Going to College in Your 30’s Vs. Going to College in Your 20's

I’m pursuing a second degree in my 30’s. Here’s how that’s going.

The college experience has been through a major transformation since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Many universities around the world (mine included) have moved most, if not all, of their in-class courses to an online environment, and whether or not there will be any in-person classes next semester is still up for debate.

Regardless, I’m a 30 year-old pursuing a second degree, and the college experience this second time around has been meaningfully different from my first one in my 20’s.

I have more questions than answers

As a 20-something, I thought I knew everything. I thought I understood everything, and could see the outcome of my choices even before I made them.

I was the cliché 20-something who thought she had it all figured out.

Now, I’m more than happy to stick to having more questions than answers. I’m more than happy to hold my opinion until I have enough information, or to simply accept I don’t have to have an opinion about everything.

Now, I’m intentional about asking more questions. I listen and read with curiosity as a driving force, and I try not to assume anything.

Going to college is a process of discovering, one that can only be thoroughly enjoyed from the point of view of curiosity and opennness.

I’m no longer worried about being “cool”

Everybody wants to fit in. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize that everybody would rather belong than fit in, and those things are wildly different, regardless of how similar they might be on the surface. In any case, when you’re 20, you mistakenly believe fitting in is belonging, and to fit in, you have to be cool.

To be cool in college often translates to skipping as many classes as you can without failing due to poor attendance, to mocking your most disliked professors behind their backs, to postponing coursework until right before the deadline and then pulling an all-nighter to complete it — which you made sure to tell all your classmates about.

Being cool in college often translates to attending every single party you can manage, and getting blackout drunk (or close to). It often translates into glorifying coffee-drinking, and the use of suspicious resources to stay awake and alert.

Now, I don’t worry as much about being cool — at least not that kind of cool.

I don’t worry as much about fitting in, I’d much prefer to belong.

I do go out (or did, before the pandemic), I do have fun with classmates who’ve already become friends, but I focus on maintaining an authentic, healthy and happy life instead of testing my tolerance for alcohol every other weekend in an attempt to prove a questionable of point.

Working and having a life while attending college makes all the difference

A lot of people work while in college, even in their twenties, but that wasn't my experience the first time around. Although I did participate on professional projects and took an internship position for a year, I didn’t have to work to pay my bills and provide for myself like I do now.

And that makes all the difference.

In my first college experience, college was my life. Now, college is a complement to my life. An important and meaningful one, but not the center of my universe.

Now, I have a career I’m actively working on, and my second degree is meant to help me with that. I’m no longer waiting to have a degree so that I can start to build something, I’m already building it. That means I’m more strategic with the time and energy I spend on my studies, and I’m able to live a more balanced and enriched life that includes going college, but that’s not centered around it.

I’m more pragmatic, and I go after what I want

My first time in college, I went to Film School. I’ve always been creative, I love writing and I love beautiful images, so I thought making movies sounded exciting and cool — and it is — but it’s also an extremely complicated and competitive industry.

Having worked in the film industry for a few years, I realized my mission in life was not only to be creative, but to understand the human experience and help people live better, more meaningful lives. What attracted me to study Film in the first place wasn’t only the creative aspect of it, but how art can depict what it means to be human in a relatable and cathartic way.

After working a few years with film, I realized I could expand on my interest for humanity and the human spirit, combine it with creativity and art, and pursue a career that allowed me to connect with people in a meaningful way while also helping them live better lives. That’s why I chose to major in Psychology this time around.

If my first choice of bachelor’s degree was inspired by passion, my second is much more pragmatic, but neither of these are wrong — they simply complement each other.

That said, I understand anyone who’s back to school in their 30’s, or even in their 40’s, pursuing a completely new career. You might have graduated in History in your first college degree, and are now studying Engineering. Or you might have gone to Medical School, and are now pursuing a bachelor’s in Classical Art. Whatever it is, of one thing I’m sure: you’ve made your choice based on experience you didn’t have when you first applied as a teenager. Life experience is an invaluable asset, and if everything you’ve lived through so far is telling you to give college a second go, that’s an instinct worth listening to.

I have fun with — and learn a lot from — my (much younger) classmates

Going to college in my 30’s means I’m constantly coming in contact with classmates five to ten years younger than me.

I can’t lie, the temptation to patronize my younger peers is real, but I’ve been learning to tune it off. It’s interesting, and sometimes funny, to watch how they behave in class, how they voice their opinions about life and the world from a place of so little actual life experience.

However naive they might be in some aspects, they’re also an incredibly open-minded generation, even more so than my own. These kids (I think I’m old enough to call them kids) are energetic, funny, excited about life, and so incredibly clever. Even though I sometimes shake my head at their lack of actual life experience, I learn a lot from them as well.

Overall, going back to college has been the right decision for me

It has been an enriching experience, for the reasons I’ve expressed above.

Going back to college has been an important support in expanding my knowledge towards understanding the human psyche and the human experience, and with the advantage of age and experience, I feel better equipped to make the most of it now than I did the first time around.

Life explorer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store