A view from the corner

What it’s like to do a second undergrad... Spoilers, sometimes it sucks. Story by Emily Bell, Copy Editor and Photographer

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It’s easy to feel out of place in college, especially at first, whether you’re a new student or faculty member. You haven’t had the time to settle in, to explore the campus and surrounding community. Eventually, and usually quickly, you find your place. 

Even as a grad student pursuing a masters or Ph.D., you have peers and professors with which you create a community. However, that doesn’t usually pan out for someone pursuing a second undergraduate degree. 

In fact, few people pursue a second degree at all. 

It’s tiring to explain to people what I’m doing and why I decided to go for a second degree before pursuing my masters in psychology. It’s eventually understandable (sometimes), but takes a summarized back story to answer every person’s “why?” 

Some people respond with a joking, yet degrading, “Oh, so you weren’t ready for the real world yet, eh?” To anyone who believes that college is somehow not a part of the real world, I must assume they were entirely privileged enough to have mommy and daddy cover their costs, not worry about bills and grades to the point of hospitalized exhaustion, and happily coasted through with few to no issues. 

News flash, we are all present in the real world. You can stop throwing that asinine, pretentious phrase around. 

Also, today, it is much more difficult yet far more necessary to achieve higher education than it was decades ago. 

Others actually consider me to be an uber-successful individual for achieving a second degree. That’s a little off the mark as well, although I appreciate the admiration. Really, it’s just a little more practical for my situation. 

There was absolutely nothing I desired to do with my Bachelor’s in Child Care and Psychology professionally. I wanted to pursue a psychology career beyond what my current degree allowed, thus graduate school was and is necessary. 

As I busted my ass (literally) as a stocker at a grocery store, I realized how difficult it would be to maintain such a position while attending grad school, supporting myself, and dedicating the time necessary to complete a PhD. 

It would have been a precarious, nearly impossible situation. If I ever got sick and missed any work or school at all, I could be facing homelessness… Again. 

That is not a situation I ever wish to revisit. Plus, with my medical history and genetic disorders, working while sick is sometimes just not an option unless I want to be bedridden indefinitely… Again. 

So I worked hard to save enough money to go for a second degree in media. I had a slightly professional history and decent experience in media since junior high. I liked the idea of working in journalism, writing, even creating art while pursuing a PhD in psychology. 

I was also very bored in my last degree, aside from my psychology courses, and realized too late that I didn’t really get to do what I wanted to do. I was pretty miserable in my first degree, and I think everyone in my department could tell. 

In this degree, I was given the chance to learn new things while polishing old skills. I had much more fun with my studies, and I get to work in my field professionally. 

The downside: I never got to settle in anywhere. The whole time has felt like some existential nightmare. 

I have made good friends along the way, but a second undergrad is like waiting in limbo. You’re too young to get very close with your professors, too old to enjoy hanging out with your “peers” too often. 

I tend to enjoy the company of older people, but we all know most professors are not going to be caught dead hanging out with any undergrads. 

I respect that, but it still kind of sucks. 

Graduate students aren’t really an option either. Many have a tendency to look down on my second undergrad decision. 

Every semester that sense of feeling out of place increases. I’m a little kid in a dunce cap sitting in the lonely corner, watching all the kids play while the teachers talk over coffee in the lounge. 

To be fair, I wasn’t here to make friends, rather to network, focus on my work, and build my career. It’s not a painful experience, but not a great one either. 

You’re just there, watching everyone else from the corner. You either can’t relate or can’t be related to. 

You’ve graduated and you’re working professionally while studying with a bunch of people who still wear their university lanyards around their necks and go to the cafeteria for lunch. 

Yuck. 

Your professors know this, but there are policies and crappy students who enjoy spreading rumors anytime they see an undergrad hanging out with a teacher too often. 

However, I also understand that my lack of marriages, children, and life experience in general essentially makes it difficult for anyone over 40 to enjoy my company. 

The whole thing feels itchy and sticky at the same time. 

You’re not as concerned about grades and minor assignments because you know that skipping that class or half-assing that easy assignment isn’t the end of the world. 

You can focus on your work better, and even ask for more challenging assignments (if your professors allow it). Sometimes, you just have to trudge through the beginner baby work whether you like it or want to slam your head against a desk. 

However, some professors still look at you as a regular undergrad like everyone else. They treat you as though you’re 18, fresh out of high school, clueless to the reality of adulthood. 

It’s annoying and babying me in such a way is a colossal waste of my time, but I deal with it. (In general, treating any hardworking undergrad student like a child is pretty crappy) 

Other professors will treat you like the mostly-functioning adult you are, and are respectful of your attempts, your work, and your desire to learn more. 

Thankfully, I lucked out near the end of this second degree. I met someone who took a break from their first degree, and came back to finish it years later. He was also older than me, and was well-established in some aspects of his career. 

Although we both feel entirely out of place, we’re out of place together, and that doesn’t make it so crappy. 

If you’re like me, I can’t say you’ll find a comfortable place with any of the other non-traditional students at your university, but sometimes one is right where you are. Perhaps, it will ease your funk just enough to make it through.