Is there such a thing as "too late" for graduate school?

  • Is there such a thing as "too late" for graduate school?

    At any age or stage of your career, a graduate degree can be transformative, altering your performance and understanding of the subject in ways you may never have imagined. Maybe you’re midway through a career you’re passionate about, but you’d like to become an expert in your field. Or perhaps you’ve discovered later in life that the career you’re in isn’t right for you. When it comes to moving forward or in a different direction, it can be beneficial to earn an advanced degree in the field of interest.

    But how late is “too late” to go back to school? It’s certainly not unheard of for middle-aged individuals to earn their undergraduate degrees; even though most people go for their bachelor’s degrees in their younger years, plenty of undergrads are career-changers or ambitious individuals who never earned their bachelor’s degrees and have eyes on promotions.

    While middle-aged and elderly students are somewhat rare in undergraduate courses, they make up a large percentage of graduate and doctorate programs. According to research from the Council of Graduate Schools, the average age of graduate students in the U.S. is 33 years old. This number has remained stagnant over the past few decades, going back to the ’90s. Their study shows that 22% of graduate students are over 40 years old; of this number, 14% are between the ages of 40 and 50, while 8% are older than 50 years old.

    These statistics show that whether you’re 40, 50 or even 60 years old, it’s never too late to advance your education. If you’re still feeling hesitant about going back to school, we’ve provided you with some reassurance that a late-in-the-game master’s degree is a good idea.

    “Will an age divide in the classroom cause problems?”

    In the event you decide to take your graduate courses on campus rather than online, you might be afraid that you’ll stick out like a sore thumb among other students in their early 20s. As stated above, the average age for graduate students is 33 years old. Sure, there may be other students in your cohort that are much younger than you, but there may also be some that are older than you. Regardless, age is merely a number in a graduate school classroom.

    “Why would I go back to school if I already have a career in my desired field?”

    In fact, some may argue that gaining a few years of experience in the field may help you get the most out of your master’s degree. Depending on what field you’re in and what degree you’re in the act of pursuing, there may be times in class in which the topics discussed relate directly to the work you do on an occasional or day-to-day basis. Without the hands-on professional experience, you may not be able to contextualize this information as well as you would after working a few years in the field. That’s why so many people go back to school later on in their professional lives.

    Let’s look at a real-life example. A professional might go back for their MBA after working for a decade as a marketing manager. They might have a few reasons for going back for their master’s; maybe they want to improve their credibility to current and prospective clients, or perhaps they’re working toward a promotion to VP or even Chief Marketing Officer. With several years in the “biz,” they may have approached several topics they will learn about in graduate school in their career. However, in graduate school, they will learn some updated practices in the field that they may not have gained in their undergraduate studies decades ago. (Think of how much certain fields, such as marketing, have changed since the introduction of social media and conventionalization of high-power technology.)

    “Will my age hurt my chances of getting into grad school?”

    While the answer to this question is “no,” it’s worth looking into how your application might look different from a 22-year-old candidate who has just completed their undergraduate degree. According to PowerScore, a test preparation platform, your undergraduate transcript may not hold as much weight in your application as your GRE scores if you’ve been out of school for over 10 years, as this evaluation serves as a more recent measure of your academic readiness.

    Additionally, if you’ve been in a professional setting for a decade or so, you might be thinking of asking your employers and colleagues to serve as references for your application. While one or two professional references can be extremely valuable, we recommend obtaining at least one recommendation from someone you’ve gotten acquainted with on an academic level. This may be challenging if you haven’t been in school for a decade or two, but you should be able to contact a previous educator, whether they still work for the university or are retired.

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