I'd have some serious prep before I could do better at that. Although it was suggested that I don't need to get a second undergrad degree since I have one, I think I'd definitely need to take some selected undergrad physics courses. So, I think my problem now only becomes how to squeeze that in somehow:)
    Last edited: May 30, 2008
  21. May 30, 2008 #20
    30 is old? Shoot, I'm six years away, what does that make me?

    But anyway, getting into grad school after taking a long break seems to be entirely doable. One of the incoming first years in my department was out of school for 12 years, and now he's here for grad school. You may need to retake a few senior undergrad classes (who cares? they pay your tuition). But yes, it's entirely possible to be a physics grad student after ten or so years. I think you should seriously consider it. Grad school is free, and the only commitment is a whole lot of your time.
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