Going Back to School: Age 36

Yup, Frannie. I returned to school at 36. I wanted to be a veterinarian when I originally went to undergraduate school, but fouled up big time. I ended up changing majors from bio to psych, thereby making me effectively unemployable upon graduation. After all, what does a psych major do if they don’t go on to grad school?

I ended up getting paralegal certification, and working as a benefits paralegal on pension plans for years. It was good money, but I hated it. I justified this waste of my life by saying it paid well enough to let me do what I wished on weekends.

Towards the end of the 80’s I become involved as a volunteer at the Zoo. At first I was just giving tours and doing educational talks for the visitors, but I met some really wonderful people there who let me get involved in behavioral studies, play with some of the zoo’s archival records in the animal hospital, and eventually work closely with the animal nutritionist on staff. The more involved I got, the more I hated going to work Mondays through Fridays.

I finally had a premature mid-life crisis. I decided I wanted to return to school for vet tech. I’d become friendly with the techs at the zoo, and would have happily traded several of my body parts to exchange places with them. I gathered all the literature together, got costs, time frames, post school employment info, and then approached my husband with it. He was less than enthusiastic, because he claimed “I know you, and you’ll eventually get frustrated with being a tech, and want to be the veterinarian.” I argued that, with my scholastic record, I had an ant’s chance in a herd of aardvarks of getting into vet school.

He took it upon himself to call the local vet school and get information about feasibility of my returning to school. It turns out that they had a post-baccalaureate program geared towards getting older students/students with a less than perfect scholastic history into medical schools. He then approached me with this information, and again pushed me towards applying for the post-bacc program with an eye to vet school.

I didn’t really want to go to vet school at that point. But he was adamantly against my going for vet tech, so I privately made a deal with myself that I’d go along with this vet school thing and, when I screwed up, then push for vet tech again. It was a brilliant plan. It should have worked.

I was convinced that there was no way I was getting into vet school, so I poured my heart and soul into the post bacc program. I redid all my undergraduate science courses in two years. I did very well, better than I expected, but not all A’s (I loathe organic chemistry). When I had retaken all the prerequisites for vet school, I tried applying to the local vet school. They have a policy of granting interviews to people they decline to tell them what else they need to do to get in, or to tell the truth that they are wasting their time and money. I wanted one of those interviews, so I could either determine what courses to take next in the post-bacc program, or to finally tell my husband that the school said they’d never accept me (which is what I was secretly hoping for).

Instead, I was accepted without an interview. The absolute last thing I ever thought would happen. OK, I figured I’d give it my best shot. I knew I didn’t have a chance of actually making it through, and while I wasn’t looking forward to flunking out, there was always vet tech.

I did not do brilliantly. I came close to failing anatomy (a course I’d never had until I got to vet school) and then again to failing in pharmacology. Both times I managed to pull off really good finals, and get my grades up into solid C range. If I hadn’t gotten sick third year, I’d have graduated solidly in the middle of my class. Courses that I had to withdraw from my final semester of junior year dragged my cum down into the lower third of the class. Still, six years after I returned to school at age 42, I graduated. No one was more surprised than myself.

I have some lingering health problems because of my illness that kept me from going into the field that I had chosen to specialize in during my last year at vet school. I like my job, but it isn’t what people traditionally think of when they think “veterinarian”. And I still regret not going for my vet tech license, if you can believe it.

Anyhow, that’s the Reader’s Digest Version of the story. And that’s the true version; not the “follow your dream” version that I usually tell all the mid-twenties vet-school-wannabes.

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  1. Hey, I think that suits you! You ARE broadminded. You ARE interested in other cultures (I think) and you ARE in the healing profession! I’m off to take the quiz!

  2. Funny, I tried out the same quiz as you and my animal totem came up as an eagle. I don’t take the quiz seriously, but I do have a book by Ted Andrews called Animal-Speak that has a lot to do with animal totems. Feel free to email me if you want me to look up some more stuff on this for you, it’s a really interesting subject.


  3. I am a dolphin:

    Your totem animal is the DOLPHIN. If you’re not already besotted with these lovable mammals, chances are you soon will be – especially when you realise just how much you have in common with them. Thanks to their guidance, you’re daring (always plunging in at the deep end), kind and wise. You’re not frightened of anyone or anything and know how to maintain a balance in all your relationships. You’re a chatty and fascinating friend as long as you’re not restricted in any way. As long as you’re respected and understood, your life and relationships go swimmingly. In your lifetime, you’re destined to teach people or help them with their problems.

  4. a clownfish? 😉

    yea, i can imagine you as an eagle. tell me, did you decide to go to vet school at 36? because if you did, that is so amazing and inspiring.

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