The piece of paper
Countless times over the last 3 and a half years, when I've mentioned to someone that I returned to University, the conversation goes like this:
"So what are you doing nowadays?"
I went back to school in '04.
"Really, what are you taking?"
"Nice. Getting your Masters degree then?"
Not yet, undergrad right now. I left university in my 2nd year, and ended up working for 10 years. So it was time to finish what I started.
"I totally understand, you gotta have that piece of paper."
... umm, actually, I went back to learn more Math and Computer Science theory so I can do cooler stuff. I don't care about the piece of paper.
Unfortunately, a B.Sc. in Computer Science doesn't mean much, unless you get it from a really great school like MIT. A lot of the nearly-graduating undergraduates I've met can barely program and are seriously scared of taking courses like Operating Systems, Compiler Construction, Programming Languages... basically anything that requires actual programming and thinking, especially if writing C (gasp!) is involved. That's not to say they're all like that, there are plenty of amazingly talented students too.
Check this out... (that is, if you know how to program and know a smidgen of Math)
Worse Than Failure: F'd Factorial
For those who aren't programmers, trust me, they were being polite when they even bothered asking the person the second question. How do those people graduate with a CS degree?
This is pretty much exactly why I'm not overly excited about getting "the piece of paper". There are enough boneheaded graduates like that one that being labeled a "CS graduate" isn't all that appealing.
So, what I'm getting out of the experience is the experience, the knowledge, the time to think, and the perspectives all of those things led to. It's been great.