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Is it worth it to go back to school for mech-eng?

  1. Aug 17, 2015 #1
    Here's a bit of my background... I started university late, and wanted to be a lawyer. I did an undergrad degree in Political Science, trying to get into Law, but my grades weren't that good near the end and decided I hated school but still stuck it out to get all the credits I needed to graduate. I then immediately did a trade apprenticeship as a steamfitter-pipefitter (we build oil refineries, nuke plants, mine processing facilities, pulp and paper mills). As a journeyman I'm making over $100,000.00 a year. The only problem is, I get bored sometimes and feel like I could do more. I am also sick of working on the road, and just want to work steady for a major oil company. If I can't get a good job easily with the mech-eng degree and get a better quality of life, then I don't see any point. I have worked with many engineers and I make more $ than almost if not all of them, but their job may have more steady demand (I don't know).

    I am almost 32, and probably have $300K in savings (I am cheap/single and work shitloads of OT), and I wonder if I wouldn't be happier if I tried going back to school for engineering. I am not really a people person, I like working with tools and blue prints. I can do basic math and chemistry, but I screwed up in high school and never got all the classes I needed then.

    It sounds like the job market is really cut throat for engineers (everyone seems to want to be one these days), and I am obviously behind in age. I have a ton of industrial work experience, but everything is so specialized that I'm worried that they wouldn't see that as valuable.

    You people will probably read this and think I'm crazy and strange (which I am), but I know I could do the degree if I applied myself, just don't know if it's worth it. Also I'm already considered "overqualified" by having a degree that I already don't use directly, plus my trade tickets, and this can work against you as HR tends to pigeonhole people who are educated in more than one area or write you off as someone who can't succeed and thus tries different fields.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 17, 2015 #2
    Tough call. Invite a few Mech E's for a beer and talk to them about it.
  4. Aug 17, 2015 #3


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    Skilled trades like pipefitting, welding, electricians, and plumbers command high salaries because the older tradesmen are retiring, but it is difficult to interest a new generation to take their places because society has conditioned everyone to think that manual skills are somehow inferior to academic skills.

    If you are making $100K a year and have $300K in the bank, you're doing better than many MEs with decades of experience. The only reason to switch from your trade to a professional career would be if you want to have something to fall back on as you get older and no longer enjoy (or are physically capable) of working your trade.
  5. Aug 18, 2015 #4


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    While I can't compare my background to yours, (no $300K of savings and married), I was a technician/electrician while going to school part-time. It took me literally decades to graduate with my Bachelor's (BA) and later become an Engineer in my mid 40's. If you have a normal education, chances are that you have nearly half the courses ie electives are not going to be needed for your next degree. You can probably enroll in a distance learning program or as you are single, you could just quit your job and attend college full time and in about two years, graduate with a degree in engineering (give serious thought to which engineering discipline, the obvious is Mech, but you might also consider Petrol).
    You will probably find that you are now more focused and can probably enjoy the work and when you get out, land a job in as a relatively knowledgeable engineer in your current field ie you won't be hired on as junior engineer, but at a mid to higher level rate.
    I am a much better engineer due to my experience and background in the real world, with real hands on experience with electrical gear than any of the engineers with advanced degrees as my field experience is knowledge that can't be bought.
  6. Aug 21, 2015 #5
    Don't do it. By the time you finish your MecE degree, four years from now, you'll find that industry probably will turn a cold shoulder and won't even hire you. The only way most people get hired into good engineering positions is through cronyism and nepotism. If you try to get in based on your qualifications you probably won't. The world is not fair.
  7. Sep 2, 2015 #6
    I think you've already answered the question. The prospects of finding work as an engineer with your background is extremely high in my opinion. Also, you have the advantage of hands on experience (helps with design), industry experience, and age (helps with team work, etc etc). Are you focused on money? Would you like a job that's not as physical? Will being a steam fitter break your back when you're 40?

    Most importantly - if you don't do this, will you regret not doing it for the rest of your life?

    I wouldn't worry about being overqualified for having a degree in political science because you simply wouldn't put that on a resume for an engineering position anyway. I think with your industry and hands on experience you would have an easy time finding a job in any company that deals with pipe design.

    I was a baker for 10 years and decided to go back to school to become a Mechanical Engineer. I'm so happy that I did, but I didn't make as much money as you. You're in a position where you can easily pay for yourself to go to school. If anything, I would advise you to start your first two years at a local community college and maybe take it slow to see how it goes. 2 classes per semester at night if possible. Then I would probably leave steamfitting behind me and focus on finishing the bachelor's as swift as possible. By the way, all hands on experience is EXTREMELY valuable for almost every type of Mechanical Engineer. Being able to assemble, fabricate, and have a physical understanding of the world is incredibly important. This is why some engineers who have never machined a part will design using non-standard size piping or not consider minimizing manufacturing processes, etc..

    It already sounds like you're ready for a change. Money isn't everything, but happiness and minimizing regret is. I'm 32 as well. Don't forget that you won't be single forever.
  8. Sep 3, 2015 #7
    There are parts of the mechanical engineering world that would be great fits for you. All of the experience you have building things can be turned into designing them. You said you want to get off the road, but would you be willing to consider at least some travel/on-site work? The ability and willingness to work on-site can be useful in the job market. And fair warning, oil companies are highly cyclical, the jobs are steady until they aren't.

    This. This is a great idea, and I like to encourage it whenever I see it. A four year college is a fun experience, but it is also expensive, and can be a distraction. Doing 2 years of community college and then transferring is the most cost-effective way of getting a bachelors degree in the US at present. You can also benefit from smaller class sizes and additional attention from instructors at the community college in many cases.
  9. Sep 3, 2015 #8
    As an addendum, you will also meet other non-traditional students and this will be fantastic for making study groups and connections. There's a bit of a disconnect at the university level due to the age gap at a 4 year college.

    The connections you make at the 2 year college will follow you to the 4 year university and then will probably become professional connections for life.

    You didn't ask about financial advice ... but you should consider transferring some of your hard savings into a retirement account ASAP. You're currently losing money due to inflation.
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