Going to college at 35.. advice, steps etc?

By | August 10, 2015

I have been in restaurant management for several years now. There have been ups and downs along the way which has made it often times very rewarding. However, I look at where I am today and realize that (thanks to a recent restructuring of the company putting out of work) I am no better off than I was when I began this career. Short story is this, I want to go to college and pursue a degree.

I left school (high school) as a Junior then entered the workforce. Not long after that I was managing and could see that with hard work I could earn a decent living. Well, decent is not good enough. 50k/yr is great with its bonuses but it is not consistent, the hours are rediculous and I feel I am capable of more.

What would me now is some information and advice on getting my but in school come January.
It’s obvious that I will need to take the GED test but what other testing should I be prepared for?

Are there particular grants or scholarships that someone mid career can qualify for?

I’m wanting to be a student in classroom settings, not just online education. Is it feasible to mix the two?

I have resolved to not accept employment in the restaurant managment field during my education as the time needed for such is too demanding and I am looking forward to a full class load. Will internships be available to a student my age down the road?

Any perspective will help in making this transition. I’m looking to pursue a degree that reflects my interests in diversity management and international relations. Perhaps through an MBA to capitalize on my extensive management background as well.
I’m not sure if those of you who have answered this question for will read this or not. What I would like to say though is that you have all been very helpful and I do apppreciate it. The response that included the foreign services suggestions is actually something I have, and have had, a great interest in. The info on the finacial aid side of things is very resourceful so thank you Jessica for that. As for the 17 year old student, to know that you are inspired by seeing older students making the commitment tells me that my son just may experience the same feeling. Thank you to all of you. Wish my luck! Best answer I will leave to the voters. I appreciate them all.

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7 thoughts on “Going to college at 35.. advice, steps etc?

  1. rpe

    Having once been an older/returning student, not quite as old as you but close, I’ll just suggest that the lessons and hard work that I found was required to exist in the workplace that college was the easiest job I ever had. There’s something you learn in the workplace that can’t be taught, or you’re too young to pick up, in highschool.

    Other than picking up your GED, perhaps you biggest downfall is going to be a lack of “the basics” you missed dropping out of school so early in life — but what I would suggest is that you look into enrolling at your local community college, where you’ll have to take their entrance exam (which will point out any academic shortcomings) and that you might have to take a class in “Remedial English” and “Remedial Math” to get you up to speed…. and maybe not, and you’ll be able to jump right into college classes…. and then once you get your Associates degree, you can transfer to a 4yr university to finish off your degree.

    As far as scholarships or grants for older/returning students – there’s no such a thing. Literally every scholarship out there are for people 26 years of age and younger.

    Don’t get carried away about thinking you’re an MBA candidate, or specifically what you might Major in for your Bachelors degree — they won’t really care about your background once you’re in college. You’ll have basically 2 years of “general education” classes in the same old math, English, history, science, etc. before having to settle on what you might pursue your degree in.

  2. JessicaN

    Your GED is a good first step!

    Okay, so, you may be happy to know that, depending on the college, your life experience may count toward college credit. You’ve got a lot of work experience behind you and your college may be able to translate that into college credits.

    Second, you should fill out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You may qualify for grants, etc. Many colleges will use it to match you up to their own institution-specific scholarships without any work on your part.

    You can browse your intended college(s) websites and see if they have scholarships listed online (or request a list) and also head to Fast Web or Scholarships.com. You can narrow down scholarships to find the ones that fit you.

    There are many four year brick and mortar colleges and universities that offer online programs and that let you mix online and on-campus classes. Many do not differentiate between a degree earned online or on-campus so you can have the best of both worlds. Just know that it IS a lot of work, and in many cases, it feels like more work than a traditional college class. If you are great at time management and are independent, it might be a match. Some of the websites listed below (online bachelor’s article) do have practice courses on them so you can get a feel for how they are run.

    You should always make time to visit the college you are interested in and make sure it’s the right fit for you! If you are having trouble coming up with how to pay for college, speak with the financial adviser — s/he can help you figure it out. There’s always a way.

  3. RoaringMice

    Are you on unemployment? Talk to the unemployment folks. In some states, they’ll help you pay for college, so you can be retrained. It’s worth at least asking about.

    Another poster mentioned that grants are just for kids. That’s not true. Most grants are based on income. There are also loans you can qualify for. Talk to the college about that.

    Focus on the GED first. Your local adult ed program and your community college should offer GED prep classes for free or cheap.

    I usually advise most GED holders to start out at community college. It’s reputable, it’s your least expensive option, and they offer the lower level “remedial” classes you may find you need based on their assessment tests. If you do well at cc, you can transfer into a really great university. And no SAT exams needed!

    I agree that if you plan a career change, you shouldn’t work in restaurant management. Far better would be these two things: 1) focus on your schoolwork, and ace your classes, and 2) gain experience in things related to the field you want to get into. Do that via clubs on campus, internships, volunteer work, part-time jobs, etc. Build a “new career” resume while you study. Use these experience, and your studies, to figure out exactly which path within diversity management/international relations you might prefer. Based on what you’ve written, I could see you liking human resources, the foreign service (which would like your years of management experience), and related. In fact, if the idea of the foreign service (embassy work, State Dept, etc.) appeals to you, check out the State Department careers pages now. http://careers.state.gov/officer/employment.html The Foreign Service is welcoming of older career changers, as is the HR field.

    As you go through college, take lots of language classes – try to become fluent in another language. If you can focus on an in-demand language, great. In demand languages for the US gov’t include Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish (for some fields), Russian, Arabic, amongst others. But these ones I’ve listed tend to be available at many colleges. And knowing something like Spanish will benefit you if you went into HR or any other field related to those you mentioned.

    Most colleges, including ccs, offer online classes. So long as you go to a reputable, brick and mortar college, you’re welcome to take the online classes they offer, and employers will be fine with that. Just don’t get an “online degree”, please.

    If you did go into the foreign service or HR, it’s possible that your entry level salary could be around what you used to make in restaurant management. However, you’ll have a steady job, more sanity to your hours than restaurant work, and benefits; plus the ability to move up and get pay increases. And more importantly, you’ll be doing something new, and something that you like. That, to me, is well worth the effort.

  4. David

    are you going back to school just to legally open up a frat house like the movie old school? if so, count me in for the ky jelly wrestling event

  5. No Name

    Well, I can’t answer your questions (but the others seem to have you covered) because I’m not knowledgeable in this area and I’m only 17. But I want to tell you I admire you! My high school is located on a community college campus, and seniors are required to take a college class. Sometimes I see older people on the campus, and they inspire me so much because I take school for granted you know and sometimes I really hate it and want to quit, but they make me more ambitious. So thank you! And good luck!

  6. Christopher Everett


    Reading your story is a bit like reading my own. I too left school as a junior and entered the workforce. I did return to get my GED at 21 four years after leaving school. At the encouragement of a co-worker returning to get his MBA he convinced me to return to school. I did earning 55 credit hours from my local community college before giving up under the pressure of school and starving on the salary earned from my job with a law firm. Eventually, I found my way into the info tech job market. Finishing my education wasn’t of much concern as it didn’t seem to hurt me in my career path. Ah! That was until I couldn’t get an interview because I didn’t have a degree. At 35, I entered Skidmore College and finished my degree through distance learning. As a former high school dropout, earning my degree was an incredible achievement. It only comes third below the birth of my son, and marrying my wife.

    I think the bigger question to ask at 35 is what is the opportunity cost associated with attending school full time? For example, for years of sacrificed salary of $50K per year is $200K over 4 years to earn degree. Not to mention, amassing the debt to pay for school.

    If I woke tomorrow and found myself in your shoes, I would:

    1. Stay employed.
    2. attend my local community college to get the basics out of the way.
    3. Check out evening programs at my local college to finish or online opportunities.

    Getting a degree later in life is more challenging simply because of our increased responsibilities but it can be done. As for the MBA, you can do that too if you are driven enough to earn it. Take that first step with the GED. On a side note, I’ve pulled my experiences with online education and earning my own degree online together for others. Feel free to check it out – http://gotmydegreeonline.com . Whatever route you ultimately take stay laser focused and keep on the path. It can be tough at times, but you’ll get there. I wish you the best with your education pursuits.

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