Ann van der Merwe - October 2013
Some people know that they want or need to go to graduate school as soon as they finish college. Many, though, are making that decision later in life. There are many reasons for this, ranging from the practical desire to earn a full-time salary before having to pay for additional education to simply being undecided about which degree, if any, to earn.
If the gap between college and graduate school is not too long, the choice to return to the academic world may be a good one. The professional experience and personal maturity a person gains outside of the classroom often makes for a stronger, more motivated student. As Miriam Horn writes:
“nearly all older students feel more focused and certain of what they want from graduate school than many of their younger classmates.”
And, of course, the potential to benefit professionally from the education remains strong. Someone between 25 and 35, for example, may be in a prime position to earn a promotion or change careers after earning their graduate degree.
Is there a point at which it becomes too late, though? This answer depends on the person’s reasons for earning the degree. Admittedly, students in their fifties or sixties are less likely than their younger counterparts to reap practical rewards for their work in graduate school. After all, they may have already reached whatever professional level they will achieve before retirement, and a career change at this point is rarely a viable option. If their interest in graduate school is largely personal, however, they are in an excellent position to enjoy the pleasure of learning – and may well be able to finance it more easily than at any other stage of their lives. They may also be able to use the additional education to achieve goals outside of their current career path. For instance, it might enable them to take on post-retirement work – whether paid or not – that they always wanted to do.
Of course, all non-traditional students face certain challenges. Their age may make them feel out of place amongst the other students and, in some cases, even their professors. They might also struggle to adjust to student life again. In the end, though, none of these things is insurmountable if the desire to earn the degree is strong enough.
Ultimately, the best time to attend graduate school is the time you are most motivated to go. Some people are ready in their early twenties; others need a few more years, a decade, or even longer before they feel the desire and/or need for additional education.
About the Author: Ann van der Merweis a singer and music historian based in southwest Ohio. She holds a B.M. in music performance and M.A. and Ph.D degrees in music history.
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