Back to School for Americans 55 and Up


The American university has, for a long time, reserved itself for young learners. Traditionally, a person attended college between 18 and 24, with only those in specialty fields continuing past that age. However, there is a growing trend of nontraditional students and people over 35 deciding to pursue a program of study. Whether enrolling for the first time or re-enrolling after many years, the upward trend shows that the desire to learn is no longer limited to any age demographic.

Many American seniors are returning to college as well. Some are taking either college courses or special correspondence classes because they want to gain new skills. Similarly, many people over 55 have put themselves back in a classroom to maintain a competitive edge. It is prudent to have more than one specialization in these changing and often unpredictable times, especially as the world and the economy turn to more tech-based and remote jobs.

However, there are personal reasons for pursuing higher education as well. Some seniors use college courses to help them stay focused and mentally sharp. Others even do it because it was a dream to one day attend college or earn a degree.

Regardless of the reason, there have never been more opportunities for seniors and retirees to take classes and achieve new goals. Age should not be an obstacle to anyone who has the desire to learn. Here are some ways to prepare for higher education and strategies for finding the right course or program of study.

Preparing to Hit the Books

Update Your Tech Skills

First, prospective students need to make sure that they know what kind of technology and computer knowledge will be required. Depending upon how involved the course of study is, students may need to brush up on the hardware and software that schools are using.

Keep in mind there will be a steep learning curve for some. New technology is one of the main reasons an older learner may be hesitant to re-enroll in college.

The best strategy is to begin training at home. There are many free courses available online. Whether an individual is trying to learn computers for the first time or update their knowledge, there is probably an existing tutorial. Of course, there are also tutorial sites that cost money. These sites tend to be more detailed, often taught by experts in the field.

Determine the Desired Outcome

Not all senior learners are looking to earn a degree. Some are seeking more hobby-based interests, such as gardening or painting. Others might be interested in taking an individual class on a specific topic, such as a pre-law course or an author of interest. Either way, it is advisable to know what the result will be. Are the classes for education and fun? Do you wish to pursue a degree? Having a plan can make the adjustment period less exhausting.

Learning as a senior should not become a high-pressure situation, nor should it ever be overwhelming. Allow yourself to enjoy the experience. The desired outcome should first and foremost be the education itself.

Pace Yourself

If it has been a long time since visiting a classroom setting, try to determine the amount of time required to commit. Prospective learners should also evaluate how much mental energy a course requires. The way classes work has changed, so it is wise to allow for these changes, as learning to adapt can be time-consuming.

Another thing that may be alien to an over-55 learner is communication. Bear in mind that a new generation is attending, and the way they communicate is much different. Socialization is a must for many classes, too. Interpersonal communication will almost inevitably be required. Allow yourself time to adapt to the cultural changes, as there will likely be a lot to process.

Be sure to start at a pace that gives you time to adapt to both the culture and flow of the university. There is often a lot of new information to gather before classes even begin.

When You are Ready

Inquire about Benefits

Every state in America has a few education programs or benefits for its seniors. Discount classes, free course audits, and even special enrollment are there for the taking if you seek them out.

Many employers also offer special programs for employees seeking to enter into a degree-driven program of study. Reimbursement programs and even full scholarships can be available, so be sure to ask your employer. Some seniors even take a part-time job after retiring to be able to take advantage of such programs.

Decide on the Setting

Deciding on your proximity to the campus is another consideration. If relocation is necessary to pursue higher education, it is wise to select a location that meets your needs.

If you have no problem living in a bustling college town, that may be your best option. As mentioned, however, there is a different culture with today’s young people. Not only will you likely risk a small amount of culture shock, but you may not see very many people your age. Keep this in mind before committing yourself to relocation.

Interestingly, there has been a recent rise in senior and retiree housing on college campuses. Special dorms are being built, leased, and even sold to older students. If proximity to the school is a factor, this is an option appearing in more universities around the country.

If you have not yet retired, check this list of the best over 55 communities. Often retirement communities have access to information about the universities in the area. They may even have a special agreement with sponsored schools.

Of course, if you are not comfortable attending classes in person, many schools offer degrees and programs online. People are earning bachelor’s, master’s, and even their doctorates entirely online nowadays.

Get Started Today

If you are an education-minded senior, begin your search now. AARP’s website has many resources for retirees, including a comprehensive guide to finding and enrolling in classes of all kinds. Medicare also has resources for retirees seeking universities with programs geared towards their age demographic.

Education has never been as accessible as it is today. There are dozens of ways to take classes and earn degrees that were unavailable even two decades ago. Talk to an individual with experience, and kickstart your journey to higher learning.

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