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Career change: second bachelor's degree

  • 1.  Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-18-2021 08:11 PM
    I'm 32, completed a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy in 2011 (please go easy on me, I was young and naïve), and have since worked in a variety of roles, most recently at a local university where I have the opportunity to take classes on a part-time basis. About three years ago, I decided to change career paths, and began completing foundational math and science courses (calculus, physics, chemistry) in pursuit of a second bachelor's degree in civil engineering. I am preparing to transition to full time enrollment to complete my program, and am interested in hearing from the community as I look toward internships and employment.

    I have two specific prompts/questions:

    1. For anyone who made a similar transition as a nontraditional student or completed a second bachelor's degree: is there anything you wish you'd known or been told when you were in the midst of that transition?

    2. For those in management or recruiting: for entry level positions, how important is a master's degree versus immediate employment/experience?  I am applying as a transfer student for admission to a handful of schools, some of which offer integrated degree programs, so I'm attempting to weigh the value (assuming I am admitted to more than one) of having such a program available.

    Of course, any other advice is more than welcome.  I always worry that the most important questions are the ones I didn't even think to ask.

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    Tucker Adams S.M.ASCE
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  • 2.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-21-2021 11:02 PM
    I'm not able to comment on your questions - lack basis -  but I would suggest that you not undersell or undervalue your prior degree and experience. I would have to believe that you have lateral skills and experience that would be of benefit in your new career. Different, but somewhat related, I recently learned that one of my friends and retired work colleagues had started his career as an actor. In brief, he spent several years in NYC trying to make it before going back to school and earning an engineering degree. While he had a late start in his engineering career he felt like his acting experience gave him a decided leg up in that he was comfortable standing in front of audience and telling a compelling and coherent story. I offer this as food for thought.

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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 3.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-30-2021 09:58 AM
    Thanks for the advice and food for thought, Mitchell. I look forward to seeing how I can cultivate the skills I've already gained and apply them as I move forward into engineering.

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    Tucker Adams S.M.ASCE
    Murray KY
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  • 4.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-25-2021 09:55 AM
      |   view attached
    Tucker,
    I did exactly what you are doing and I encourage you to go for it!!! I have no regrets!
    I have a BS in Professional Aviation from Louisiana Tech and went back to college for a BS in Civil Engineering in the mid 90's because I was a starving pilot, I was later 20's, so very close to your age.
    While pursuing the flying dream, achieved the certificates and ratings of CFI, CFII, MEI and ATP where I did fly charter and corporate accruing 1,800 hours, but in the mid 90's it was tough; feast or famine. Back then the university career offices offered tests that correlated your answers with other people who had similar answers for various career fields. My answers aligned with Engineering, like I expected, but I wanted to be absolutely sure as I had no more wiggle room. It was much easier for me to make that career change at 30 something than at 50 something. I cheer and encourage you to go for it!
    What would have been good to know: Since I was a non-traditional student, building community and a support system would have been much better. I was living off campus in a house, was looking after an elderly father and suffering through a poor marriage decision, so I didn't have a good support system. I made friends and study buddies, the professors and department were great, but life really, really made everything difficult. So to you, I would encourage you to have life and your support system in place so you could better focus and concentrate on classes.
    Fast forward to 2021: Throughout my engineering career, I did not need the Professional Engineering credential, so I have a goal to take the Civil Engineering PE in 2022. I may have to take it more than once, but I am going for it. So additionally to you, something good to know is take the PE earlier in your engineering career.
    Best of luck from one non-traditional to another!
    Karen Baskin


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    Karen Baskin A.M.ASCE
    Engineer
    New Bern NC
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    Attachment(s)

    docx
    Response to Tucker.docx   12 KB 1 version


  • 5.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 11-01-2021 09:16 PM
    Hi Karen,
    Thanks so much for your advice about the "living" portion of working on a second degree as an adult! I have a family with young kids, so my spouse and I are trying to weigh the possible advantages of attending programs in bigger schools/metro areas against the trade-off of being farther from extended family, etc.  I will definitely keep in mind your advice about the PE credential, and will do what I can to make sure I knock it out on the front end of my career.

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    Tucker Adams S.M.ASCE
    Murray KY
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  • 6.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-25-2021 10:50 AM
    Hello Tucker-

    Great questions!  As someone who completed a B.S. in Civil Engineering as a second degree,  I can offer a few observations.  My first degree was in physics and I often look back at my college career and wish I could have taken additional humanities/liberal arts and other non-technical courses.  I think your first degree in philosophy will serve as a nice complement to an engineering degree.   To answer your specific questions:

    1.)  I wish I understood my career interests and the P.E. licensing requirements  sooner and more clearly.  I should have sought advice from Civil Engineering practitioners and professors earlier in my academic career.  Unfortunately, I relied mostly on the advice of my physics advisor,  who had an interest in me staying with physics and  pursuing a Master's Degree.  I would advise you to talk to practitioners and professors in your area of interest to get a good sense of what working or studying in that area is like and what the requirements are.

    2.)  I currently work as a Principal Project Manager with 20+ years of experience and have a number of junior staff working with me.  In my particular area (Highway/Transportation Engineering), I value employment and experience over a Master's Degree.  I find that many of the skills needed to successfully design and manage projects are skills that are not necessarily taught in school, but gained only through direct, real world experience.  Don't get me wrong - I think pursuing a Master's Degree is noble.  However, I am seeing a strong demand for experienced civil engineers and would rather hire someone who has (or will soon have) a P.E. and demonstrated experience (but no Masters degree) over someone with a Master's Degree and little to no experience.  You might be able to obtain an advanced degree as a working professional (i.e. not a binary choice between work and Master's degree).

    I hope this helps and good luck on your career pursuits!  Hopefully you'll get some additional responses to your questions.

    Jai Kalsy, P.E., M. ASCE
    Rochester, MN


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    Jai Kalsy P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal Project Manager
    Minnesota Department of Transportation
    Rochester MN
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  • 7.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 11-03-2021 09:26 AM
    Hello Jai,

    Part of my drive to become a civil engineer is because I want to play a role in revitalizing our infrastructure or in a continued transition to renewable energy and the development of systems that can withstand the effects of our changing climate, and (without getting into the weeds on my own background) those considerations just wouldn't be on my radar in any sense without my humanities degree.  I just hope to use that background to keep an open mind and continue learning how I can contribute.

    Thank you for the advice on keeping an eye towards licensing requirements.  I hope to land an internship in my area this summer, and look forward to a better idea of my how my intentions mesh within my aptitudes and interests in practice.  Thanks as well for your take on the experience vs. Master's consideration, including the point that it's not just a binary choice between the two!

    Cheers!

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    Tucker Adams S.M.ASCE
    Murray KY
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  • 8.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-25-2021 01:16 PM
    Hello Tucker,

    I would strongly echo Ms. Baskin's comment, establish a support team. When I returned to school I transferred from a 2-yr program to an engineering program. I was surrounded by like-minded adults at the community college, but the environment was completely different at the university. You didn't mention if you had family or other outside concerns, but the support becomes increasingly important if you do.

    I chose the university based on the curriculum, cost, and reputation. I would add a fourth criterion: student demographics. This was more about age for me (I returned to school at 48), success in my major was tied to working in teams and some students were uncomfortable including someone my age in the group.

    Good luck!

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    Valerie Gilbert EI, EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Columbus OH
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  • 9.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 24 days ago
    Hi Valerie,

    Thanks so much for your advice, and reinforcement of the role that support networks can play. I'm getting my first taste at group work this semester (on a basic truss design project), and definitely identify with having some anxiety about the gap between my peers and myself.  I've been fortunate to have good and welcoming/collaborative teammates so far, and hope that I will be able to maintain that in the future.  Thanks again!

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    Tucker Adams S.M.ASCE
    Murray KY
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  • 10.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-25-2021 03:40 PM
    I think you were far from naïve; it may have just taken you a little longer to acknowledge your true calling. My first bachelor's was in chemistry, and 7 years later at 28, I finished a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil). The key for me was first of all a passion for engineering, inherited perhaps from my father who was a mechanical engineer. It was a rigorous program, even after having completed a science degree, and the passion I referred to earlier kept me from quitting several times. With the degree behind, your entry-level peers could be 10+ years your junior, so it'd be very helpful for you to be "better equipped" to the greatest extent possible from day one. Believe it or not, you already have some of that equipment by virtue of your first degree, as it informs others of the likelihood of your exceptional communication skills... a quality that is typically under-rated as an engineering undergraduate, but often becomes more important than a practicing engineer's technical skills at some point down the road.

    As in my case, your relative maturity will be a positive consideration to potential employers, and sought after by your younger peers. Other attributes that partially made up for my late entry included a master's degree in engineering, EIT certification and some r
    elated/relevant experience. Collectively, these would attest to your readiness and long-term dedication to a very competitive field comprised mostly of leaders, even at the entry-level. Whichever road you take along the engineering career highway, hold on to the passion that's gotten you into it. It'll lead to great career fulfillment and steer you through those challenging times that will surely come your way, as in any profession.

    By the way, I was short just one course to graduate with a minor in philosophy. But one potential downside to a bachelor's in philosophy is that you'll probably have to make a conscious effort to market yourself consistently as practical and hands-on. You may not be asked to do so directly, but it'll be on potential employers' and co-workers' minds until you've established yourself.

    I hope this helps a little, Tucker. Good luck, and welcome to the profession!



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    Ronald Eyma P.E., M.ASCE
    Municipal Engineer/Consultant
    Plantation FL
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  • 11.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 24 days ago
    Thank you, Ronald, and good to hear from a fellow Floridian! (I lived and worked in south FL, including nearby Sunrise, for a time!)  I do appreciate your "better equipped" perspective on the possible advantages of completing a master's degree in combination with relevant experience, and how it could helpfully display a commitment to my new field and jump-start my entry into full-time employment. I also identify with the need to maintain a focus on what's driving me, or the "passion" element as you put it, and hope to hold that high in my mind as I move forward; life can get very busy, and it's a simple to get a bit muddled.  Much appreciated!

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    Tucker Adams S.M.ASCE
    Murray KY
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  • 12.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-27-2021 07:57 AM
    Hey Tucker, I was an Economics major. At age 35 decided to pursue a MS in Civil. I think you can see if your surrounding school would offer a MS civil for non traditional route.

    For me BS has more lab classes, and MS has more writing and research. Both fundamentally the same.

    For work, I think most companies want fresh grads that can be trained to work in design.
    1) land development - work in civll 3d. be proficient in using CAD and calculating storm runoffs and drainage coordinations.
    2) structural - this requires good math skills and accuracy. Wrong calculations can be catastrophic. This is more solo, as oppose to civil.
    there are others, but these are the 2 main civil routes. And all of them requires work experience to advance, and my education so far has given me an overview but not a proficient building of skills. Therefore, I don't think a company worry about BS or MS. (although MS I think implies a higher pay...)

    Join ASCE clubs and be active in competitions. Sit in on Zooms and learn about the built environment. And try to land an internship. That's what I think is important~ but I'm also in your shoe, working forward.

    Charles



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    Charles Ou-Yang S.M.ASCE
    Yorba Linda CA
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  • 13.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 10-27-2021 01:47 PM
    To add to Charles Ou-Yang's post, a MS does impart valuable knowledge and skills. However, your engineering career path may be limited. For example, Florida requires that the bachelor's (or higher) degree is substantially equivalent to EAC/ABET degree requirements in order to qualify for P.E. licensure in the state. This suggests that the MS program should include or be supplemented by certain fundamental undergraduate-level engineering/design coursework if engineering licensure is a desired goal. A former colleague of mine who'd earned a master's in engineering from Duke University was denied licensure in Florida, since his bachelor's in history and master's degrees in combination did not meet the above "substantially equivalent" standard for licensure. Unfortunately, it didn't matter that he was highly competent in the workplace. Please check with your state's licensing board for its specific requirements.

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    Ronald Eyma P.E., M.ASCE
    Municipal Engineer/Consultant
    Fort Lauderdale, FL
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  • 14.  RE: Career change: second bachelor's degree

    Posted 11-02-2021 09:45 AM

    Hey Tucker. I've done a somewhat similar thing and am now facing the issue described by Ronald Eyma. I have two undergrads in architecture and am completing an MSc in engineering management, however I'm facing professional registration/licensing issues in the engineering side of things due to not having an engineering undergrad. That is definitely something to be highly conscious of.

    To add - I think doing an engineering undergrad at your age would still open great many doors for you in terms of role eligibility.
    Since you have a bachelor of arts though, have you considered researching a course like Architectural Engineering? You may be able to score credits for 1st/2nd year from both the bachelor of arts and the foundational maths/sciences courses, assuming they are most likely accredited.



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    Dirk Lourens EIT, R.A., S.M.ASCE
    Prof. Architect, BIM Specialist
    Johannesburg
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