“It’s just too bad you haven’t thought of this career a few years back,” my grandparents shook their heads with reprimand as I took off for grad school two weeks ago. “Too bad.”
This was one of the many responses to my plan to jet off to DC and change careers at an age when, in the days of yore, women were popping out their second baby, or at least deliberated where to purchase a vacation home with their husband.
Many people took the opportunity to weigh in on the matter of additional schooling.
“Remember, the healthiest babies are born to women under 35! I’m just sayin’.”
“School? Again? Sheesh!”
“Nobody will date you if you’ve got student loans.”
“Communications? Can’t you just learn Facebook? Life won’t wait.”
Two deep-rooted beliefs dictate these adages. Older students have probably heard these from loved ones or inside their heads, when their own saboteur has a go at it.
One belief is that a woman can either be a good mother/wife or a successful professional. Not both. It sort of dates back to the Victorian lore and beyond, that if girls study too hard, then blood will flow excessively to their brain, causing their ovaries to shrink.
The second belief is one ought to secure a cushy job forever and ever, starting out as a mailroom clerk, eventually advancing into the corner office, and finally departing with cocktails, mass tears and applause during the retirement party.
Well, times have changed. With unemployment hovering at 9.1% and with job seekers taking longer than ever before to find work, going back to school is a beacon in the dark, promising better prospects and pay. Graduate school applications are on the rise in the past decade, including a whopping increase of 8.3% just between 2008-2009 , according to Council of Graduate Schools.
Plus, more and more workers are finding themselves fed up with the cubicle, lured by the freedom of self-employment or consultancy. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, many coffee shops have plugged up their electric outlets, to push out the the herds of freeloading freelancers with laptops.
I recently thought of my friends’ educational backgrounds. With just a couple of exceptions, it turned out that all of them have graduate degrees. And we are by no means an elitist bunch. We are mostly renters. We drink beer and cuss when necessary, but virtually everyone’s touting a master’s degree or a PhD, a JD or an MBA. Some have two. Others are wistfully hoping to snag another one.
All around me, singers are padding their resume with an MBA, office assistants and newspaper reporters are being reeducated into lawyers, artists are investing in a teaching credential. And the greatest feeding age for this commotion is late 20s to early 30s. The numbers prove this. Postbaccalaureate enrollment (both college and grad) of people 25 and over is on the rise, the growth rate even outpacing that of younger students, claims the National Center for Education Statistics.
Graduate education is not vanity. Nor is it elitism. Admittedly a costly venture, a later advanced degree gives time for personalities and objectives to crystallize. Older grad school applicants understand far more than their favorite watering hole, romantic type and sexual orientation. Having gone through the corporate or creative wringer, they ultimately get to know the most important thing: themselves.
What some consider a financial drain and a breakdown of family and commitment values, others view with gratitude. Indeed, one ought to offer thanks for a society that condones the pursuit of self-betterment, at any age. Because most other parts of the world do not.
(Part 2: Stay tuned for Women in Graduate school. Uh oh…)