I got a BA in English at a pretty good school, spent the next 10 years in a fruitless pursuit of screenwriting with a day job in a legal department, and now that I'm sick of all that, I'd like to do something mathy. And it seems pretty clear that that's going to require going back to school.

Since this is a HUGE redirection -- a ridiculous one, really -- I assume I should get a second BA/BS before even considering a masters, right? I did well in math in school, but I left off at single variable calc. (I'm currently studying linear algebra on my own and loving it.) But what, really, are my chances for even getting into a decent second bachelor's program?? I'm thinking of taking college extension classes to get more experience and recommendation letters for that purpose. If I get some online bachelors degree (EDIT: or a post-bac), are any (reputable) masters programs even going to consider me??

You may well ask what my eventual goal is, but I'm at such a basic level that I'm not sure that that question is all that relevant. If I were to pick a goal just for the sake of aiming for something, getting a job in statistics sounds interesting, but who knows what I'd want to do after getting a second bachelors. I'd like to try my hand at research, but that sounds way too pie-in-the-sky given my background.

Thanks for any advice or feedback.

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    You might be interested in these relevant questions and answers: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/3153/… and academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2950/…
    – ff524
    Feb 28, 2014 at 3:25
  • @ff524 Thanks for those; I didn't see them when searching the topic. They seem a bit different to me, however, since the OPs' undergrad degrees were math/science-related.
    – user124384
    Feb 28, 2014 at 3:58
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    Am I just setting myself up for another such attempt? That's something much too personal for strangers on the Internet to answer, unfortunately :) What you propose to do is difficult, certainly not impossible, but the cost/benefit ratio and the likelihood of success depends on your motivations, your abilities, your goals, etc.
    – ff524
    Feb 28, 2014 at 4:12
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    @ff524 Just the fact that you didn't answer with "don't even try" is a good sign, imo. :)
    – user124384
    Feb 28, 2014 at 4:15
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    If you're interested in a second BA and want to push yourself, consider Columbia University's School of General Studies. You can major in math and get a second bachelors. It's expensive, but may be what you're looking for.
    – chmullig
    Mar 2, 2014 at 5:03

4 Answers 4


You are not prepared for a Master's program right now, which I think you recognize. That said, it may not take too long to prepare yourself. I would recommend looking at requirements for continuing education and graduate programs at nearby regional universities. Many of them have programs designed to accommodate a student with your needs. For example, here are the requirements at CSU East Bay, a regional school near Oakland. Note in particular the Post-baccalaureate unclassified status. You might not expect it, but many such programs are quite strong and have a solid record in placing students in PhD programs. Don't discount them.

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    Thanks for suggesting those. For some reason I hadn't thought of it, and it looks like that's going to be the best possible avenue for me--both academically and financially.
    – user124384
    Mar 2, 2014 at 19:35

If you want to go into math, should you get a BSc?

I'd say "yes". It often is quite doable to pick up a new subject on your own if you have academic experience, but English and Mathematics are so far apart that I'd doubt there would be a lot of synergy. Mathematics has its own way of thinking, which is probably picked up best by going through an undergrad degree.

Should you go into math?

Enrolling for a degree is of course a rather strong decision. In my experience quite a few of those who start anew later in their lifes drop out rather early. Maybe taking an online course first could both be a good preparation if you go through with it, and helpful to figure out if you really want to it.

Can you get in somewhere?

I don't know about your country, but both the UK and Germany often have places reserved for mature students, which have fewer formal requirements. So in those countries, getting into a decent program would be quite doable.

A final comment

For me at least mathematics is great fun. If you believe you'd like it, and you are willing to put in the effort, give it a try.


Well, I commend the OP on having the heart to contemplate such a step. I'd like to mention a factor that has not yet been mentioned in the other answers - your age, and more specifically, the responsibilities that you have to shoulder while attempting such a career switch. If you do decide to apply for a undergrad program in maths, and happen to be accepted in a reasonably good one, you'd be starting from scratch in a field governed by abstract concepts that take a good deal of focused work to wrap ones head around! This is a lot easier if all you have to worry about is yourself, and don't have the weight of other responsibilities (family obligations, relationships etc) to bog you down. Even if you don't have such responsibilities, you'd have the inescapable feeling of being a generation behind your peers, and unless you have a very determined and strong force of mind, you would be having to fend off doubts regarding your decisions/capabilities at regular intervals - which could hinder your focus significantly, and make your mental faculties less acute than they ought to be!

(This is a personal opinion of mine - I've seen many later-career grad students struggle with these issues, and hence I thought it was wise to know about the possibility of such a train of events before committing to such a momentous decision!)

  • Thanks for the heads-up. I'm lucky in that I don't have to worry about family (if I had kids I don't think I'd even attempt this), but I do have to support myself, which makes taking classes (most of which are during the day) in preparation for a formal program rather difficult.
    – user124384
    Mar 2, 2014 at 18:38

I'm answering from an American point of view, on the supposition that is your background also. I'm not sure how applicable this advice is to a non-American.

You already have a bachelor's degree, so you shouldn't need to take a second full BS. There are two ways that I can see you going. Either way, you should be taking the equivalent of a major, or at least a minor in math before you pursue graduate studies.

Enroll as a full time second, or third year "transfers" student in a math-science oriented BS program, using your BA credits surrounding your English major for your non math credits. You should be taking something like two to three math courses (and one or two courses in physics and/or computer science) a semester, until you have completed a math major.

Enroll as a "special student" somewhere part time, taking one to two math classes a semester, until you have 10-12 math courses that constitute the equivalent of a math major, or at least 6-8 courses for a math minor.

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    Yes, I'm American. :) I actually ended up taking the accepted answer's advice and enrolling full time at a state school. Quit my job and everything (and LOVING IT). I'm currently officially enrolled as getting a second BA in math, but actually intend to change this to fulfilling prereqs for a masters, as you suggest, based on advice from an advisor. However, I've decided to do CS instead of math (being more practical and all), though I'm still going to try to take as many math classes as I can. :)
    – user124384
    Jul 26, 2014 at 23:01

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