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Returning to college after 10 years

  1. Aug 13, 2011 #1
    Greetings all. I apologize for the lengthy intro; I shall try to be brief. For those who don't think any background is necessary, you can skip to the last paragraph if you would like to save some time.
    For all of my younger life, I was always a math freak. Gifted with a knack for the sciences, I nevertheless was unfortunately one of the types who did not get along well with school. As years went forward, I rarely did homework and just got mediocre-to-bad grades most of the time, even in classes I liked. How I wasn't expelled (I went to private school) was beyond me.
    It is no surprise that I of course procrastinated applying for colleges, having had enough of formal education, and wound up at NJIT out of sheer lack of options (how I even got there is still somewhat foggy, though a 1390 SAT probably helped). Still attempting to fulfill my parent's expectations for myself to go to college, I did well first semester in comp-sci. Second semester, I was going to switch to EE to get more math to fulfill myself when I got involved in my father's business due to his falling ill.
    That was the spring semester of 2002, and I simply stopped going. While the business has done well, I always feel that compulsion and that drive to have pursued my passion in mathematics. While working day-in and day-out with people who, by their own admission, have never read a book, I am then coming home to reread _The_Elements_ or to study Godel or the proof of FLT in my spare time (just throwing out examples).
    I am at a much different place in my life, and I have solved most of my problems with dealing with school and how I view it. I feel like if I do not go back, I will always regret it.

    Now to my question: how difficult is it, does it even make sense, for someone at my point in life (I am almost 29) to go back to school and pursue a math major to the graduate level? I am extremely passionate about the field, and would love to go to a great school. I have had people tell me that it actually is easier for adults than high-school grads to get into top-notch schools, but I am very skeptical. My business is fairly near to Princeton, and that would of course be a dream, but probably unrealistic. What the options for someone like me? Do I go to community college and try to transfer? Do I need to retake SAT (gasp)? Am I simply wasting my time and should just be thankful that I have a good career already? I humbly and patiently await your responses. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2011 #2
    If it is something you really like then I think you should do it. My mom is 51 and she is in her second year of college. She already has a degree but from a foreign country.
  4. Aug 14, 2011 #3
    This is the answer to the question as for what you should do.

    Are you seriously suggesting that to some people it doesn't make sense to pursue your interests? It's not like your life's on hold when you go to college. (Well, admittedly, for some it probably is.) The only difference between doing what you do now and going to college is that a.) whatever job you might be having now, you are going to earn a lot less in the years to come if you're going to college; are you prepared to go through this? And b.) you'll start doing something you actually enjoy doing in college.
  5. Aug 15, 2011 #4
    Age is not an issue.

    Working and studying can be a challenge unless your work is very flexible. Having a steady income can make things much easier, though.

    Age is not an issue.

    Investigate the options you have for starting gradually so that you get back into your stride. Community college can be a great way of doing this. Realistically, at this point, Princeton is probably out of reach unless you get struck by lightning.

    Age is not an issue.

    Although I would encourage you to follow your passion, it is important to think about your future employment prospects.

    Age is not an issue.
  6. Aug 15, 2011 #5
    I respect the sentiment, but it kind of is.

    lordofpi, You are not too old to go to university and succeed. You probably will do better than most of the kids in your class. You will probably get into a pretty good school.

    I would ask yourself where you want to end up. If you ant to get qualified in maths and become an actuarist/financial mathematician, then it will pay for itself 10-fold and I think you should go for it. If you just want a degree to prove to yourself that you can, and then go back to the family business afterwards, sure fine sounds like a plan.

    If you are aiming at academia, you may run out of time. If you start undergrad now, graduate when 33, finish phd when 38-39, 3 year post-doc, so you're 42 before you can begin to consider having a permanent job. Then you've only got 20 years of work before your employer puts you out to the knackers yard.

    I say this as an undergrad who started uni at 28 and has been chewing through these issues myself.
  7. Aug 15, 2011 #6
    Thanks to all those who have replied. As an aside that I failed to mention above, my other half discourages ventures in this arena of math. She is a wonderful person who has pushed me and helped me to get over life-long issues with going to school. In my younger years, I was always the one to blunder my way through 6th grade English and Algebra I while I was going home and reading _War_and_Peace_ and learning the ins and outs of elementary calculus. I'm not trying to brag about smarts, but rather just trying to illustrate a way of thinking about school.

    G/f says that my purpose for returning to school ought to be (1) to complete something (since there right now is only a high-school diploma), (2) learn how to go to school the right way (see above paragraph), (3) learn something that cannot simply be taught be reading books that will actually help my current career. She insists that a business education is the way to go. Since I am posting this on Physicsforums, I think I can safely be frank that this is quite the blow for someone like us. Nevertheless, I see her points.

    Is she right in a way? I feel like at a certain point in the field of pure mathematics, the law of diminishing returns begins to apply to the home-student. I can only read so many books and articles before I need additional supplementation from that environment in which other people are interested and knowledgeable about the same thing.

    Sankaku, you have some great points about age not being a factor. Age on its own, I agree, is not a factor. What is, though, is that I no longer have the ability to produce those stringent requirements that college admissions offices were looking for from a high-schooler. My SAT is 12 years old, and frankly not that good since I didn't try (1390). My high school transcript is mediocre at best, though it is from a prestigious private school. My first semester grades at NJIT were good, but second semester I just stopped going and produced a string of Fs. I am not going to have all those extra-curriculars, etc. So, are colleges taking this into account when someone like me is applying? I am willing to do the hard things to make this work, I just need to know what those are.

    I mentioned Princeton since it is a top-rated school, but also because it is extremely convenient for my life. I am not selling out of my business any time soon, and I just simply cannot consider moving out of the area. Even if you all think that going there is a pipe-dream, let us just use it as a hypothetical for a moment. Let's suppose that is where I wanted to go a few years hence. What ought I to do now to start preparing for such a move? Ought I to go there and speak with faculty? Try to set up meetings? Shall I be meeting with their admissions offices now? I am passionate about what I want to do, so if there are special things that need be done, I will be the one to go out and do them. In that sense, I am better off than a naive high-schooler because I have the time and the resources and the determination.

    Streeters, we seem to have a lot in common. I am 28, and I seriously have to figure out where I would like to end up. I wanted to pursue Pure more than Applied, but I am not steadfast in that decision. However, you are right that Pure would tend to be an almost guaranteed path to academia. I really would need to weigh this out. I know one needs to know where one is going in order to plan the path to get there. However, I am still at Step 0, so it is tough for me to know exactly what step 100 will look like.

    Or is my g/f right that business is the way to go, and that I should simply keep studying complex analysis and set theory on my own?
  8. Aug 15, 2011 #7
    I don't want my bigotries or fears to spread to you. I decided to go to uni to get a vocational skill. I chose Materials Engineering because it seemed closest to physics, only needed a 3-4 year degree and there is a demand for them. I recently was dwelling on whether to do a PhD as I was going well, but I have just spent 3 months at a research institute and the stories people told me I didn't like. Post-docs doing 80 hours weeks, people doing 3-4 consecutive post docs because scientists jobs just aren't there, moving city/country each time. Neo-liberalism has spread to science: institutions have stopped making permanent positions and only offer temporary contracts, usually post-docs as they are cheaper.

    There is a point where I asked myself "is it worth going through all this (and dragging my missus through it with me) just so I can be a scientist?" Increasingly, the answer is 'no'.

    I will say this though: I had no idea what my options really were before I got to uni. I went in with an idea of where I wanted to end up (nuclear industry) and I have discovered so many other opportunities for employment whilst being here. It's been great and I don't regret going, but 3 years will have to be enough for me.

    I saw a post on here last week that said Electric Engineering was a gold-mine and worth doing instead of physics as it pays really well and there is a huge demand for them. Physics has become, in effect, a numerical humanities course and not considered a vocational skill. I know guys who are getting passes and have got grad schemes lined up in EE. I wouldn't dismiss it.

    EDIT: I don't think much of business degrees. Engineering has more demand and pay. MBA is different though.
  9. Aug 15, 2011 #8
    If you have a community college nearby and can take the first (and second?) year math courses there, do so. Get good grades and then apply to transfer to a full university. A CC will usually have more forgiving entry requirements and, if you do well at those classes, a University won't care as much about your previous mistakes.

    I say go for it if you want to go to Princeton, but it is one of the most selective schools in the country. Have a back-up plan if you don't get in. Entry into the Ivy league (and other equivalent schools) is essentially a lottery, but you have to have perfect marks to get your ticket.

    Streeters is right about needing to think about your long-term prospects for whatever route you choose. Jobs for academics (professors) are very competitive.

    I agree. It is purely my personal opinion, but I feel that a business degree is a waste of time.

    You may want to read this and think about it:
  10. Aug 16, 2011 #9
    All sound advice, thanks. What do you recommend doing in community college specifically? My g/f seems to think I should be taking low-level math courses so that I can take more of them (i.e., if I start with Calc III, Diff. Eq., and Discrete Math, it leaves me very little room to have a lot of math credits because my CC maxes out with those three courses in the 2xx level). In other words, does it show better for me to start with high competency or just to have a breadth of courses in the field with perfect grades.

    I am enrolling in Fall 2011 classes there right now and they are requiring me to take College Algebra and Precalculus before I can take Calculus I. I was going to talk to the dean about testing out of this to be able to move on to something somewhat stimulating (especially since I got a 5 on the AP Calculus BC exam back in 2000), but perhaps it is my best interest to work my way through the system, so to speak.

    Also, do you think it would be wise to start talking to some people about where I would like to go? For example, picking a few colleges and going to meet with advisers there, or maybe meeting with someone at my CC? I just figured going that route will help to start getting my name known and perhaps help out down the road, plus I may get a bit of guidance as to what the schools are looking for from an adult, rather than a teen. I'm sure those requirements are going to be slightly different.
  11. Aug 17, 2011 #10
    Don't take credits just for the sake of it. Your time and money are worth more than that.

    I would assume that your Calc BC should exempt you from precalc. Don't waste time on things that are too basic. However, if you are rusty at Calc I or II, it isn't a bad idea to repeat it and get good grades. Do a little sleuthing to see how the classes are taught. A CC may not give a lot of options but an Honours course will give you more to chew on than Calc BC.

    Certainly, do your research. Talking to humans will give you an idea of what isn't said on the websites. As an adult, you should be more comfortable working your way around bureaucracy. Charm may get you where you want to go, but always have a backup plan.

    Look at the entrance requirements and transfer credit offered by a couple realistic University options. Find out if any of your previous courses will count. Find out if there are common general requirements that you can get out of the way at CC - some Computer science courses are often required from Math majors. Only you can find out...
  12. Aug 22, 2011 #11
    All great advice, thank you again. Some things will definitely be easier to deal with as a seasoned adult. I'll be sure to post some updates as I wade my way through things. I hope this thread is potentially helpful to others in a similar situation.
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