Grad School and Career for 50-Something?

Question: I am a 53-year-old history student. I have just been accepted into the McNair Scholars Program and am scared, as most of the recipients are in their 20s. If I do go to graduate school, I wonder if anyone will even hire me, as I will be 58 by the time I finish. As a history major I am considering a position as an archivist. What do you think?

The "Dean" herself is nearly 58, so your question resonates loudly in these quarters. Frankly, I feel that your chances of getting a job as an archivist when you reach my age are about as good as landing that same job as a 20-something ... and perhaps better. Savvy prospective employers will realize that you will bring the credentials of a youngster along with the wisdom of a oldster to your work ... and that they can pay you an entry-level salary to boot. Of course, in the current economy, jobs for folks of all ages can be scarce, and the Dean has no crystal ball that reveals how that will change in five years. Fortunately, however, the type of employment you seek (archivist) is not one where age might be considered a restricting factor. After all, you're not aiming to be an astronaut or neurosurgeon or for any other field where reflexes, stamina, and senses (beyond common sense ;) ) are truly in the mix.

But the advice I would give to all prospective grad students, regardless of how many birthdays they've celebrated, is to carve out a specific and atypical niche--for instance, pursue an uncommon passion within the broader field of history--so that you will have extra marketable expertise at job-hunt time. Moreover, putting McNair Scholar on your résumé will be a giant seal of approval that should help your application rise to the top of the stack, regardless of your age.

So, without any hesitation, I say, "Go for it," and congrats to you, too, for your acceptance into the McNair program.

Write back in five years and tell us how you made out!