Author Topic: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged  (Read 3980 times)

Jennifer in Ottawa

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I'm at a bit of a crossroads, having a mid-life crisis as it were, and I would like the advice of disinterested third parties.  I have a reasonably good idea of the response I would get from my husband and my Dad.

I am considering returning to University, and am a bit stuck considering all the pros and cons and consequences.

Background

I'm 44 and my husband is 43.  We are new mustachians.  We've spent our working lives essentially spending everything we've earned.   We have no debt, but no assets either.  We are already making headway after a few weeks effort.

He is in the military and has 7-12 years left in his contract depending on whether or not he chooses to convert his service from 20 to 25 years.  If he works till 55, the resulting pension will be more than sufficient to live comfortably on.  If he predeceases me after retiring, the survivor's pension will provide me a modest income, half of his pension entitlement.

Goals

We are planning to purchase a home in 2 to 3 years in the area of his final posting, and will be retiring there.  Our goal is to retire by 56/55, have the house paid off, and live life on our own terms.

Conundrum

I returned to work after doing some University and spending time as a homemaker.  Previous to this my background was in Administration.  I have a combined total of 18 years of experience spread from Reception to Office Manager positions, but no formal qualifications.  I can't find work in my field in our current city because I am unilingually English and Bilingualism is a requirement here.  Currently I am stuck working full time relief in a part time designated position and underpaid for what I do.  I earn roughly a third of what I used to earn, and I have no benefits or paid vacation.  It's pretty much a dead end job.  It just provides some income.

I am fully capable of doing rather more with my life, I just ... haven't.  My average grades in Uni were 95%, and I didn't really have to kill myself to achieve that, I just treated it like I treat any job and do my best.

I have already applied to my program of choice, I'm just trying to decide what to do should the acceptance come.

I've applied to the Bachelor of Information Technology program at one of the local Universities.  It offers a co-op option, which appeals to me as I have zero experience in that field and no contacts at all.  The tuition is reasonable.  There is a used bookstore close to campus where I know I can get materials at half price or better.  The Campus is a bike rideable distance from my house, and for bad weather days, a commuter train runs right through the middle.

Employment prospects seem solid, and salary levels are not shabby, certainly more than I am making now.

The short term financials (and maybe interim term) are what is making this decision difficult.  We have no savings from which to pay tuition.  If I continue to work, our household income disqualifies me from government backed student loans.  If we take out military student loans then our monthly expenses increase.  My personal credit rating is pretty crappy so I probably won't qualify for a student line of credit, though my husband may qualify for a personal line of credit if the bank is willing to ignore me.

If we are very mustachian and I continue to work my current hours, we could pay for it ourselves.  Working hours would present a difficulty though.  I've seen the sample timetable for the BIT program, and I would be restricted to working nights and weekends, and one of the most important timeframes for my job is Friday from 6am to 2:30 pm.  And how feasible would it be to work full time and earn kick ass grades at the same time - with kids and a husband and a household? 


What is your opinion of this?  Should I just work this crappy job that is far below my ability?  Should I stretch, take a risk and put my abilities to the test?  What financial approach should I take to this?  Any and all advice/guidance/suggestions would be greatly welcome.

farmstache

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2014, 11:50:46 AM »
Hello, Jennifer!

As I understand absolutely nothing of loans and finances in Canada or the US, I won't reply about that here.

My first question is: you already applied to the university, right? When would you get the results/start studying? Can you delay that a little bit (like a semester or so) to save a bit more money to give you a head start? Can you take tests or something else, apply to incampus work, something to get a scholarship? Maybe switch jobs to something that is really close to the campus or telecommuting form home? Try thinking out of the box.

Also, take a language course, now or during your new university course (they might have cheaper/free language courses there). The bilingual thing held you back this time, and languages are pretty awesome mental exercises. It's also an asset you'll have for the rest of your life, and might help you grow even on the IT field. I must say several of my career and sidejobs opportunities came because of my knowing other languages.

Chrissy

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2014, 12:12:23 PM »
Is one of the choices to go to school part-time at night/on weekends, and the other choice to go full time?  It's unclear to me from your posting.  How long would part-time school take to complete the degree?  How long for full time?  Does any of your previous schooling count toward this degree?

I would lean toward you continuing a daytime job of some sort, and going to school on nights and weekends.  Plenty of people do this.  It's hard, but it's only for a limited amount of time, and you do get occasional breaks.  Do you intend to go to get an advanced degree after this one?  If not, don't worry about making perfect grades, just get the dang degree!

I agree with farmstache:  you should think outside the box, and work every angle.  As a non-traditional student with a history of great grades, you might qualify for a grant or scholarship. 

Jennifer in Ottawa

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2014, 12:50:34 PM »
Thank you for the responses.

If accepted I would start as early as this September.  I may enrol in up to 5 courses per semester.  I do not have to take courses each semester, but have to apply for readmission if I go 9 semesters without registering for a course.

This program does not have an online component.  At this University the number of online courses is very small, and largely concentrated in first and second year.  Comparing what I have completed already against the courseload for this program, all of the remaining work is done on campus.  I've applied to First Year, and I can write off roughly a semester as the credits I already have will count as options in the new program.  This leaves me roughly 3 1/2 years of school to complete.  If I do not take a full summer break and study each of the 3 available semesters, and if I study full time, I could complete the degree in 2 calendar years plus one semester, so let's say I could graduate in December of 2016 at the earliest if I start this September.

I could study part time and pay as I go, but my concern at this point is my advanced age and ever approaching retirement date.  I just don't have as much time to mess about as I once did.  My personality tends to drive me to dive in and give something my absolute and complete effort once I start it.  I do one thing at a time, and do it intensely.  I would lean towards working like a maniac at this till its done over doing it piecemeal over time for these reasons, which is why I am havering over starting at all.

My current job is roughly equidistant between my home and the campus.  Transportation presents no issues whatsoever.

Regarding the bilingualism, I only need French if I work in Ottawa or the province of Quebec.  I was formerly fluent, but I have lost a lot of my ability to disuse.  I could take a night school course at the local college and be done within a year, but (and I hate the way this sounds), hiring priority in this town always favours those whose mother tongue is French.




merci001

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #4 on: July 08, 2014, 01:54:13 PM »
Jennifer
This is a tough one. I'm a 54 yr old single parent of two. I completed my masters about 3 yrs ago. Being a single parent, I had to work at it credit by credit. Took me about 5 yrs to finish (would have taken 3 yrs if I had gone full time). I worked full time for most of my education. Was able to get some employer reimbursement for my tuition. I did have to take out student loans for my last three semesters as I had to cut my hours to half time so I could do clinicals the other half.  I hate having student loan debt at my age, but it was worth it in my case. If you do decide to go back, I'd recommend doing whatever you can to avoid student loan debt. If it absolutely can not be avoided, make sure an your degree is financially feasible. I took out minimal student loan debt, but I know others who took huge debt and it will be very hard for them to recoup that cost.

swiper

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2014, 02:48:34 PM »
Hey Jennifer,

From your description/title I found myself asking what you are actually looking for?

  • Is it for more money and/or stability?
  • The accomplishment (approval?) of completing a uni degree?
  • To challenge yourself?
  • Something else?

The reason I ask, is that depending on your priorities a 4 year (5 with coop?) degree may not be the most optimal approach.
 

TrMama

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2014, 02:50:12 PM »
How long do you think you'll be posted to Ottawa? Will you be there for the rest of your DH's career?

Is the preference for French native speakers as strong in Gatineau? Is there a chance you could find a job making more money there?

Gerard

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2014, 04:53:18 PM »
Hmm, train through the middle of campus... Carleton, right? Did my MA there.

I always found Carleton very amenable to non-traditional and part-time students, with academic advising and financial people who are really student-focussed and friendly. You might want to go see what they can find for you. Grants, loans, on-campus work, and so on. In fact, if you found work at Carleton, I think your tuition there would be free or very cheap.

Also, although this is of limited help, if you go full-time, you'll get a tax deduction of tuition plus $465 a month, which cuts the costs a little. And you can transfer up to $5K a year of that deduction to your spouse, if you don't need it.

If I was in your situation (which I have been, although I went back to uni a little younger than you're planning to), I would test the waters with a year part-time first, then see how I felt about full-time. I understand the "all in on one thing" mindset, 'cause I'm much the same, but I found I had a lot of energy for my one or two courses, even after work and kids, because it was using a different part of my brain.

Cassie

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2014, 05:32:55 PM »
In my late 30's I was faced with a similiar situation & I chose to go f.t. taking as many courses as they allowed-summers included.  Once done I got a job making much more $ then before & I never regretted it.

RetiredAt63

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2014, 07:31:10 AM »
My thoughts too, Carleton is much more flexible.  They have on-campus student jobs that are geared to schedules.  Co-op programs are helpful because you get the job experience in the field you are studying.  If you don't go that route, summer courses do help.  And courses may not be online, but a lot also have TV sections, which you can watch anytime.  You can also watch them if you are in the live section, so if you have to miss a lecture, or want to see material covered again, there is that available.  There is an extra charge though.   You could also pick up some French courses and get your French back up to speed.  My DD is fluently bilingual, with an English surname, and she has never had trouble getting a job in Ottawa.

Do you have TurboTax?  Try running a tax simulation - the student credits are very worthwhile for adult learners.  You might also be eligible for OSAP, and for adults there is a federal bursary attached (i.e. not a loan, counts as income at tax time).

Part-time works.  I did a post-grad diploma (30 credits) over about 5 years, when I had a full-time job, a husband, a house, a long commute, and after the first year I also had a baby.

Hmm, train through the middle of campus... Carleton, right? Did my MA there.

I always found Carleton very amenable to non-traditional and part-time students, with academic advising and financial people who are really student-focussed and friendly. You might want to go see what they can find for you. Grants, loans, on-campus work, and so on. In fact, if you found work at Carleton, I think your tuition there would be free or very cheap.

Also, although this is of limited help, if you go full-time, you'll get a tax deduction of tuition plus $465 a month, which cuts the costs a little. And you can transfer up to $5K a year of that deduction to your spouse, if you don't need it.

If I was in your situation (which I have been, although I went back to uni a little younger than you're planning to), I would test the waters with a year part-time first, then see how I felt about full-time. I understand the "all in on one thing" mindset, 'cause I'm much the same, but I found I had a lot of energy for my one or two courses, even after work and kids, because it was using a different part of my brain.

Jennifer in Ottawa

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Re: Retrain or Stay the Course - Re-education for the Middle Aged
« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2014, 08:30:13 PM »
Thank you again for the comments and suggestions.  Yes, the University in question is Carleton.  They are indeed very flexible in terms of fitting education around your life.  I have attended there before in a tradtional model, and have taken courses on the Tapes To You service and also web based courses which streamed the lectures. 

My motivation for wanting to complete my degree is both financial and personal.  I want to increase my earning potential so help us reach our goals, and I need intellectual stimulation.  I also really loathe the idea of going to my crappy job everyday with no hope of anything different on the horizon.  If I was at least doing something to create a different tomorrow I would feel better about it.

I had a good heart to heart with DH last night about all this.  He told me blankly that as long as we had a roof over our heads, the bills got paid and he could enjoy his home brew that I could do anything I wanted.  He did add, though, that there were dozens of 20 somethings at his place of work that were there precisely because their degrees in IT were worth less and less, that there were simply more candidates than jobs available for them and the situation was getting worse every year with outsourcing blossoming with no end in sight.  He suggested that I continue my degree in Commerce if I liked, or take a diploma program to shortcut the route back into an office and go from there.

After having slept on it, I think my best course of action would be to knock out the diploma first.  My crappy dead end job at least offers flexibility so I could continue to work 24-32 hours a week while studying.  A local college offers a 3 year online program that I could knock out in 2 or less.  It is less expensive obviously than a degree, and my earning would easily cover tuition and books, thus avoiding loans.

DH believes we have at least 2 more years here before being posted.  Employment prospects for me in Kingston are more favourable.  I might even be fortunate enough to get a position at Queens University, and then as staff I could finish my Commerce degree for free.   

Thanks again for commenting.  It has given me food for thought.