Was it Worth Getting a College Degree at 30?

Older student storyIn 1976, in my thirtieth year, I went to a university and the big question was, “Was it worth getting a college degree at 30?”

Here I am, 32 years later at the grand old age of 62, having just finished the first year of a master’s degree in creative writing. I am in the process of starting a new phase in my life as a writer and developer of a number of book-related websites.

I was pretty messed up as a child, living in the gray world of a post war Britain. My schooling was varied as we travelled around the country, following my father’s career as an engineer. In my last three years of secondary school, I was alphabetically placed next to a kid with dyspraxia1 and the class bully sat immediately behind me. Disillusioned by school, and having increased conflicts with my parents, I left home. In my late teens and 20s I had over 40 jobs, ranging from youth hostel warden in Wordsworth’s Lake District, to borrowing inmates from Pentonville, London’s notorious prison. I even renovated houses for a housing charity close to Notting Hill’s Portobello Road. I would work for a time to build up some cash to travel. I hopped on the first boat into Israel after the “Six Day War,” then hitchhiking over 100,000 miles over Britain and Europe.

Love, a child, later marriage, stabilized me. I then looked for more respectable jobs and worked as a temporary contractor in a number of offices. Around this time the UK’s Open University started up and I started one of their distance learning programs, putting myself on the right track. However, just when everything appeared to be going smoothly, my wife left me, taking our two children with her, which resulted in a very unfriendly separation.

I fell apart, gave up my job, and drifted for a few unhappy years. Fortunately, my studies with the Open University gave me the urge to study further. I pulled myself together and was accepted on a three-year degree course in European Studies. The course was a combination of geography, economics, politics and modern history. In addition, there were classes in a European language.

I worked reasonably hard at the course work. I think if I had not done the Open University’s courses, with the freedom they offered, I would have struggled. I also threw myself into student life. Knowing how to work a film projector meant I became very active in the film society, and I got involved in a number of voluntary projects.

The social mix at the university, Thames Valley, was a little unusual. It was based in west London and the majority of the younger students lived at home, commuting to classes. In the evenings the libraries, the bars and social areas were a mix of older foreign students, eccentric students from the arts, trainee chefs, hotel managers and a host of overseas visitors on language exchanges.

My experience in community work lead to my being elected as the official in the student union, dealing with outside organizations, and for a year I was elected as one of the student representatives on the academic board.

In the first year there I had a lot of angst, a few severe spells of loneliness and sometimes I felt completely out of place. I now know that most young students have the same sort of doubts. Towards the end of the first year, I gained confidence and realized I had made quite a lot of friends. University changed me in a lot of ways and made me more focused in my life.

The degree enabled me to go on and take a qualification as a systems analyst. That qualification got me a job as a business analyst, which in turn got me into training. It was an easy step from there into teaching in a further education college, the UK equivalent of a community college. I had a very satisfying career working with traditional students in the day and adults at night. It was satisfying knowing that each year my teaching team had made a real difference to quite a few people.

If I had not gone to the university, I may have started a business as a builder, or been employed as a worker in the community sector. It is more likely that I would have just taken one temporary job after another – existing rather than living. I have met so many people of my age who deeply regret just drifting through their lives without focus.

So if you have doubts about going to college – do not. Go get your degree. Remember that it is natural as a student to feel some angst – the young find it easier to hide their feelings. Enjoy your educational experience and whenever you can socialize with the younger students, it will keep you feeling young. When you have completed your studies, you will be a very different person. A new, exciting phase of your life will begin.

Paul Mason writes under the name Paul Odtaa and is in the process of setting up My Invisible Friends Network – the resource and support center for budding writers, screenwriters, journalists and poets.

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  • You Are Never To Old To Go Back To School

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    Dowling is a private Long Island college offering undergraduate and graduate degrees through our four schools: Business, Education, Arts and Sciences and Aviation.


    1. This condition entails the partial loss of the ability to coordinate and perform certain purposeful movements and gestures in the absence of motor or sensory impairments. Read more from Wikipedia.


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