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Dropped out of college 10 years ago. Going back for Astrophysics or ?

  1. Jun 7, 2013 #1
    I dropped out of UCLA about 10 years ago. Have done some real estate since but nothing much with my life. I'm planning on going back this year and getting my bachelor's degree. I'm now 33. Yea I know. I screwed up by dropping out and not finishing what I started. But I guess now is better than never.

    I've saved up some money to pay for a year of school. Tuition went up almost 3x since I went there last. My declared major was Astrophysics. I dropped out before taking the upper division courses. I'm done with pretty much all the lower division math/physics.

    However, trying to finish Astrophysics would take 2+ years, if I were to take full load. Therefore, due to cost I'm planning on switching my major to humanities and finishing in a year and getting a bachelor's degree, although it's not something I would have liked to graduate with.

    Considering I'm in a jr/sr standing with units, I have to make a choice.

    My passion is in Astrophysics. I've been studying astronomy and physics since high school. Astronomy was my specialty during my high school years. My passion for astrophysics and the pursuit of universal knowledge still is within me.

    However the question I ask myself is whether my math and physics are still good even though I've been away 10 years from it. I have to do upper division math and physics but I'm concerned that I might be trying to bite off more than I can chew. I would have to take out extra loans or work at the same time to support myself and pay for school.

    Seems like Astrophysics job market isn't the best but I've heard that I can get a job almost anywhere. I also have real estate as a back up in case it doesn't work out.

    My second choice is to change to humanities, get my degree, and go work in real estate or some other field non-related to the major.

    Any advices on what I should do? Would Astrophysics be worth it to pursue? Or would it be better to just switch major to something easier/faster just for the sake of a degree at UCLA?

    Thanks for any advice
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 7, 2013 #2
    Getting a degree for its own sake is ridiculously pointless. Think about what you want in life. It seems to me that you just want a degree, not even in something you have interest in, just an ''easier/faster'' route. If you really have a passion for astrophysics and you know your math skills are not where they should be, then you should go to a library and get some math books and work through them. Either way your spending money on school so why would you waste your money on something that's ''easier/faster'' just for the paper?
    I don't know where you heard that you can get a job anywhere with an astrophysics bachelors, maybe you should do some research on the matter and while your at it, find out what you REALLY want(do you just want a degree for its own sake? should you study astrophysics as a hobby rather than pay for school?WHY do you want a degree? etc etc)
  4. Jun 10, 2013 #3
    Fun2badadult, I understand how you feel. I, too, have returned to school to obtain an undergrad degree after many years. I decided that I would pursue a physics major with astronomy minor. This meant that, although my credits allowed me to enter school as a Junior, I would have to go back and retake all my math and physics courses. All of them. I started with Algebra and Physics 101. I actually worked in Silicon Valley in the area of device physics for many years, but the real world does NOT prepare you to pass calculus and physics exams in school.

    I am now officially a Senior, but I will still be a Senior next year and probably the year after that. Once I am holding that BS in Physics in my hand, I will have to evaluate where to go next - but for now that is my singular goal. I dream of grad school, but I could very easily run out of money before then. I take each day as it comes.

    I encourage you to "do it right." How will you feel if you have a degree in "humanities?" Will you be satisfied? I thought long and hard about it for myself and decided that, in the end, I would not be happy with that "quickie" degree. My original degree was in Music, and another degree is not what I wanted. What I wanted was to learn astronomy and physics. Not just like a hobby, but really learn, study, work.

    I am now working in a physics lab doing research with lasers and spectroscopy. I am broke and worry about money all the time; but I am happier than I have been in a long time. I am doing well in school and I am honestly learning new things every day.

    My advice is; figure out what you REALLY want. If just having a degree will make you happy, then go for it.

    But, if like me, you dream of physics or astrophysics or whatever, face up to it, sacrifice, take the risk, and go for it. I am lucky because I have nobody depending on me financially. But, on the other hand that means that I do not have any other source of income either. My "job" in the lab pays little, and sometimes nothing at all, because it depends on what grant money my professor is willing to share, but I love, love, love being in the lab - so eating crackers and water for lunch is absolutely worth it to me.

    Be true to yourself. You are the only one who has any way of making you who you want to be. Nobody else on this planet can create YOU.

    Also, a lot of posters will moan and groan about how going back to school will not get you a job (at least not with a bachelors), but for some of us the adventure is in the journey...
  5. Jun 10, 2013 #4
    Let's see: 9 years ago, I returned to school after a three year hiatus to finish up my physics degree. At the time, I was in the same boat: I had finished the lower level coursework, but taken no upper level classes. 9 years down the road, I'm now at the end of my first year as a postdoc and for the most part enjoying my research.

    For me, it made sense to go back. Becoming a physicist has always been my goal, so I'm going to follow this rabbit hole as far as it leads. However, that was nine years ago, and I financed two years of schooling+food+rent through student loans and still ended up with only 25k in debt. The situation has changed now.

    The sad fact of the matter is that we are now near the peak of the college tuition bubble, and all of the kids in school today (at least, those not on scholarship) are getting a raw deal. While that piece of paper at the end may do a great deal for your self esteem, virtually no degree today is worth the cost - especially not a Humanities degree (which will leave you with job prospects no better than those you face right now).

    If you are absolutely determined to get your degree, my advice would be this: only go back for a field like engineering where there are real tangible job prospects, or for a field you love (like astrophysics) if you are planning to continue on to grad. school. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

    I'll even add a caveat to that: don't go back for astrophysics unless you know that you are willing to sacrifice all of your career hopes on the slim chance that you'll somehow make it as a Professor. The job market in academia is even worse than the job market you face right now, and the sheer fact that you are here asking for advice tells me that you're probably not sufficiently committed to physics to make taking a risk like this worthwhile.

    I'll add a second piece of advice, too: wait as long as you can stand to wait before you make the decision. As I said earlier, we are near the peak of the bubble, and there are signs that it may be popping soon. If you can put off going back to school for another few years, the costs may be much cheaper than they are today. Also, don't be committed to UCLA - shop around for cheaper options. As long as you are at one of the big state schools, the quality of education won't be all that much different, and the pedigree of your degree really only matters if you went to an Ivy.
  6. Jun 10, 2013 #5
    Fun2badult, the adventure may be in the journey, but not every journey costs twenty or thirty grand, and honestly sitting in a classroom learning material that wasn't new a century ago won't seem so adventurous afterwards.

    You can either spend $25,000 and 2 to 4 years of your life to end up working in real estate doing a little astronomy on the side, or you can spend $2k on a nice telescope and do the same thing now.

    Seems straightforward to me.
  7. Jun 11, 2013 #6


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    I must have missed all the ads on TV which scream, "Astrophysicists needed NOW!"

    With an astrophysics degree, you CAN get a job anywhere, as long as you remember to say, "Would you like fries with that?"

    But all kidding aside, this is a highly academic discipline, and your best prospects will be working at a university or in some research job.

    If you just want a degree with your name on it, I would first check out 1.) if you UCLA credits will still transfer, and 2.) is UCLA the least costly institution which will grant you a degree.

    If you are able to make a living in the RE market today, you should also ask yourself if leaving for a year or two will set you back if you return to RE after getting your degree. Obviously, the lack of a degree apparently hasn't prevented you from being successful in RE.
  8. Jun 11, 2013 #7


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    Locrian, the situation may not be as straightforward as you may think.

    Suppose that the OP wants to move out of real estate and pursue a different career option (whatever that may be). In spite of the claims made about the college tuition bubble, most employers still expect any potential employee working for them to have at least a bachelor's degree, so the fact that the OP doesn't have one may put him/her at a disadvantage.
    So investing $25000 and 2-4 years of his life may not be such a bad investment.

    Now as far as whether physics (more specifically, astrophysics) itself may be worth pursuing -- if the OP intends on completing his/her bachelor's degree, it might as well be in a field he/she is interested in, as opposed to a general "humanities" degree which he/she might not be.
  9. Jun 11, 2013 #8
    Show your work! ;)
  10. May 23, 2014 #9
    Ok. Here's an update.

    I've decided to go back to UCLA for astrophysics. I checked the number of classes and with Humanities it was 9 classes which means 3 quarters or Astrophysics with around 15 classes. 6 Classes difference, which meant 2 extra quarters. I thought, when I'm 60 and look back at my life, would I want to have finished Astrophysics when the difference was only 6 months?

    I decided to take 1 step back and 2 steps forward. I sacrificed a year by retaking all the prep classes at a nearby community college for cheaper price. In Fall of 2013, I took Calculus Single Variable, Physics Mechanics and Physics Optics/Waves in Fall 2013. Then I took Differential Equations and Physics E&M. I'm currently taking Linear Algebra at a nearby UC. I'm also hoping to take Multivariable Calculus during summer if possible at a nearby college as well as C++.

    Now, when I was at school over 10 years ago, I've taken all these and passed them. So I haven't sacrificed a class taking courses for credit, but they were all repeats for the sake of learning them all over again. I did save money by taking them at a nearby community college instead of at UCLA or Cal State. It was about $1200 per class at UCLA vs $200 at the college for each class.

    Now that I'm older and learning the materials all over again, I realize much better of what's going on. I can really understand the equations, things make more sense and I can see the physics now. I've been tutoring a high school kid on physics and I'm planning on doing so when I start UCLA this fall. That really helps me understand it more because in order to explain it to someone else, you have to know it yourself.

    I'm planning on taking in 2014 fall:
    Physics (Quantum Mechanics and Statistical Mechanics), Physics (Mathematical Methods of Physicist 1), and Astrophysics Laboratory.

    In 2014 Winter: Physics (Modern Physics Laboratory), Physics (Mathematical Methods for Physicist 2), Astrophysics 1 (Stars and Nebulae)

    2015 Spring: Physics (Upper Div Mechanics A), Astrophysics 2 (Stellar Evolution, Galaxies and Cosmology), Astronomy (Radiation and Fluids in Astrophysics)

    2015 Fall: Physics (Upper Div Mechanics B), Physics (Quantum Mechanics A)

    2016 Winter: Physics (Quantum Mechanics B), Physics (Electricity and Magnetism A), Astronomy (Stellar Atmospheres, Interiors, and Evolution)

    2016 Spring: Physics (Quantum Mechanics C), Physics (Electricity and Magnetism B), Astronomy (Stellar Systems and Cosmology)

    All the classes are upper division courses. Graduating Spring 2016. That's 2 years from now.

    One of my worry is that I'm taking First quarter of Quantum Mechanics first and then taking First quarter of E&M with Second quarter of Quantum
  11. May 23, 2014 #10
    Sounds fun. Consider doing some research on the side in order to get some marketability and I strongly suggest you consider graduate school too. Computer programming and related areas seem to be where a lot of people who study "astrophysics" for their PhD end up as a career so I would also consider fostering those skills along the way if you can. I see you are taking C++, thats good. That class may be more useful for your career than all the rest combined.
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