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

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, how would you find time for the commute and classes let alone time to study? Fortunately, today there are many ways to overcome these obstacles.

Contemplating a Return to College

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 interested 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.

Seniors can return to the classroom too.
photo credit: Getty

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.

Some colleges offer independent study options too. Before enrolling, make sure credits are transferable and the institution is fully accredited. Examples of colleges with these programs include:

  • 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

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, for example, 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.

Here are some other resources for financial assistance:

  • Visit Fast Web for information on colleges and scholarship searches.
  • For federal grants and loans, request your Student Guide by calling (800) 433-3243 or visit
  • Visit the U.S. Department of Education for information on tax credits.
Online courses are an option for senior learning.

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? Perhaps you could, for instance, do housecleaning every ten to fourteen days rather than weekly. And 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 to study each week.

Feature image credit: AARP

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