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40 year old engineering student

40 year old engineering student

40 year old engineering student

Hi everyone,

Just want to know if I am making the right decision here. A little background on me first. I have been doing Instrumentation and Automation for the past 10 years with the past 5 years working in the Engineering department doing projects. Mainly my projects deal with upgrading our old control system to a newer system, this requires a lot of new programming and integrating the new programming with the existing old programs. This also requires adding new control network infrastructure, which means replacing or integrating our DH+ into ethernet IO. That is the main project I am involved in but I do a lot of other projects as well, smaller ones, i.e. replacing our door security system with a new one. I mainly worked with the vendors on this but I helped them design how it is laid out. The past 5 years I have been going to school part time to get my BSEE as I only have an Associates right now. If I keep going part time I will have 3 more years to go.

I am at a cross roads in which if I go full time now I will graduate in a year and because I have been part time the past 5 years I have not had any opportunity to get grants or scholarships but now that I am planning on going full time my last year of school will be free as grants and scholarships will cover the last year of school. If I go full time now I will have to quit work, might give my two weeks in a couple of weeks. With all of that said I am currently 40 years old and when I graduate I will be 41.

Is it worth it for me to quit work, have that one year of blank on my resume to complete my BSEE in 1 year? Will employers want to hire me after I graduate? Being 41 and all... I currently make 10% more than a new Engineer graduate would make starting out. I really think if I want to move up in my career I should do this but I am worried that I won't get a job after I graduate.

My end goal is to get my Masters in EE so I can teach at a community college level but I will still need a job after I get my undergrad so I can provide for my family. Right now we have enough saved up to cover the year I will be going to school.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

Whatever. there's lots of old people in college.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

Engineers never stop being engineering students. Never...

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: 40 year old engineering student

Your age is probably less important than your physical location and your ability/desire to relocate. Since the concept of life-long employment has long flown the coop, age is less relevant than cost, and if you are priced as a new graduate, your maturity and ability to diligently work a 40-hr week is a bigger factor, in my opinion.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
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RE: 40 year old engineering student

If you stay doing what you are doing, honestly, you probably will be doing more of the same after you get your BS. There are a lot of people with BS degrees working on control systems just like you now. Moneywise, it probably doesn't make sense to take time off of work. It hardly ever makes sense monetarily to take time off of work. I would only do it if your goal is to punch out and get into teaching or wherever you are trying to go and money is not an issue and you don't want to waste more time doing whatever you are now. You might be able to work part-time or something to ease up the financial burden. I went to school with people that worked 20 hours a week and still took a full load. I don't know your location but some locations like around Houston, you probably wouldn't struggle to find a part time gig or a gig after taking a year off for school.

You might be able to get a position in controls systems that centers around training people how to use some vendor's equipment if teaching is your kick.

If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

  • Dropping out & going full-time to school will carry an income penalty. This may be unacceptable to some, and the penalty may be too great for some financial situations. But I would arrange my finances and drop out and complete the educational journey ASAP so I could get on with my career plans. Especially if I had the opportunity of a grant to pay for it.
  • I don't believe age would be an issue. Future employers will NOT be getting a newly-minted graduate with an Engineering degree. They'll be getting an experienced, mature employee whose skills have been validated with a degree. This specific topic has been discussed before.
  • Unless you've got a bad relationship with your current employer, then you should have this conversation with your boss. There may be any number of innovative scenarios that are presented in order to retain a competent, trained, useful, and adapted employee who will get an engineering degree in a year. Leaves of Absence, Sabbatical, part-time work, future business expansions...one never knows. When I was in grad school (I dropped out to go full-time) I was green with envy of a fellow student. He had gone to grad school part-time while working and his company gave him a 12-month job assignment to go to school and complete his degree. At full pay & benefits. He returned after 12 months, holding a new diploma, and walked into a promotion.

Blue Technik LLC
Virtuoso Robotics Engineering

RE: 40 year old engineering student

I agree with tyger.

If you finish your degree and go job hunting, you're not a 'new engineer'.

You're (from the sound of it) a controls engineer with 10 years of experience and a degree.

In the real world, as long as the experience is true experience, the order in which the degree and experience are obtained doesn't matter all that much.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

I think Tygerdog's last point is crucial. Have the conversation instead of the 2-weeks notice. It is not at all uncommon for an employer to offer a leave of absence (sometimes with benefits continued, it is worth asking) for education. At the end of the year you either get a job (with seniority intact) or terminated because there is not currently a position for a BSEE--you have nothing to lose by having that conversation, if it goes poorly, quit, if it goes well, your problems are solved.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: 40 year old engineering student


Is it worth it for me to quit work, have that one year of blank on my resume to complete my BSEE in 1 year? Will employers want to hire me after I graduate? Being 41 and all... I currently make 10% more than a new Engineer graduate would make starting out. I really think if I want to move up in my career I should do this but I am worried that I won't get a job after I graduate.

Hard to answer first one not knowing your life/financial situation. I wouldn't be concerned with the one blank year in the resume, though. That's easy to explain and if you've noted on your resume the start/end dates for your schooling then you probably won't even have to explain.

Second question is a huge yes from me. Being different than the normal college student isn't necessarily a bad thing. Keep in mind your "peers" are graduating with 0 or very limited experience. Though you just got your degree, you have 10 years. It may not be 'engineering' experience, but it's still something. I'd compare you to one of our drafters here who has 10 years experience and then goes and gets their BS in structural engineering. When they go back out into the field they may be brand new from an engineering standpoint, but there's so much beyond engineering I wouldn't have to teach because of that experience. I wouldn't need to teach them how to set up drawings, I wouldn't need to teach them about how buildings 'work', I wouldn't have to teach them how to operate in an office environment or as part of a project team. Or an iron worker or contractor going and getting their structural degree. They may not have known the engineering and math side of things, but they probably know the construction side better than me. That's an asset that should be celebrated.

I attended a college graduation a couple weeks ago for master's level and above. They noted graduates ranged from 21 years old to 74 years old. A non-negligible amount of the graduates were there with their spouses and kids (and the 74 year old was there with her grandchildren). It's common. You'll be fine.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

To offer some different experiences, age does matter. In industry, you will be discriminated against. I've had more than one HR professional say that age discrimination does happen and at younger ages than people realize. Some have stated that it begins at 34 and gets worse as we age. It's been written here and elsewhere and stated by others I know that engineering belongs to the young. I wonder about that often.

I've known and worked with older engineering graduates, who did not move up the ladder as quickly as the younger engineering graduates. One engineering graduate took 10 years working and going to school to graduate. His employer refused to recognize him as an engineer and promote him to an engineering position so he got another job and moved his family. The age differential between young and older graduates matters. It also matters on the money front. I graduated at 28 and that 6 year differential has been there ever since. Education at a young age is a mathematical game changer to me. It's much like a step change or a very positive y-intercept that occurs upon graduation at 22.

Since your ultimate goal is to teach at a community college, your path may not be impacted by those factors. It's never a good idea to take a year off of work and lose that income. But, if money is not a motivator for you, then that may not matter in your equation.

A dear friend of mine recently graduated, with a Ph.D. in computer science, at 51. He finally determined that he really wanted to teach and the requirement for the level he wanted to teach was the doctorate. He's now teaching and doing research at a local university. They're darn lucky to have him because he's one smart, experienced man!

I applaud you for sticking with it over the years and having the work ethic, courage, desire, and wisdom to invest in yourself! That's quite an accomplishment and I hope you are duly recognized for it. I wish you all the best and good luck with your decision!

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC
NSPE-CO, Central Chapter
Dinner program: http://nspe-co.org/events.php

RE: 40 year old engineering student

I agree with discussing this with your supervisor to feel out potential options if you havent already. That being said IME if you're valuable, arent afraid to hold out for your value, and can show your value you will do well in industry. I graduated at 27 due to serving in the military and the only negative I've seen is simply missing out on a few years of higher income and savings toward retirement.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

Yes, as above, please do discuss your options with your boss before jumping ship.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: 40 year old engineering student

This age question comes up every so often on Eng-Tips. Honestly, at age 40 you are less than halfway through your potential career range. You've got a lot of good years remaining. Arguably, your best years! Life begins at 40, right?

It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

Quote (ornerynorsk )

Life begins at 40, right?


RE: 40 year old engineering student

I have to applaud Tygerdawg for that win-win story. I hope Old_Student can make it work out that way!


RE: 40 year old engineering student

I think you should go for it but I do have doubts about returning to your old employer after you graduate. I've known several people who have started out as technicians, draftsmen, etc. with 2 year degrees who have gotten their BS degree and stayed on with their employer. Almost with out fail, the management mindset has been that they are still that technician, draftsman, etc. they were before. They have typically left the company for greener pastures. I've even seen them get hired back after ~5 years and then get promotions because they have broken that mindset.

I really don't see much age discrimination at 40 around here. If anything, we discriminate against young fresh graduates. Almost every posting wants 5+ years experience.

Good luck.


The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn't included in this version of Windows.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

It may seem like mere semantics, but the meanings of words do matter: the process of picking which candidate to hire for a job is fundamentally a process of discrimination. The key here is to avoid discriminating on a basis which does not have a material impact on performance. Few would argue that fresh graduates deserve the same pay as older, more experienced staff, because there is clearly a difference in performance between the two- but we don't call that age, we call it experience, i.e. it's not the calendar age of the candidate that matters, but how many years they've worked in similar jobs. There is also clearly a point in everyone's career where their performance declines due to excessive age- and that varies greatly from person to person. Is age therefore something on which one can ethically discriminate, or is it a totally irrelevant criterion to job performance such as race, sex, skin colour, religion etc.?

Legally, it might be- within some limits. It certainly isn't acceptable to ask a candidate their age for that reason. Years of experience in a particular role, on the other hand, is something that is part of every resume review by hiring managers.

The fundamental problem an older engineering grad will have is an employer's concern over mismatched expectations, not at the outset, but a few years in.

A 40 yr old engineering grad is still an engineering fresh grad. Sure, they may bring maturity and other work experience to the table that's worth something in monetary/performance terms, but it's not going to get them even close to what an engineer who graduated at 22 would be earning by the time they're 40 yrs old if they've been continuously employed as an engineer throughout that period.

There's the problem: employers will be concerned, and I think rightly so, that the real expectations of a 40 yr old engineering grad would be to rise in income rather quickly to the level expected by a 40 yr old engineer, and that rise would likely exceed the level of pay justified by fairly evaluated performance. And since mismatches between salary expectations between employers and employees are a frequent cause of expensive employee departures, many employers will just avoid that whole problem by hiring their fresh grads younger. There certainly is no shortage of fresh grads looking for work.

The steepest part of the salary curve in constant dollars is the first ten years. So by the time you're 50, you probably won't be far off what a 50 yr old engineer who graduated when they were 22 would make. The trouble is getting to that point. Finding an employer who can make use of your unique combination of education and skills will be key.

I have no idea what the right advice is for you in relation to your old employer. I think others have given you some very thoughtful replies. I do wish you the best of luck.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

What Moltenmetal says is true but I would argue that the industry experience is what caries weight. If you have been doing automation or instrumentation and stay in that field, no one will hold you back though you might not see the bump that you would expect with getting an engineering degree. There is not that much engineering work that truly is rocket science. You employer might think yesterday I had technician Bob and today I have engineer Bob but what changed. Maybe, a few extra task were added to your scope. The industry experience though plays a bigger role than in my opinion what Moltenmetal makes it out to be. I am in my 4th type of engineering job. They were all kind of related but different task. I picked up on each of them quickly due to them sharing similar concepts and having an understanding of how projects should get carried out. The other thing too, there aren't that many engineering jobs that you'll continue growing in technically after like the 6 or 7 year mark. The amount of learning for a position really levels off. If you work with someone that didn't move around to broaden their experience, you'll be near them sooner than you expect.

If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

Echo Tygerdawg + more comments . . .
after 5-yrs of part-time school and working a full-time job, my studies progressed to the point where changes were needed. at the end of a fall semester, i quit work and opted to go to school full-time. upon returning from the semester break, i had a post card from the university HR asking me to contact them. i ended up working at the university part-time and attending class full-time starting in January. this worked great for about a year. the next fall semester, i mentioned to my classmates about quitting school and going back to work as i projected to need more $. this is when i learned about grants and student loans. i got a grant $850. and 3-months later, a $3200 student loan. i obtained the BS the next July (had a summer class). my age at graduation was 32.
my employers have all been impressed with how i managed matters and obtained the balance between school and work. it was not easy at times, but such is life.
so, finish school at 41-ish. that leaves +20 years of potentially higher income, responsibility, etc.
yes, i would quit work and complete the education. keep your options open about part-time work. i graded homework for professors for $. seek possible part-time employment at the university or your employer. think about transportation between work and school. it was really nice to ride the bike to school, attend class or work, and then ride home late afternoon.
whatever your choice is, i wish you good luck. hang in there and do not let the basturds wear ya down.

RE: 40 year old engineering student

agree with talking to your present company. You've already invested a lot of effort on your own time (4 years part time) and now 1 year full time isn't a big ask (for time off). In any case completing a degree is not "a year of blank" on your resume, and personally someone who invested time and effort working part-time school has a definite advantage.

(again) talk to you supervisor ... he'll shed light on the benefit to your career for having a BS degree ... maybe (as other's have said) it would be more of the same ? Maybe then jump ship (after completing degree and after time you think justified if your present company supports you in your final year) ??


another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

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