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scottm79 (Electrical) (OP)
15 Aug 09 0:10
I'm in my late twenties now, and know that I need to go back to school so that I can get a decent job in the future.  I'm seriously considering studying engineering, but don't know if my age would be a hinderance when I graduate.  (I'd be 33-34 by the time I finish.)

I've asked some of the schools in the area, and they all say age shouldn't be a problem...but then again, are they really going to discourage anyone from attending their university?  Do you all have any opinions regarding the chances of someone in my position having a good career in engineering if I start now?   
zdas04 (Mechanical)
15 Aug 09 1:58
I started college after 6 years in the Navy.  A BS degree took 33 months (I was motivated) so I was looking for my first real job at 27.  I don't think that my advanced years hindered my entrance into the workforce.  It might be harder if you've spent the time between High Scool and your epiphany on a beach in Hawaii, but even that might not matter.

FreddyNurk (Electrical)
15 Aug 09 2:32
Generally 'mature age' (a relative term at best) students do better in university than those straight out of school. Depending on your background, life experience can be beneficial to an employer, as they're likely to expect that you won't be out drinking every weekend, and are likely to be more mature than the usual sort of graduate produced these days.

I went to university straight out of school, and know a couple of people who went back to uni at a similar age. They did quite well (though the economic situation was strikingly different at the time) so I can't see it being quite such an issue for you.

That said, as you've probably noticed, university places don't directly translate to employment. In Australia, the university places do mean more funding (of sorts, without going into detail over fee paying or not) so the university people are likely to say that. However, I wouldn't necessarily get too concerned about it.  
kontiki99 (Electrical)
15 Aug 09 8:02
Here is how I see it.

Discover what you want to do and go do it.

You are not too old to do anything you want.

Doctor, lawyer, engineer, archeologist, ophthalmologist whatever.

Don't set low goals. Set unrealistically high goals and don't take no for an answer.

Choose something that pays well, live well within your means. That way you have something to work with if you do burn out after 10 or 15 years.

Understand the business model for work in the chosen field. If wide open competition exists, the competition pressure drives salaries down.

Work somewhat protected because it's monopolistic in nature or shielded by safety regulations (pilot work) or shielded by unions or better yet by strong lobbyists will probably pay better.

The day you finish, nothing in the business technical environment will be the same way it was the day you started, so there is always some risk.

If you choose an easy but fun looking carrier, the job market soon gets flooded and salaries drop.

If where you live is really important to you, choose something that supports industries that exist in every city and state.

If school is required, it will be to expensive no mater where you go.

You cannot compare the quality of credentials from, Harvard Business School to (for example) Memphis (TN) School of Business. The later is a business school in a dead city. It's rather like studying botany on the moon.

Likewise an Obscurity Technical Institute Bachelors of Something Like Engineering degree is too expensive and too easy to come by.

Networking is important. Play golf. Lear to be secure around supervisors and senior executives. If you're smart, it pays to let those folks see it, just don't over play it.

Don't be afraid to invest in yourself. Corporate training is not oriented toward your goals, it's oriented to corporate goals.

Good luck!

xnuke (Electrical)
15 Aug 09 8:05
I have many older students in my classes (often called non-traditional students). Age has not hindered their ability to get jobs. You bring your education and experience to the interview table, even if your experience isn't necessarily related to engineering. I also find non-traditional students tend to be very motivated and really value their education, so I enjoy having them in my classes.

If you have thoroughly done your research, really know what you're getting yourself in for (both in the schooling aspect as well as what engineers do day-to-day), and can't imagine doing anything else, go for it!

If you think you should do it because engineering pays well and that is the main reason you're interested, you should reconsider. I've seen a lot of students who thought they wanted to be engineers because of the money. Most of them worked only a few years as engineers but ultimately left engineering because it isn't what they expected. They weren't usually very good at their jobs, either. Also, if you don't have a passion for life-long learning, you may want to choose a different field. The rapid pace of changing technology means rapid self-education is often necessary as an engineer.

One last note: don't expect engineering education to give you an accurate picture of what you'll do as an engineer. Most engineers will tell you that school is very different. I encourage my students to work as technicians/trades workers while going to school because they learn how to construct/maintain the things that engineers design. This makes them better engineers in the long run, in my opinion. Schools teach mostly theory, and many college graduate engineers find themselves in deep water after school because they know the mathematics but not how parts fit together, or can't read/create real engineering drawings, or don't know anything about codes and standards. Some swim; some sink. (By the way, I teach part-time so I can introduce students to real-world engineering design before they graduate. When students interviewing bring a real-world design package of a system that they created, drew in CAD, then built to code and tested, employers salivate.)

Best of luck!

"Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life." Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.
Please see FAQ731-376: Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

Zapster (Electrical)
15 Aug 09 14:21
I pursued a degree in Engineering when I was in my forties.  I was recruited by an international corporation half way through my senior year for a job that paid well above the average.  Age is not a barrier; however, I think it is important that you differentiate yourself from your competition, fellow graduates.  Things that will make you stand out after graduation might be: GPA, field of study for your senior project, expanding a skill set that builds on past work experience, etc.  That way when you graduate your skill set will make you much more competitive than your younger counterpart.
Helpful Member!(2)  msquared48 (Structural)
15 Aug 09 16:49
I am still studying Engineering in my 60's.  None of us ever stops.

Old Engineers don't die, they just stop studying.

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering

oldfieldguy (Electrical)
15 Aug 09 19:26

If you have the opportunity, by all means, go for it.  don't look back later and wish you'd taken the step.

If you think it's expensive now, wait'll you figure out twenty years from now what NOT going cost you.

old field guy

Lion06 (Structural)
15 Aug 09 21:00
I would say "GO FOR IT!!!".  I started college at 23, decided on engineering at 26, and graduated at 30.  It was a fairly tough decision for me to decide to go to college at 24.  I knew it was going to take a LONG time to finish a 4 year degree.  When I was 23 and on the fence about whether to actually pursue this or not, my mother said to me, "Who cares if it takes 6 or 7 years?  If you don't go to school, how old will you be in 6 or 7 years?"  It was a long, hard road, but very much worth it.  I went to school part time for 5 years(while working full time with a wife and kid at home) just to get the first two years out of the way. I took classes everywhere that I could - two different community colleges, and 3 different branches of the university I ended up getting my degree at before going to school full time for the last two years (and working part time).

One thing I can say for sure is that someone in your position is there because you want to be, not because you're good at math and science so this is what you should do.  That makes such a difference.......... I can't even begin to tell you.  It makes a difference in the way you approach schooling, particular classes, the whole reason for being in college.  You also have a maturity that kids just out of high school rarely have.  This shows through to your professors, and definitely to prospective employers.

I would say to you..... Who cares if you are 33-34 when you finish?  How old will you be in 6-7 years if you DON'T go to school now?  You'll still be 33-34, only you'll be wishing you were finishing up instead of still contemplating going.
CorBlimeyLimey (Mechanical)
15 Aug 09 22:43
The best time is straight after high school.

The next best time is now.
SomptingGuy (Automotive)
15 Aug 09 22:55
Nah, the best time is a year after high school.

Now is a good time too though.

- Steve

FeX32 (Mechanical)
16 Aug 09 22:22
Go for it!. I was not in a position like this but I know persons who were. And they all come out far better then they went in....end of story


NewtonFP (Automotive)
17 Aug 09 0:29
I am in my late 20's and working towards my engineering degree.  Do not feel out of touch for being an older student.

Today in school it is very important for me to do well in my coursework.  My first year after high school I goofed off in community college and did not take it seriously.  Being more mature today I work very hard and make good grades.

I also work full time as an engineering technician, which should be good experience as a designer of things.

Graduation should come at 30 or maybe 32 years of age for me and I can't say I regret not going straight through after high school due to my lack of maturity and focus then; I never would have made it.

If engineering is what you have a passion for I sincerely encourage you to finish your studies and move onto the next step even if you are older than many other students.  My university has many older students in engineering and I've seen no clash between them and the younger students.

Good Luck!

rday (Structural)
17 Aug 09 16:42
Go for it. I graduated from engineering school at 31.

Age was no barrier in school or since.

KENAT (Mechanical)
17 Aug 09 21:29
Go for it.  Be one of those over eager hard working mature students that sit in the front row of every lecture, know all the profs on better than first name terms, boos the grade curve so all those lazy straight from schoolers have to do some work to get a decent grade.

Or don't go and make it easier for lazy slackers like I was.

(I exagerate, slightly)


Have you reminded yourself of FAQ731-376: Forum Policies recently, or taken a look at posting policies:
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

DaveMinter (Structural)
17 Aug 09 23:02
I started engineering comparatively late and, if anything, that has helped.  YMMV
B16A2 (Structural)
17 Aug 09 23:21
Being able to have a good career isn't an issue.  The issue is the amount of return on your educational investment.  Typically engineering doesn't pay as well as other professions.  Jumping in late hurts your return even more, to the point it may not be worth pursuing.

If you're ok with how the numbers turn out and have a passion or specific personal goals, then go for it.

FeX32 (Mechanical)
17 Aug 09 23:29
...why would you do engineering just for money...if that is ur provision then DON't do it


Lion06 (Structural)
18 Aug 09 8:16
Don't go into engineering for the money.  "Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life."
ornerynorsk (Industrial)
18 Aug 09 9:13
You're talking like you have one foot in the grave.  You could have 40 years to practice your career after graduating.   
NewtonFP (Automotive)
18 Aug 09 9:44
If money is short, one can get a two year associates degree and transfer to a university.  One caveat is to ensure the credits you earn will transfer.

Community colleges are often about half price compared to a four year institution.  Some will even cover your tuition if you volunteer a set number of hours a week.
cksh (Mechanical)
18 Aug 09 12:07
I did not go back to school until 25.  Took me until I was 32 to finish my BSME by attending night classes.

And I still had 30 years of a career ahead of me ;)  

Towards the end it did feel kinda strange going to school with students 10 years younger, but since I was going to school at night, there were at least a few others that were older.

I agree with alot of the other posters.  Go for it.  You already have experience , although maybe not engineering, and this could give you a slight advantage over someone that is 22 with only their grades to fall back on, and no real world xp.

B16A2 (Structural)
18 Aug 09 13:06
It's not that you're doing engineering for the money.  It's that you're taking on educational debt with less time to pay it off.  There is a point where a person needs to balance job enjoyment and the expected quality of life.
MechEng2005 (Mechanical)
18 Aug 09 13:27
As many others have said, go for it!

Personally, I went straight from high school to getting my BSME. However, many of the "older" students seemed to have their lives more together and organized. I would think that would help in both pursuit of a degree and in trying to land that first job.

However, there were some "older" students trying to juggle a demanding job, family, taking care of a house, etc. Some of them seemed to be spreading them pretty thin and their education suffered (in my opinion). If you are at a point in your life that you are confident you can devote the necessary time and energy to your education, then definately go for it. However, it seemed the time and effort required when I was getting my BSME was for a full-time student who could focus on eating, sleeping, basic hygiene, school work, maybe a very limited part-time job, and not much else. Be sure you are ready for it and go for it!

-- MechEng2005
controlnovice (Electrical)
18 Aug 09 16:39
Go back to school.  

This is normally the space where people post something insightful.
MiketheEngineer (Structural)
18 Aug 09 17:54
moltenmetal (Chemical)
19 Aug 09 9:10
Figure out what you're passionate about, and do that.  If it takes qualifications to follow your passion, of course you need to go out and get them.

Don't waste your time, or the time of your instructors or future employers and co-workers, by pursuing engineering because you "need a good job in the future" and think engineering might give you that chance.  There are plenty of people (2/3 of Canada's annual graduating class according to our 2006 census) who finish an engineering degree and DO NOT end up working as engineers.  I strongly suggest that you do NOT become one of them.

If you know what engineers actually do for a living, and you think it's truly interesting and exciting, then go to school and become one.  If your passion is there, your age won't be a hindrance whatsoever- unless you try to keep up with the young kids partying while you're going to school!
KENAT (Mechanical)
19 Aug 09 9:48
As others have said this is a 2 part question.

1.  Should I study Engineering.

2.  Will my age be a disadvantage.

1. has been debated before I think if not on this forum then forum731: How to Improve Myself to Get Ahead in My Work or forum732: Overcoming Obstacles Getting My Work Done.  Basically if you have a decent interest in Engineering, and some basic aptitude in the requisit skills are are fine with being comfortably off but probably not rich, then it may indeed be for you.

2.  Overal it probably wont be a disadvantage.  Sure you'll have about 5 - 10 less years to get your Return on investment but that goes for any degree.  Your extra age though will hopefully give you some maturity that will give you an advantage.


Have you reminded yourself of FAQ731-376: Forum Policies recently, or taken a look at posting policies:
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

FeX32 (Mechanical)
19 Aug 09 11:32
wow i heard that 2/3 Canada.... about 50 times.....


SnTMan (Mechanical)
19 Aug 09 12:14
scottm79, if you think you are really interested in engineering, do it. If you just feel you need a degree, get something different, it'll be easier.

I went back to school full time at 40. It was not the easiest thing to do, but I have never been sorry.



moltenmetal (Chemical)
19 Aug 09 14:59
FeX32:  and you'll keep hearing it, at least until I stop hearing people in the media talking about how we have to "promote" engineering as an educational option!

Engineering's great, if it's your calling- and sucks big time if it isn't.  If this thread's any indication, that call came late in life to some very good folks, and they haven't looked back.   
TheTick (Mechanical)
19 Aug 09 15:16
Do it before your late 20s slide into your early 40s.
Twoballcane (Mechanical)
19 Aug 09 17:15
My philosophy is it is never too late to start something you want to do especially if it will benefit you and your family.

However, I have to agree with the other posters with the question is Engineering your calling?  Even before you get to your engineering courses, you will have to get thru the weeding out class such as the math, physics, and chemical classes and then wield these subjects in the engineering classes.  I'm not trying to deter you, but get you psyched up.  I went to a public university where a good part of the student population was and still is working parents.  Many have come in with good intentions, but realizing the brain power needed to jump thru the classes deemed too much and eventually dropped out.  But, there were many who had the aptitude and passed the classes despite only having four hours of sleep because of work and family.  

So lace up, get your head into the game, and go kick those calculation's a$$e$.

Good luck


"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."  

TCAir (Mechanical)
20 Aug 09 17:10
I was in the same boat.

Wife and kid on the way at 28.

Graduated when I was 31.

It actually helped when I interviewed!!!  A few places looked at it as a negative and you could see it when they were looking at me, but most looked at it as a positive.  You have the ability to work.  Most kids out of college don't.  I work with 3 new engineers (<2 years out of school) and the biggest difference is not the skill but the ability to handle the work place.

Good luck and have fun with it!!!

Engineering has always been my love, but it ended up being my second career...

BillPSU (Industrial)
28 Aug 09 17:31
I went back to school when I was 51. I even stayed in a dorm for one semester so I could sell my house and move my wife down. You have plenty of time to go to school if you want to and my experience was a huge plus when going for a job interview.

My late university experience also produced some rather comical situations. I competed in the Great Moonbuggy Race for my senior project and was asked how it was to mentor the students. Of course I proceeded to say I was one of the students. Also I received comments about me riding my bycicle to class going across campus.  
Pmatherne (Mechanical)
1 Sep 09 21:19
I got my engineering degree when I was 36 so it is not too late to start.
I think it was well worth it
hoyle (Mechanical)
2 Sep 09 11:13
Get an engineering degree late in life?
Why not? - All the upsides have been mentioned above, and if it's what you really wanted to do – Great!
"If you think you are really interested in engineering, do it. If you just feel you need a degree, get something different, it'll be easier". That line should be in every University's School of Engineering's reception area.
I have been sat on both sides so the interview desk quite a few times now, and I would put a very cynical question to you
"Did you enter engineering later in life because it just took you longer to realise that's what you wanted to do, or did you realise that, all things considered, it's not that bad as an occupation?"
As long as your answer is believable, and the rest of the interview answers line up with this reply, I don't see a problem.
The age thing won't work against you.
matthewj (Civil/Environmental)
21 Sep 09 21:25
By all means, if you are interested in following an engineering career, yes!  I graduated with a BS at 32 and am planning to get my graduate degree in the next 5 years.

Don't do it for the money.  Aside from the fact that there is no money in engineering, your search for it will make you miserable.  If you are looking for money, then be a welder or a plumber!

Keep in mind that your experience is part of an overall picture of you.  Don't under emphasize this if (when?) you do become an engineer.

Life happens!
KirbyWan (Aerospace)
22 Sep 09 9:31
I did it and you can too.  I graduate from HS in 1989 and started Kansas State in 1993.  I got through most of the first two years before burning out.  I took a full time job at K-state and worked as a computer operator, programmer, and finally as a supervisor for 8 years.  I eventually decided to go back in 2003 and finish my degree, which I did in 2006 at the age of 35.  I did have some problems getting a job.  It took 5 months to find one, but I don't think my age was the problem.

Here are a few suggestions to maximize your college experience.  Sit in the front rows and get to know every professor.  Stop by their office and ask what they are doing as research.  Join some technical clubs like SAE mini-baja, Formula SAE, SAE aerodesign team etc.  There are simialr groups for electrical, cival and chemical, these were the groups most focused on mechanical.  If there is a group sponsered by a different dept you can still join it.  The solar car team was sponsered by the EE dept. but drew people from all engineering diciplins.

find out what research the profs are doing and insinuate yourself in.  Hang around the lab and annoy them with questions and ask if there are undergrad research postitions available.  Offer to work as a tutor or grader for a class you have already taken.  I did this for the ME comuter programming class since I had a lot more programming experience.  I not only helped out ME who were clueless about programming when they started I learned alot more about it then I ever knew, and could debug programms faster then before.

Most important in my eyes for future employement is to apply for summer internships.  don't leave these for the fresh from high school group.  This is the best way to network as an engineering student.  If you interned at a company and liked it try interning at the same company every summer.  If your interships go well you should be a shoe in for any entry engineering position at that company.  

Also important is to make friends with the other students.  It may be a bit of a maturity difference at first, but they will catch up in the maturity department very quickly in the few years you are at college and they might even find your more mature perspective helpful when they are having problems.  Remeber it's not just technical subjects we need to be mentored on.  These people will be your lab partners and group project co-workers for 4 or 5 years, so be nice.  Besides there will be a few non-traditional students (I like to use the term re-treads).  A group of us got in early every morning (no problem with parking before 7am) and sat in the foyer at Durland/Rathbone/What ever that new wing was called and did homework and prepared for the day, but mostly just hanging out and chatting with students and professors as they came in.  

As you work through your classes keep a portfolio of projects you have worked on.  The best interviews ask about what you have done, and the best answers are to show them the projects you have worked on and how you contributed.

Have fun with it, and absolutely go for it.


Kirby Wilkerson

Remember, first define the problem, then solve it.

matt1985 (Civil/Environmental)
25 Sep 09 17:00
I am in my mid 20's now and have a degree in accounting, about to pass the Certified Public Accountant Exams. However the Economy is taking a hit on Accountants and I may not be able to get another job. I am starting to think of new careers. Engineering has been something I have been getting interested in the last couple months, seeing how bad the U.S. infrastructure is, I would like to help.

I Still have the time to study I just don't know if it will be worth the time and money.

Money is not everything I have learned that in accounting and my life. I just want to make a steady living.

What do you think?
GregLocock (Automotive)
25 Sep 09 21:18
accounting=adding up
engineering=differential calculus

It is rare that people are equally adept AND HAPPY at both. Do the one that interests you the most, and pursue it with enthusiasm.

Do you really believe that accounting is a dying industry? I have worked in engineering for 31 years, every single company I have worked for, except one (and that is no sure thing), has been bought out, bankrupted or merged. I'm pretty sure accountants had something to do with all that!


Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

moltenmetal (Chemical)
30 Sep 09 10:10
In my experience, the accountant is there right up until they lock the doors and declare bankruptcy.  The technical staff are long gone by that time.

There's no job security in anything any more.  But the top 10% in any profession have the best shot.  Focus on staying in the top 10% of whatever you do.
ScottPulling (Electrical)
4 Oct 09 11:47
I was 30 when I graduated with an EE.  It's totally worth it because what else would I do?  Plus from 33 onward you'll probably have a decent career.  Just be careful which direction you go.  I spent my first 11 years in field engineering and now can barely find a job.  I'm stuck in a job I don't like fixing stuff at the same company.  Just do your research.  Find out where trends are going.
TheMasterMechanic (Mechanical)
10 Oct 09 7:50
I read a statistic that 1 in 8 engineering students is in their 30's. Engineering is one of the most common degrees that adults return to college for.
When do you plan on retiring? if you have to work till you are 70, thats 37 years. You'll see a good ROI.
Dacheeky (Mechanical)
23 Oct 09 5:16
I strongly recommend that you go for it! But do try to figure out what sort of career you want specifically before choosing an engineering major. This is the most important thing that will keep you focused on your goals.

Just as StructuralEIT put it, you are going to end up somewhere in the next 6 to 7 years anyway so go for it!

Studying engineering is not an easy fit though, takes serious hard work and beware most engineering textbooks are poorly written and incredibly boring.

Also select courses that are most relevant towards the career you are headed towards.

I had many courses that were thought by professors who went straight into academia and research work out of university and worked us up the wall with the most complicated things that you might not even see outside of the research field and I personally did not like it because I had not intention of working in a research lab.

Oh yes, taking up a part time trade that is related to your engineering studies will help you a lot in becoming an engineer.

sjmgd977 (Electrical)
27 Oct 09 9:15
Age is not a factor in being an engineer.The real issue here in my mind is whether or not there is a future in this gutted profession in the USA.

It used to be that when 1 industry went down,others picked up and you re-tooled yourself to the new business. That is not happening.

With an upsurge in regulation,taxes, and the like, it is doubtful that the USA will pull out of this in less than decade (if ever).

The truth is that engineering curricula are very watered down and simply don't prepare you for work in the real world.Ideally,you should be working in an engineering environment while you go to school.Better than that, you need a Master's Degree in your field.

silverbullet1986 (Mechanical)
7 Nov 09 11:19
i worked with someone who started in his mid 30s and finished when he was in his 40s. He is glad he did it.

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