A Second Half of Life College Degree

I’ve always been a big believer in the fact that most 18-year-olds have no idea what they really want to do with their lives. Three out of our four children have hit that age and we have another who will wrestle with this problem soon. I’m sympathetic. I was there once too, and I even had the benefit of thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a career.

When I was finishing high school I knew I’d study Elementary Education in college. From the time I was a little girl I loved the idea of teaching little people. I was fortunate to be able to do a high school senior year internship where I co-taught with a childhood mentor, in her first-grade classroom. I loved every minute of it.

Photo: Labeled for reuse by Wikipedia commons
No, I wasn’t in college *that* long ago. Photo: Labeled for reuse by Wikipedia commons

I sailed through my four years of college, making bulletin boards and submitting lesson plan ideas. Upon graduation, I married my college sweetheart and we moved to New Hampshire to start our grown up lives. Ironically, I never had a classroom of my own.

The year we moved East to be closer to his family, the state of Massachusetts laid off a massive amount of teachers. I was submitting job applications alongside experienced teachers who had flooded across state lines. I barely qualified for an interview.

Then we moved again, so my husband could finish his graduate schooling in another state. The kids came along and we were both determined to have me at home when they were little. Years clipped by, I was happy at home, and my education was used primarily to enrich our own four in-house “students.”

I worked a few part time jobs, to help the income. I had a blast learning to quilt and sew when I was employed by a craft store for a few years. I bloomed behind the circulation desk at our local library while we lived in New York. And today I adore my job at our local recreation center in Colorado.

A 1930s quilt I made for myself, after countless baby quilts for others. Photo: Judy Berna
A 1930s quilt I made for myself, after countless baby quilts for others.
Photo: Judy Berna

As I sit firmly in middle age I have realized a lot about myself. Through the years, I’ve been exposed to a lot of interesting people and professions that were never on my radar back when I was a new high school graduate. Lately, I’ve been realizing that, in a perfect world, if I had the time, life span, and money to get an entirely different type of education, the choices might be very different.

On a long road trip a few years ago, the husband and I got into a deep conversation about this topic. His degrees are in Antiquities and History, and he’s worked in archaeology and environmental preservation for decades. He started to notice a few things about his wife and suggested that some day, when the nest was a bit more empty, I should maybe go back to school, just for fun.

Horticulture? Photo: Judy Berna
Horticulture?
Photo: Judy Berna

The idea rumbled around in my head. On that long trip discussion, we surmised that I would love to study cultural anthropology. I’m fascinated by other cultures and how they survive and exist. Give me a good documentary on how women manage in the remote areas of Zimbabwe and I’m locked in. A new book at the library about the lifestyle of Swedish families means I’ll get nothing else done today. Having raised four kids, I’m intrigued by how families in other cultures manage, with many more limitations than I’ve had through the years. Sign me up for that Cultural Anthropology program.

Farmer, anyone? Photo: judy Berna
Farmer, anyone?
Photo: Judy Berna

Then I stumbled upon a documentary on Netflix about a suburb in Northern St. Louis that went through major problems when it was integrated way too quickly, and for the wrong reasons. City planning became fascinating to me. While driving her to the airport one day, I picked the brain of one of my husband’s co-workers, who has a degree in city planning. I may have to invite her over for dinner. I didn’t get to cover nearly enough of the questions and inquiries I have on this topic. Let’s throw a City Planning minor onto that Cultural Anthropology degree.

How about Geology? (My husband's next choice of a degree) Photo: Judy Berna
How about Geology?
(My husband’s next choice of a degree)
Photo: Judy Berna

Marketing is another one. As a couple’s hobby, the husband and I binge watched Mad Men last year and loved it. The advertising industry suddenly became very intriguing. I watched the episodes that were focused on certain ad campaigns in the 1960s and wondered how the industry looks today, in our new digital world, with consumers locked into devices and social media platforms. The fact that I watched the show on a streaming platform, and how that changes the advertisers decisions made my head spin. Add that thought to the idea that other countries have different media options, which would affect their advertising. Is there a degree that covers Anthropology in Advertising? It looks like I’ll be having more than one minor in my new college degree.

Forest Ranger? Photo: Judy Berna
Forest Ranger?
Photo: Judy Berna

But let’s not forget those years in that library in New York. I was surrounded by amazing librarians who loved their jobs. I could really see myself loving a degree in Library Science. Every time I picked their brains about what they learned in college I was even more convinced that I would love the classes in that program.

In a related note, I’ve discovered in my grown up years that I had a creative writer inside that desperately wanted to get out. When the kids were small and I was stuck at home because we shared one car, I spent a lot of nap time hours in front of my word processing program. In New York, I found an inspiring writers group and it finally hit me that I really should have studied Creative Writing in college. Many of them had this type of degree, one that I barely knew existed back in my college days, and I was very jealous. Just for kicks, let’s add Creative Writing to my list of minors.

Meteorology is interesting, just ask GeekMom Patricia! Photo: Judy Berna
Meteorology is interesting, just ask GeekMom Patricia!
Photo: Judy Berna

Here’s my question to you: What degree would you pursue, if you had the chance? Did you pick correctly when you were 18? Do you totally love the degree you got and the career it brought you? Or, are you like most of my college friends, and find yourself working in a field that wasn’t even on your radar when you were in college?

It’s really a two part question. First, if you were 18 again, and could re-do your choices, knowing what you now know about yourself, and where technology and innovation has gone in the past few decades, what degree would you pick?

Second, if you had the time and money to jump into college again, in middle age, what would you pick to study? Not necessarily to lead to a lucrative career, but to fulfill the interests you walk around juggling in your imagination. Is it one degree, or a handful, like I have?

Recently, on another long drive, the husband and I revisited the empty nest college degree program and it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the only one out there who had similar revelations about discovering who they really are after decades of life experience. I know there have to be many of you out there who might do it differently. Here at GeekMom, we’d love to know what you’d study if given the chance. Share with us in the comments section. Then go pull up your local college website online and start exploring the class options. Even taking one class at a time could open up new horizons for the rest of your life.

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