I'm looking for advice on grad school and life. Warning: sorry for the sad story, but I'm trying to be as honest with myself as possible so I can (a) figure out what's wrong and (b) find out how I can improve to reach realistic goals. Some of it may appear as a rant, but I tried to give a holistic view of my situation.
Engineering grad from a state school outside the top 50 with a few years of work experience only using my engineering skills indirectly. Very poor undergraduate record close to 2.0. Took graduate courses and received mostly B's and C's. Took two more recently in the past 1.5 years and received 2 A/A- grades. I've already gone through 2 cycles of admissions and been rejected from graduate programs. Those that responded cited my poor undergraduate performance and recommended retaking my courses although that school doesn't offer undergraduate courses to people that already have a degree. I'm also significantly in debt currently (>$60k) and without a full time job.
Old GRE: 1300's (high 700s Q, mid 500s V)
I've studied for the new GRE and have received practice scores in the same area or slightly higher. I've considered studying more intensely on my own to try to get a perfect score, but my current stress level is enormous and I haven't seen much improvement after studying off and on for two years. Also, given my GPA, I'm wondering how much a higher score will matter as this seems to be a bigger concern for the admissions committees and there doesn't seem to be a way to improve this aspect of my record.
I likely have some gaps in my critical reading/thinking skills, general knowledge, vocabulary and writing that would likely require at least several months/years of full time intense study to remedy in order to receive a significantly higher score. I'm not sure if it's worth the sacrifice.
I have no desire to pursue a second undergraduate degree and coursework in a typical academic setting as I don't see how it will help me reach my goals and help my personal growth in the most efficient way.
Not to make excuses, but I have had health and family problems throughout my life. Without going into details, I feel I had by far the most A-typical and abusive and manipulative upbringing to my knowledge of people I know. However, it's not something I see benefiting me to disclose on an application. The family and personal problems are ongoing to the point where I've considered breaking contact with them except for the lingering financial concerns and the desire to help a younger sibling succeed. However, I've learned the hard way if you don't put yourself first in life, you'll likely be taken advantage of and not respected.
At my advanced age (I'm around 30), I'm trying to decide where to go next and what to do. At this point, I've realized that although I believe I'm talented and would likely have succeeded had I been raised in a more stable and normal environment (i.e. winning the game - going to a great school, had a high GPA, great social life and get a great job, family and friends), I realize that society doesn't want to give you another chance and you are expected to find your place soon serving those people that won the game after graduating, do unethical things (cheat + steal), or be left with little to nothing. I struggled my way through engineering school and found there was rampant cheating, grad deflation and work that was there just to confuse and only benefited those who would play the game (i.e. had a background in the field through family members who would advise them, old material/exams, and cheating etc.). I think part of this stems from the school's desire to appear challenging to move up the US News and World report and to gain academic prestige. I became apathetic to the whole system at this point and lost my desire to play but did so only after trying hard and receiving the same results. I value a well rounded life and found engineering doesn't which I think is one of the flaws of this type of education. I also didn't feel it was a healthy social environment or good at developing your broader personal development. I've found reading good books, meeting talented, positive and motivated people with goals, and travel to be vastly more important for personal growth than what I learned in my education. However, I am keenly aware after being repeatedly rejected of the importance of an education in a formal setting if only in understanding the filtering and sorting mechanism it serves to rank and group people and open or limit their future opportunities. I believe I can do well, but am realistic about how life works at this and the options that are available to someone with my background. With the advent of online courses and increased global competition for a limited number of desirable careers that are typically filtered through personal professional networks and exclusive to those with an elite education, it's a game that I've been repeatedly evaluated to have lost. I am extremely wary of taking on additional debt to pursue an education and would likely only do so if I had the privilege of going to an Ivy or an MIT/Stanford unless I have a set career that would be nearly guaranteed at another school and enjoyed the social connections the school offered. I have no desire to pursue academia as I know with my background, I will likely have no opportunities post graduation. My employment prospects I've found to be minimal which is the reason I'm considering grad school in the first place.
I have no desire for trades as my technical skills (specifically programming) are weak and I've lost the passion to pursue them as a hobby when I'm more worried about immediate concerns (not getting in further debt, how I'm getting my next meal and how I'm going to survive the next few weeks). I'm so far down Maslow's hierarchy that most days are a struggle to survive. The deep regrets I have for how my life has played out also live with me. I feel my greatest strength is the ability to work extremely hard but without work to do and money to pay bills I don't know how much longer I'll make it. I'll likely have to give up on my dreams soon to survive. I would love to have a respectable professional job and a decent salary with sane coworkers and bosses and a positive environment that respects people's personal lives but I realize that's a luxury that I apparently haven't earned. Frankly, I want a job that I can succeed in with less stress. it doesn't necessarily have to be in engineering until I can get back on my feet and get some confidence along with reducing my debt and becoming financially independent.
Any advice on how you think I should proceed or just general advice would be greatly appreciated! Please use discretion for specific advice and send a personal message.