It’s Never Too Late to Pursue Your Passion With UF Online

While working as a full-time postal carrier and living in Cape Coral, FL, 48-year-old Robert Carlson decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in geography to achieve his dream of becoming a cartographer. After his wife earned a degree in geography herself, Robert was inspired to also enter the field and earn a certificate in GIS (Geographic Information Systems). First starting his geography degree at UF Online in 2020, he graduated in December 2022 with a perfect 4.0 GPA to prove that it is never too late to achieve your academic goals.

“Being a non-traditional student, I would encourage everybody to always continue to learn and to reach for their goals,” Robert said. “Some people thought I was a little crazy for going back to college in my 40s just to wrap up a bachelor’s degree, but it was important to me. I would tell anybody if there’s something that’s out there that matters to them, reach for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20, 40, or 80, you can always get there.”


With the help of his wife, Robert discovered a newfound passion for geography and GIS that led him to the Gator Nation. “My wife really inspired me,” Robert said. “She ended up taking a couple of GIS courses and I have an IT background. When she introduced me to GIS, I was like ‘Wow, this is a really fascinating area.’ Combining my interest in different cultures with my interest in geology and everything else, it was the perfect storm of interests that collided together to lead me into the geography field.”

Robert was drawn to UF Online over other online degree programs because of its GIS certificate program, reputation, and affordability. “UF has a very interesting program from the GIS side,” he said. “I’ve actually already completed all the requirements for the GIS certificate and exceeded them. UF had much more of my interest in the IT aspects of geography and I felt UF matched my existing background and the direction I was looking to go. The fact that it was more affordable certainly didn’t hurt.” Given its unwavering commitment to accessibility and student success, UF Online helped Robert break down barriers to earning his bachelor’s degree while working full-time.

“The University of Florida has the brand of being a top five public school in the country,” Robert said. “You can’t pass up an opportunity like that.”

At UF Online, Robert found the support he needed to excel in his geography and GIS studies. “In my experience, the professors in the geography courses have been my favorite part of my UF Online experience,” he said. “I did an independent research project with Dr. Michael Binford in the spring, and I’m doing an honors thesis with him here this fall. Dr. M. Anwar Sounny-Slitine, Dr. Binford, and everyone is willing to go the extra mile and work with the student. I just can’t sing their praises enough. I’ve had a lot of really good experiences with the faculty and staff.”


Switching careers later in life, Robert had to decide whether pursuing a University of Florida bachelor’s degree would be worth it. “Some of my aspirations may be limited by the fact that I’m transitioning my career in my late 40s because I probably have 15 to 17 years of my career left,” he said. However, Robert believes it’s never too late to change careers and earning a bachelor’s degree makes that transition possible. “I get a lot of fulfillment out of my family life and helping people. I’d like to transition into the analytical side of geography to continue helping people. Those goals are probably less grandiose but for me, they’re more meaningful.”

“Within my UF Online courses, there was a mix of ages and I think that makes it more dynamic,” Robert said. “You’re getting perspectives of people that have kids and those in mid-career while simultaneously getting perspectives from the passion and animation of younger students. I think UF Online’s age diversity adds value that you might not see on campus.”

With graduation now behind him, Robert is looking toward his future in the geography field. “I think there’s a sense of pride that goes with graduating from UF and being a member of the Gator family,” Robert said. “I see interconnectedness with other Gators on a professional level. I plan on trying to find those people when I get to my next job. I am in the process of transitioning from the post office to a different agency in public service where I will be a cartographer. I’m starting off as a cartographer and probably want to get more into geospatial analytics.”

The University of Florida celebrates Robert and all students who wish to transition careers and pursue a bachelor’s degree at any stage of life. UF Online wishes him the best as he embarks on his new and flourishing geography career.



With a UF degree in geography, students can learn career-ready skills, such as geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, aerial photo interpretation, spatial analysis, modeling, database handling, and computer-based cartography. Taught by faculty within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, UF Online’s geography program aims to prepare students for careers in environmental science, urban and regional planning, business geography, medical geography, and geographic education. To learn more about UF Online’s geography program, visit the degree page or attend an upcoming virtual information session.