College Tips: Can I get financial aid for a second degree?

Dear Class Career Girl,  In 2010, I graduated from a four year university with a bachelors in science degree that I really didn’t want but was overly talked into. After looking for a job for about a year, I found a pretty nice office job that I like. It’s a little boring and underpaid to my tastes but at least I finally landed a job and stopped feeling like a failure. My job is at the local maximum security prison and I have always been around this type of environment (my dad worked here for 20 years and the guy I’m dating works at the neighboring prison). I have decided to go back to school online to get a B.A. in Criminal Justice and they also offer the Masters degree fully online.  Are there any places that offer aid to students/young professionals that are wanting to correct their mistakes and get a degree that they could actually benefit from in a career? Thanks, Second Chance Student

Dear Second Chance Student, When I received your question, I knew I didn’t have all the right answers for you so I asked Ken O’Connor, the Director of Student Advocacy at to help.  Ken is recognized by CBS MoneyWatch as one the top 25 college twitterers!  Thanks Ken!

“First up, the student should not feel bad, or like they have made some kind of huge mistake by pursuing their prior degree.  If they were talked into it by someone else, there is no sense in feeling bad after the fact.

I’m not a Prison HR expert, however, I do know they are the kind of organizations that would require Master’s degree recipients for very specific positions.  My advice would be to first focus on exactly what positions would require this advanced education.  Then research the administration of other prisons, and look at the educational background of people that have the same positions you would like to hold.  What schools did they go to?  Did they like it there?  Does it have an alumni base in the field you want to enter?

Unfortunately, school opportunities have irreparably changed as a result of completing a first bachelors degree.  The student cannot ever be funded with any federal need based grants to pursue a 2nd bachelors, and most likely will not qualify for any institutional merit or need based grants no matter where she attends.  If she were to purse a Master’s Degree, they would be eligible for the same thing, just federal stafford loans.  So my advice is to forget doing a second Bachelor’s and go for a Masters instead.  Consider a Master’s in Public Administration, but only after being exactly sure that this would fill the requirement.  The MPA is really only effective when combined with real work experience, but it could be the linchpin to securing the job when the opportunity arises.

Second, are there any places that offer aid to students/young professionals that are wanting to correct their mistakes and get a degree that they could actually benefit from in a career?

Schools will give support within their sphere of influence, and will arm the student with knowledge, but really only the student does any work towards advancing a career.  No school is going to help you correct mistakes and no one comes out of programs instantly getting jobs anymore.  The employment wheels are set in motion long before even starting a degree program.  It sounds like the student wants a do-over because they are unhappy with their first degree choice.

On the second try, this student needs to be careful to avoid the mistake of thinking a school is going to bestow a magical gift to her, making her instantly employable.  She needs to instead focus on what actual job skills and ability she needs to continue in her field.  I suspect that in the field of prisons, there is NO CLASSROOM CAPABLE OF TEACHING THE LESSONS NEEDED TO WORK THERE.  It’s more about experience, and being connected politically.  Since Dad has been in the business for over 20 years, I bet there might be some clout in her corner, so just getting a Master’s to pad the resume will be enough to secure that job when it opens.”

Hope this helps you!  Best of luck!!
Classy Career Girl and Ken O’Connor

Readers, what is your advice for Second Chance Student?  Should she take out more loans to get another degree?

(photo by Tulane PR)



About Anna Runyan

Anna Runyan has been helping women get their careers unstuck since 2008. She is known for “The Love Your Career Formula” which helps women find new careers they LOVE in 90 days or less and “The Corporate Rescue Plan” which helps women ditch their day jobs and start profitable, freedom-based online businesses in 90 days. Make sure you sign up for her Free ‘CHEAT SHEET’– 7 proven steps to get out of a job you hate and into a career you love.


  1. I think she should do whatever she thinks would be best for her future. But agree with Ken that a MPA might be a great alternative to a second BA.

  2. My thoughts are definitely look into the masters if it is at all possible. I just don't know how beneficial it is to get a second B.A. And I love how Ken said that she shouldn't feel at all bad about the choices she made.

  3. Gaining additional qualifications to help you in your chosen career path is always a good idea. However if you have just landed a job that was not really to your tastes – maybe you should investigate some other career options first?

  4. Agree. There is never a bad thing about getting further education. It is always important to make sure that it is the correct path though before you start the program because it will be many years before it is over with. Always talk to people in the field that you want to go into and do as much research as possible to be sure that is the direction you want to head in your career.

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