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Going back to college as a 31-year-old: My three greatest fears

When I walked out of Red Deer College in the Spring of 2011, I thought my post-secondary days were behind me forever. After all, I was now a Journeyman Electrician destined to make great money in the oilfield until it was time to retire. Why would I ever go back to school? My path was set, and I had escaped trade school with no debt and a wealth of job offers. 
Well, simply put, the oilfield is not a lifestyle for everyone, and I soon found out it wasn’t for me either. Luckily or unluckily, I had found a job with good money and a great crew to work with, so it was very tough to pull the pin. And then the price of oil made the decision for me. For the first time since I’d received my ticket, I found myself (temporarily) jobless. But what does this have to do the Media Studies and Professional Communications program at Red Deer College? Well, I know I am not the only one who was over the boom/bust cycle, I was tired of missing birthday parties, and waking up in a camp room miles away from my loved ones. So, I am here to address my biggest concerns about changing course, and maybe I will inspire someone else to take the plunge.
Knowledge Isn’t Free
The number one obstacle for a return to college would be the financial aspect -- especially for those in the oilfield industry who are used to good paychecks. However, in the grand scheme of things, taking a diploma program is not that hard on the wallet. Sure, not having that income can make things tough, but I am living proof that it can be done! It would be most wise to save up some money for tuition, but since I decided to make the career path change a couple months before classes started, I was reliant on student loans. Of course, if you can make it work without them, avoid the debt, but they definitely relieved me of some serious stress during the school year. After all, it would be hard to write an A+ essay while panicking about missing a mortgage payment. 
The greatest part of studying something you are interested in is that if you do well enough, you will find yourself on the receiving end of a scholarship. While I realize there is a finite number of these things to go around, there is definitely help out there, so look into it! There is also a top-notch staff at RDC who will help you with everything from budget plans to finding out what scholarships and awards you are eligible for. It isn’t going to be easy, and you may have to cancel a Vegas trip or two, but you can make it through!
Who’s That Old Guy?
I was 31 when I decided to abandon the electrical dream and head back to school, and I’d be lying if I said my age wasn’t a concern. But guess what? I wasn’t Billy Madison going back to Kindergarten -- everyone at college is an adult. And if they are not, they are probably some Doogie Howser-like genius who will be slightly more mature than your average teen. The bottom line is that they are all there to learn and get their education – just like you! While you may be a victim of an old guy joke from time to time, and maybe a few of your pop culture references may fall on deaf ears, it isn’t so bad being the “wise” one in the room. 
“But I’m older than 31," you may be thinking, and that is a fair statement; but the longer you stay at an unfulfilling job, the older you will be when you finally decide to get out. I can tell you that the two years will fly by, and as I sit here with my shiny new diploma, I could not be happier about my decision to change course! It is never too late to try something new! 
The Stench of Failure
My final concern as I began my life pivot was one of failure. Did I fail at my last job? Would I fall short on my new path? Would I fail to find a job in my new industry? These were legitimate fears I harboured as I prepared to enroll at RDC that summer; however, I feel they are natural ones. Frankly, you have to be committed to a total realignment of your life to make something like this work. But as a wise man once said, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."  As I sit writing this article, my search for employment in the industry is still young, but I already feel like the experiences I have gained have been well worth the risk.  
As my success in this new industry remains to be seen, I don’t feel like a failure in my first career and neither should you! While you may be a bit rusty, all the skills and knowledge you’ve gained will still be there when you start your new adventure. If in some cruel twist of fate, your new path doesn’t work out, you can always go back to your old life, although I hope you don’t have to! Like most things in life, however, you will get out of it what you put into it. So, study hard and be a good group member, and you’ll find yourself in a good place at the end of it all.
Final Reflections
If you’ve read this far, you have been enlightened on the topics of my three greatest fears of returning to college. While I believe this is useful information for anyone returning to school, I can only speak to my own experiences as a former oilfield electrician returning to capture a diploma. Why did I choose the Media Studies and Professional Communications Program?  Well, since my group was only the second class ever, it wasn’t because of its pedigree; however, try typing “communications” into any job search website and you will always see a plethora of job opportunities. When a lot of the world is downsizing, this field seems to be growing. RDC recognized this and created the program, and I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.
While I stated that its reputation was not the reason I signed up, I can assure that’s already changed! In fact, there were many more practicum placements than there were students this year. The community is recognizing the worth of the program and as more and more students graduate and enter the workforce, this respect will only grow. As the world goes more and more digital, this program has helped prepare me for the marketing world of the future, and I thank all the professors and my peers for making it such a positive experience. I’ll see you all on the outside!


I’m happy to hear of how you went back to school but I hope RDC continues a thread on the many many other students who are mature who return to school. I was 37 when I went back to school. I did the RDC/UofC Collab program. Then right afterwards I went straight into my Masters and at 45 am now a Provisional Psychologist. I would love to see RDC follow many of its mature grads and talk to them on the challenges and successes of returning to school. Maybe the Alumni Assoc can do this?

Hi Julie - thanks very much for your feedback, and for sharing your own experience with us. We are proud of the accomplishments of all our students and alumni, and we look forward to sharing future stories about our diverse College community, with your feedback in mind.

Wow! I’m really proud of the path you took and where you’re at. You achieved amazing marks because you worked hard and never gave up. You have a bright future ahead my favorite “smarty pants”! Good job!

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