Should I Quit A Decent Job To Join A Vet Tech Program At Age 55?

by Judge Josh on September 29, 2014

Hi, Judge Josh. I think the Outlaw Student website is great. Thanks for the scholarship offers, and the good advice.

Glad to do it, Ellen!

I’m 55 years old, with a decent paying job, a mortgage, no savings and some money in 401Ks. My husband is retired and getting Social Security payments.

I’ve been going to a city community college part-time for the last 5 years. This year I was accepted into the Clinical phase of the Veterinary Tech program — I’ve been dreaming of this for a long time, and going to this particular school because they’re the only school in the city that offers the program.

The program goes from Spring 2011 until Fall 2012 – not such a long time.
BUT – by June 2011, I will have to quit my job so I can do a part-time internship and continue to go to classes – all classes are day classes from now on.

Financial need is proven with tax returns, so I won’t ever appear to be a student who needs financial aid. But I’m totally freaked out (and so is my husband)!! We’ve been (mostly) financially stable for years, and now I’m scared – how will we pay the mortgage, or the ever-rising bills for utilities? What about school fees? My school fees will soar compared to my one-class-a-semester method of the past.

Well, how will you pay the mortgage & utilities?  That’s a huge question for anyone, especially an older person with no parents on which to fall back if needed.  With no savings, it will be very difficult, to be sure.

But I wonder – are you certain you have to quit your job?  Maybe your schedule can be adjusted, either in the classroom or at the job?  If not – what about a different job?  Be sure to explore all of those angles before just quitting your job to go to school.  Sure, it’s not going to be easy to work and go to school when you’re 55, but as important as I think school and/or living your dream can be, having a roof over your head trumps all of that.
I have done research on scholarships, grants, etc. There’s not much out there for someone like me – an OLD student, not the first in my family to go to college, not a minority student, not much volunteer or community work in my past.
So now, I don’t know which will be better – to try to take out a loan, or to ravage some 401K money. Do you see an advantage of one over the other? Or something I could do that I’ve missed? Any advice you have to offer is gratefully accepted.

Thanks for your time!
Ellen

As any financial advisor will tell you, taking out 401k money is pretty much a last resort, mainly because about half of it will be gone due to penalties for withdrawing.  But let’s go back a bit – there are lots of scholarships available for older students, and as you might imagine, there’s a lot less competition for them as well.  Do a Google search for “scholarships for older students” and you’ll find plenty of them.

If you don’t get any of them, though, and you’re hell bent on doing this (and it sounds like you are), my opinion is that a student loan would likely be the way to go.

Good luck to you, Ellen – you’re taking a leap of faith to fulfill a lifelong dream!

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

katrina September 30, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I admire that you want to pursue your dream Ellen. I’m an older student also so I understand better than most your dilemma. I recently made the choice to take unemployment and work part time for 2 semesters to bring up my average and get in to a decent 4 year college to finish my degree in teaching. This is an option you may consider although unemployment is unlikely to help you if you quit voluntarily. The difference between us is that you have your husbands income to fall back on (I have only me) however are you truly willing to rely on that? Here are some other ideas:
1st you should absolutely see if you can decrease your hours at work rather than give it up entirely. This is important because god forbid what if something happens to your husbands income? Or if you don’t do as well as you hope to and need to take longer to get through? If decreasing your hours at your job is not a possibility then consider taking a different part time job or 2 part time jobs are much more flexible than full time (I currently work 2 in addition to a full course load at my college). It is even better if you can find something in the field you are pursuing. Perhaps a local animal hospital would let you answer phones a few days or evenings a week.
As far as your finances, are you in a position to pay off your mortgage or at least a big enough chunk to refinance at a lower rate? If not is there other debt you can get rid of before you quit your full time job? The more you can pay off now the better situation you will be in when your income is reduced. Credit cards, car any other debt? Pay it off if you can.
How long will your program take? Can you just take 1 or 2 semesters off to finish or does the school offer an accelerated program so you can finish in less time by putting in more credit hours? Some do offer that but many advisors will try to work that out for you if the school doesn’t have an official acceleration for your course.
As for your 401k, don’t raid it. Consider your age officially you are 10 years from retirement and employers will look at that when you are job hunting. When you get a job in the vet tech field consider the security of that position. They are unlikely to have any kind of retirement plan and in 10 years when you are “retirement age” you are barely at mid career level in any field and your job income will reflect that. If your 401k is not there to fall back on you will find yourself struggling. Social security at that age may help but if you are working full time they may not. With your 401k safety measure you can worry less about that and concentrate on getting another 10 or so years in to working which may pad your social security when you do finally retire.
I personally don’t believe in school loans but it helps that I qualify for state grants so my position is a bit different. If you’ve paid off a good chunk of debt before you stopped working full time the loan payments will be easier to manage when you get in to your field. School loans are set up to not be paid until you graduate and get well in to your field.
Anyway I hope I’ve helped and good luck with your program. :)

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Kae September 30, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I would also suggest talking to your financial aid counselor. My ex went back to school after working for a few years, and his tax returns wouldn’t show financial need. But he spoke with the counselor who helped him draft a letter explaining that going back to school and cutting down work to part-time would put him in financial need. Working with the counselor, he was able to get a small grant and federally subsidized loans.

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Me September 30, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Hi Ellen!

I’m thinking that either you typed the wrong years into your question or else you asked this question a long time ago. If it’s the latter, then you’ve probably made your decision already and I hope things worked out well for you!

But just in case you haven’t made your decision yet, here’s one idea that Josh didn’t suggest: what about taking a leave of absence from your job? You probably won’t be paid, but at least you’ll have the job to come back to after your program is over (until you get a vet tech job that is).

When it comes to a choice between following or not following your dreams, my advice is often to follow your dreams, because you typically won’t be happy otherwise. But, like Josh said, make sure you can keep a roof over your head while you do it!

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Belinda September 30, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Ellen should check with the financial aid counselors at her school to discuss her options. Depending on the school, sometimes you can submit paperwork showing that your current income has decreased in order to qualify for more aid.

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Judith October 1, 2014 at 5:56 am

excellent perspective Josh; thank you. I am in similar straits, to shorten a long tale, and this is jsut the encouragement I need to seek the sources to return to graduate school at age 58. I don;t always agree with you, but most of the time, you are sopt-on.

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Nicole Clark October 1, 2014 at 9:50 pm

My mom went back to school to pursue nursing, her lifelong dream. Make sure you’re financially stable as far as your mortgage and utilities, and then go get ’em! :)

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