Becoming a non-traditional engineering student

  • #1
Hey everyone,

I come here seeking some advice. I'm 33 years old and I hate my job. I've been working in car sales for 6 years now. The money is great, and I used to be really good at it, however these days I just can't find the motivation to keep doing this job. I feel like I'm literally doing NOTHING with my life. This job is just a means of income for me, but I want something more. I want SCIENCE!

So I've decided to go back to school, and I know it's very late in life to do such a thing, but I'm going for it anyway. When it comes to science, I'm most interested in cosmology, but I just can't see where that would be applicable to actually making a living. That being said, I've decided to pursue a degree in Aerospace Engineering.

When I was a young and rebellious high school student, math came pretty easily to me. I squandered this gift by spending the next 5 years after high school working as an auto mechanic instead of going to college. Now that I'm mature enough to understand what my true interests are, I'm really excited to give college a try. I used to be smart, so I'm hoping I can kick-start my brain and get back into school mode without too much difficulty.

My question is this: Will it do me much harm to start off at community college instead of at a 4-year university? In the interest of trying to save money, I've already started the process to get enrolled at the local CC, but will this hurt my future prospects of getting a job? And would I be making a mistake by going to San Jose State University's school of aerospace engineering? I'm reluctant to relocate because I NEED to work and earn a living while going to school. Mainly, I'd like to be as hirable as possible upon graduation.

Also, are there any entry level jobs available to an uneducated-but-clever professional such as myself that can help translate into an engineering job in the future? Continuing with my current job will be difficult since I'm working 40+ hours a week, but I'm too old to be distracted by partying and I'm single with no kids so I really have no problem focusing my time at home to studying. But yeah, are there any other jobs I might want to look for while going to school that might be less time consuming?

I know that was a long-winded post, but I thank you all in advance for any advice or tips or discussion regarding the topic. :bow:
  • #2
(Are we encouraged to refrain from quoting the previous message in the interest of space? I hope so...)

I went back to grad school at 30 and have never looked back. If you hate your job and are convinced you know the reason (you aspire to something bigger), then you're smart to put an end to what might be a life full of misery and move forward. But stop with the self-deprecation.

For mature adults it's always a question of life-work balance. You define pretty succinctly what is required to make your ends meet and those, then, are your constraints. What if I/we said that you must not attend a CC and must not attend SJSU? Would that be helpful, considering you state that you need an income and aren't in a time bind (e.g., family)? If I were you, I would hold onto my income-supplying job until a) I found a better one that is better aligned with my new career path, or b) was so convinced that I wanted to pursue an Aerospace degree that I was willing to incur student debt. I might enroll in a local CC, working my day job. When the time came I would apply to SJSU and other appropriate Aerospace programs - your age won't matter and you'll be under zero obligation to provide it. You'll apply to these other programs because they might just offer you some money to attend (you are a non-traditional student, after all).

Nearly any job is better suited to your future career than your present job, especially if you live in the Valley. Network. Be creative. But don't leave your present one until you have an alternative income stream.

Your future employer will not care so much where you took got your degree. It will be about what you know and your work ethic.

Please note that this is the path I might take and that I am not you. I think.
  • #3
Thank you for your reply DrSteve! This is exactly the type of input I was hoping for.

At this point, I'm extremely motivated to make a career change. If the school I attend is of somewhat less import than my achievements and work ethic, then I think I'm starting on the right path. I have some prerequisite math classes that I'll be taking this summer to get caught up and re-acclimated to being in a learning environment. Then from there, I will have to make the commitment to learning and retaining as much as I can to get the most benefit from the school I attend. I'll be going to Evergreen Valley College / San Jose City College to start, and looking to transfer from there. If this doesn't have much bearing on my future job prospects, then I think I'll be sticking with this plan for now.

SJSU interests me the most because of the proximity (I'm currently living in San Jose). That being said, being able to afford living here requires that I keep my job. I'm not 100% married to SJSU at this point, and I will look into some other programs that may benefit me as a non-traditional student as you suggested. Thanks again for taking the time to offer me some insight!
  • #5
Exactly. Don't overthink it.
  • #6
(Are we encouraged to refrain from quoting the previous message in the interest of space? I hope so...)
When you're addressing the post in its entirety, in a general way, we do indeed discourage quoting the whole thing, because it's right there on the page already. When responding to specific points, feel free to quote selectively. (When you drag-select a chunk of text, you'll see a "Reply" option pop up. This quotes the selection and inserts it in the reply box. Repeat as necessary.)

If you're making a general response to the entire post, and it will be separated from the original by intervening posts, I think it's appropriate to quote a bit from the beginning, to make clear which post you're responding to. It's not necessary to quote the whole thing because the quote includes an arrow which takes you to the complete post when you click on it.
  • #7
When is the best time to plant a tree? Ten years ago! But you have today. Your post indicates much thought on the matter and good common sense, something most of us lack, just out of school. I dropped out of school (college) for a few years, then went back. It was tough, and I went part-time evenings and also took a lot of distance learning classes (most would be online web type classes today). It took over a decade for me to graduate. But it helped me immensely. Also, the local CC will allow you to dabble in other areas and help you to develop a rewarding career path. I will say that you should definitely take your math and basic science classes in a class room so that you get the best support for the basics. Good luck!
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  • #8
One cool thing about my local CC is that they have a NASA internship available at the Ames Research Center. That sounds like it would be a great experience.

But yes, I'll be taking my math and science classes in a classroom after this summer. I'm just taking the first class online since it's really a review and shouldn't be too difficult for me (hopefully).
  • #9
Hey everyone,

I know I'm not really much of a contributor on the forums, but I'd like to post an update now that I've been back in school for over a year...

As of my original post, my life has changed by quite a bit. First, I started a new job working for a company that designs, builds, and installs high-performance suspension systems for Porsche vehicles. When I interviewed for the position, I made it clear that I would need special scheduling considerations because of school, and I've been extremely lucky that my boss has been 100% supportive of my education and has given me the ability to modify my own work schedule every semester to accommodate for my class schedule. The pay is nowhere near what I was making in sales, but the scheduling flexibility makes it worthwhile. Plus, I'm working with a team of engineers and learning a ton about mechanical design which will help prepare me for my future.

I'm in the middle of my 2nd year at Evergreen Valley College now; with a 4.0 GPA so far after having completed 33 units (currently enrolled in 9 more). I have my ed plan set up so that I have a lot of flexibility to transfer. Depending on how soon I decide to do so, I can graduate and transfer with an associates degree in either mathematics, physics, or engineering.

Honestly, I never thought I'd enjoy being back in school as much as I do. As of last month, I've even taken on a 2nd job as a math tutor at my school so that I may help other students along their path.

One thing I'd also like to add is that the deeper I get into my studies, the more I'm feeling like I want to focus purely on physics rather than specializing as an aerospace engineer. What that means for my career prospects in the future, I'm still not sure. I'm just enjoying the ride and going with the flow!

Thanks again for the advice that you guys gave me in this little thread. This forum is fantastic, and I hope that I can become more of a contributor here (time permitting).

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  • #10
That's amazing, congratulations!

This forum is fantastic, and I hope that I can become more of a contributor here (time permitting).

That's how it started for me. I came here for homework help years ago, and ended up helping other people on problems I could actually solve well and enjoyed it. I started reading the engineering forums, and it grew from there.

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