I’m 36 and going back to school: I’m terrified and excited

Mike Reynolds, Communications Officer for the MacOdrum Library.


I’m 36 and going back to school: I’m terrified and excited

Mike Reynolds, Communications Officer for the MacOdrum Library.

I’m 36 and I’m going back to school.

There’s a lot that’s happened since I graduated from Carleton University for the first time, some of these things big and many of these things small.

*Twinkly fade back to the past music with a shimmery screen for good effect*

I started my Carleton career in 1998, a year that is no close to becoming the year many of our incoming students were born in.

I remember the first go around bringing many great things to my life. I read Harry Potter for the first time in a Children’s Literature class, I read The Hobbit for the first time too, as part of a “pick a random book out of the library and read it” plan I put myself on in my first year. I learned how to do well on a long essay and I learned how to do poorly.

A lot of great things have happened since then too.

I’m married now. We have two kids. We have a house with eavestrough that’s still in fairly good shape. We have a cat. I write on my own website about being a parent and I’ve had the good fortune to have many of those pieces shared in places I never would have imagined my word being shared. I also have a job here at Carleton. So I’m now a student/alumnus/employee and it feels pretty decent.

As excited as I am to start up again, it’s hard to not think about being twice the age of many of my potential classmates. I’m not sure what to talk about considering so many of the topics I’m an expert on took place before many of them might have been born.

For example:

  • The Trade (this means Wayne Gretzky)
  • Today’s Special

todays special logo

  • Hammer pants
  • Garfield posters
  • See through telephones
  • Life Savers storybooks at Christmas
  • Christmas sweaters looking average instead of ugly
  • Choose your own adventure books
  • My Holly Hobbie lampshade

My list goes on. It actually consumes most of the space in my brain to be honest. As I ready myself for re-entry into the classroom, I wonder if anyone is going to answer in the affirmative if I ask if they watched “Rad” or “Gleaming the Cube” last night.

During my first round at Carleton University, this is what my laptop looked liked (roughly, based on what Google suggests it looks like).

this is a 1998 laptop

It also weighed 46 pounds (estimated) and didn’t work for anything beyond word processing (which had to be strategically done without the use of a few letter keys).

This is what my mobile telecommunications device looked like…

Picture not found

Am I nervous for the big return? Maybe a little. But mostly because my slang processor hasn’t been updated since 1998 and I don’t know that I’ll understand more than 54 per cent of what the people around me are saying.

But I’m excited too. With two young kids running around my house every day, I realize now more than ever that learning really never does stop. I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many amazing young(er than me) student since coming back to Carleton and I’ve been amazed by the passion they have for their fields of study. I’m excited to find that passion again.

Maybe I’ll see you around. I’ll be the person in the back row with the grey hair.

13 responses to “I’m 36 and going back to school: I’m terrified and excited”

  1. Leslie-Anne (LA) Keown says:

    Welcome back to the formal classroom. Your post brought to mind some great memories.

    I went back to school in my late 30’s. I had gone to university when I was younger but left school to raise a family. When my children were pre-teens it seemed like the right moment to go back and finish my degree – little did I know how that one decision would change my life.
    I almost quit the first day back – in my first class I was older than the professor and I stood out not just because of my grey hair but also because I wore my best business suit. I was so nervous that I did not say a word.

    The professor must have seen how nervous I was and approached me after class to ask if I wanted to have a coffee. She made me promise her that I would stick it out for the first week before I made any decisions about quitting. She checked in on me a couple of times that week and pointed out what a benefit it was to be have a little more life experience to bring to the classroom. I only hope you find such a person in your first few days back!

    I had only intended to go back to finish my Bachelor’s but that professor from my very first class encouraged me to think about grad school. Never had I imagined such a possibility. She became my supervisor thorough both my Masters and my PhD. I try to remember her example every time I step into a classroom.

    When I started this journey in 1999, I could not imagine that I would know have a full-time job as a researcher and be an adjunct professor and have the privilege of teaching. I hope your journey opens up many unexpected and unanticipated opportunities for you.

    Even if you never meet me, I will be the person cheering you on and hoping that you share a little bit of your life experience with those students and professors lucky enough to have you in their class.


    • mikereynolds says:

      Thanks a lot for the warm welcome! I appreciate the cheers for sure and to add an extra element to this story, I’m actually taking the first class of my return with my partner. So we’ll be duking it out to see who gets the highest mark with the reward probably being a kid-free night or some kind of silly thing parents of young kids wager on.

  2. Laurie says:

    Dear Mike,

    Thank you for your funny and honest blog entry! I returned to full-time studies at university at 36 too. Maybe you’ll enjoy a book I first read as a high-school student, and it’s an oldie but a goodie: “Study Skills for Adults Returning to School,” second edition, by Jerrold W. Apps. Out of print for years, but available for as little as 99 cents from online booksellers. Apps talks about his own experience returning to university as a married father, and he polled other mature students in the research for the book. It’s about more than study skills, but those he describes helped me ace classes in high school, and have paid off in academia ever since. Best of luck, and congratulations on taking the plunge!

  3. Steve Watson says:

    Been there done that: went back for a Masters degree (M.Eng. Systems & Computer, ’96) in my early thirties — with two kids just starting grade school. But I also gotcha beat: I’ll be down there next week, starting degree #3 (BA in Philosophy), at age 58. And my hair’s still not grey.

  4. Alice Wong says:

    Can anyone top this? Age 67 still eager to learn – Law 1000. I will give you a high five if I see you in campus.

  5. Abigail St.Johb says:

    Hello Mike,
    Congrats to you, it is an amazing journey that you are once again navigating. I started back at the age of 48 and discovered that some of the folks I was sitting in class with were my daughters friends. At first it was a little weird for both parties but I have to say that the perspectives, while coming from different experiences or in some cases lack of experience are no less valuable. I love being back in school. I wish it could be more than part-time but working is a necessity, so I keep plugging away. I have a feeling I am going to be one of those people that never want to stop learning so Ill be around campus for awhile. Ill definitely look for you around the campus. Enjoy!

  6. Duncan Mackintosh says:

    Well done Mike. I am 41 now and I am completing what I started in 1996 in Calgary at Mount Royal College (now Mount Royal University). I have found that the learning comes easier and stays longer than back in “the day.” The percentages and letter grades on my work means far less to me than the knowledge it represents. I think students of all ages can benefit from that point of view. I know I’m much older than all of my student peers and a good portion of the faculty, but I certainly don’t feel my age. That is until I see a familiar face in the classroom and realize that it is the son or daughter of one of my friends.

  7. Natalie Prowse says:

    Fear not Mike – you CAN do it. I quit my job at age 50 and went back to school full time because I fell in love with brain science and I wanted to feel passionate again about my career… I just completed my FIRST undergraduate degree this spring – a BSc Honours in Neuroscience and Mental Health at Carleton and I am now starting my MSc here as well. Carleton has tremendous support for all its students including mature students. I have taken courses part-time at 3 other institutions over the years and Carleton was by far the most supportive environment I have found both administratively and academically.

  8. Mary Murphy Cavanagh says:

    First off – Natalie congratulations that is wonderful! Let’s get together for coffee soon, i can’t believe it has been 4 years! Mike I am back at Carleton as well this year part time at the age of 49. I started my degree 30 years ago and when my father died suddently I had to quit in my third year because we just didn’t have the money. While it has never held me back in my career, it has always felt like unfinished business that I needed to tend to. I took a summer course this year and love it and expect to graduate with my English Degree at the age of 50:-) I love being back on campus and think that the professors at Carleton are top notch! Cheers.

  9. Jamila Ahmed says:

    Good for you for returning to school! Kuddos to every mature student who has returned; you are all very inspirational. I am probably the youngest mature student at the age of 26 with 3 children haha, but I would do it again in a heart beat. I returned to school after immigrating to Canada but could not enroll into University because my college degree was not accepted and I had to return to an Adult High School. I was disappointed but did not let that bring me down, so I started my education from the high school level again. In less than a year I will be graduating from a 4 year bachelor degree program! You can count that I will be returning in 2 years for my Masters! You got this!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *