Seniors and Retirees Are Returning To College––Here’s How You Can Too

You’re never too old to go to college.

By Kimberly Blaker

As many seniors and retirees today will attest, you’re never too old to go to college. Lifelong learning has become increasingly popular in recent years as baby boomers have reached the age of retirement. For some, the purpose in going back to school is to finish their studies and accomplish a degree. But for many more, it’s simply for fun and an opportunity to gain knowledge, discover new interests, and keep their minds and bodies fit.

With the rising costs of college, you may see it as an unlikely endeavor. Not to mention, if you’re still in the workforce, where would you find time for the commute and classes let alone time to study? Fortunately, today there are many ways to overcome these obstacles.

If you’d like to go to college, first, consider your purpose and what you hope to accomplish. Do you want to earn your degree? Are you primarily interesting in broadening your knowledge? Are you in search of new interests and socializing opportunities? Your answer might be one or all of these. But knowing your purpose will give you direction.

Once you’ve determined what you hope to achieve, visit nearby colleges or explore the websites of colleges in the city or state where you’d like to settle for retirement, and see what they have to offer.

Non-traditional college credit

If earning your degree is important, today, more and more accredited colleges offer a variety of options for earning nontraditional course credit. Look into this first to save time and money.

At some colleges you can earn Self-Acquired Competency (SAC) credits. These may have different names at various institutions. But such credits are available for a wide range of skills and life experiences. This requires compiling a portfolio for faculty evaluation. Your portfolio will include on-the-job training, work and volunteer experience, workshops, seminars, and more. If you served in the military, you may be eligible for Military Service Credit for education you gained through schools, experience, or service.

You can also earn credits by examination. Some of these include:

  • Credits for College-Level Examination Programs (CLEP)
  • Advanced Placement Examinations (AP)
  • Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES)

Credit by examination can also save time and money if you have knowledge in a particular area or if you study and test well. But be sure to check with your institution before enrolling since credit may not be awarded following admission.

Another possibility for credits is if you’ve completed any noncollegiate or in-company sponsored programs or courses. Find out if those programs or courses are any of the thousands reviewed by the American Council on Education (ACE). If so, ask your academic institution if they award credits based on ACE recommendations.

Correspondence and online courses

Independent study programs offer a couple options. Online courses can be taken in the convenience of your home. These usually require attendance (at your computer) at specific times. Correspondence courses are a good option also because there are no schedules. They usually allow six to eighteen months for completion with extensions up to one year. Evening and weekend courses as well as accelerated programs also offer some flexibility.

How to pay for tuition and books

There are many options for financing your education. The Federal Pell Grant is available regardless of your age and is awarded based on financial need. The maximum award amount for the 2017-2018 school year was $5,920.

Several other options include:

  • The Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
  • The Federal Work Study program
  • The Federal Perkins Loan
  • Federal Subsidized Stafford Loan
  • Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loan

Many scholarships are also available for seniors. So ask the academic institutions you’re considering what they offer.

If you’re still in the work force, ask your employer if it offers reimbursement for college courses. If the classes pertain to your job, your employer may cover the costs.

Finally, don’t forget the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which modifies the HOPE Credit, a tax credit available for eligible taxpayers, totaling up to a maximum of $2,500. There’s also the Lifetime Learning tax credit. Certain requirements and restrictions apply.

If you aren’t interested in pursuing a degree, but just want the opportunity to attend courses, many colleges also offer special rates to seniors to audit a class.

Coordinating multiple responsibilities

Like many older Americans, you may still be working. But with a little planning and finesse, you can develop workable solutions that’ll free up time for your studies.

Start by making a list of all your responsibilities, then cross off anything unnecessary. Where else can you save time? You can do housecleaning every 10 to 14 days rather than weekly. Skip cleaning anything that isn’t in dire need until the next time. Straighten up only the main rooms on a daily basis. Others can wait.

Make a pact to limit volunteering your time until you’ve reached your educational goals. If ‘no’ isn’t in your vocabulary, create reminder cards. Then put them by the phone and in your purse, so you’ll be prepared to say ‘no’ at all times.

Discuss the importance of furthering your education with your partner. Ask which responsibilities your partner is willing to take over until you’ve accomplished your goals.

Ask your employer if you can take shorter lunch breaks and leave earlier. Another possibility is for your employer to allow you fewer but longer workdays for an extra day off study each week.

Colleges that offer independent study

Before enrolling, make sure credits are transferable and the institution is fully accredited.

  • Indiana University’s School of Continuing Studies, Independent Study Program.
  • Eastern Michigan University, Distance Education Program.
  • Ohio University Lifelong Learning Programs, External Student Program.
  • University of Colorado at Boulder Independent Learning Program.
  • Upper Iowa University, External Degree Program.
  • The University of Texas at Austin Continuing and Extended Education, Distance Education Center.

Resources for financial assistance

Kimberly Blaker is a freelance lifestyle writer. She also writes content and blog posts for businesses in a variety of industries and is an expert in on page SEO.