So you’re thinking about going back to school but have concerns that it’s either too late in life, or that you’ll feel out of place on a college campus. Fear not! Scores of people who are past the “traditional” college age have made the decision to return to school, and are glad they did. The reasons vary, but by and large few regret the decision to reenter the classroom. Let’s take a deep dive into how you might benefit from going back to school, and the best ways to approach it.

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College Isn’t Just for Kids Anymore

First of all you should know that the number of older adults in college classrooms has been on the rise for several years. There are many reasons, including:

  • Finding opportunities for personal growth and development. Many people find a retirement lifestyle that is spent babysitting their grandkids or just participating in leisure activities to be unfulfilling. You don’t necessarily need to enroll in a degree program for this. Just taking a few classes can enhance your life in unexpected ways.
  • Staying mentally active. You’ve probably read articles about how exercising your brain throughout life can help you stay sharp and slow cognitive decline. Going to school is a great way to accomplish this.
  • Increasing social interaction. Now that you’re not going to a workplace on a regular basis, your opportunities to “mingle” have diminished. If you go back to college, you’ll be rubbing elbows with a whole new crew. You will find people who also want to increase their knowledge, and expand their horizons (which isn’t a bad crowd to hang out with).
  • Finishing what you started. Perhaps you were forced to end your college education early, just a few (or more) credits shy of a degree. There may have been academic issues, financial concerns, health problems, or you lacked the maturity at the time to finish what you started. Finishing up a degree now can improve self-esteem and give you satisfaction, not to mention new career options.
  • Making a contribution to society. A degree may be what you need in order unleash your potential. According to Peter Senge, the purpose of education is to become yourself so you can make meaningful contributions to society.
  • Launching a second career. Many older adults are going back to school to enhance their skills or learn new ones to boost their prospects for landing a new job. This can be either in their original field or a brand new one. It’s never too late to start a new career path. People are no longer letting age limit what they’re going to do with their lives.

Gateway to Creating a New Lifestyle Later in Life

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In a recent survey conducted by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, nearly three out of four respondents who were 50 and over, but not yet retired, stated that they planned to work after retirement. They found that it is becoming increasingly common for people to work during their retirement years. This trend is driven by a number of factors, including:

  • People living longer and healthier lives
  • Re-imaging what later life should look like
  • Elimination of employee pensions and/or financial need

In order to fulfill the desire to keep working in some fashion after retirement, many have found they first need to expand or enhance their skill set. Perhaps they are seeking to launch a second career, or to take their primary career in a new direction. Either way, this has led to more educational options for older adults.

Educational Programs for People Over 50

The American Association of Community College’s Plus 50 Initiative has created programs specifically for people 50 and older who are interesting in going back to school. Initially the program just focused on enrichment and enjoyment. Over time, the initiative shifted direction and began concentrating on helping plus 50 students upgrade their workforce skills. These programs aren’t composed of just existing courses marketed to plus 50 students. They are designed or redesigned courses, taking into account the needs and interests of this new audience.

If you’re interested in going back to college, but think that tuition might be prohibitively expensive, there’s good news. Many colleges and universities offer reduced fees or even free college tuition to senior citizens. For example, California’s 23 state universities offer tuition-free classes in the Over 60 Program. Not all states have free programs, but according to the Penny Hoarder, every state has some type of tuition reduction for seniors.

Just Jump In

If you’re still wondering whether or not you should go back to school, you may want to consider taking just one class to get your feet wet. I retired after 32 years with the same company, making my living as an Instructional Designer. It was a great career, in a solid industry, but it wasn’t my first choice. I had originally planned to be a music teacher. I had finished my Bachelor’s Degree in Music, and was half-way towards a teaching credential when “life” redirected me.

Now that I’m no longer tied down with a full time job, I can explore what I might want to do in the field of music. As a way of reintroducing myself, I enrolled as a “non-degree seeking” student, and took one semester of Orchestra. Being back on campus, talking with other music students, gave me a sense of what might be possible. I could not have gained that perspective without taking the plunge.

So, what area of knowledge have you always wanted to explore? Is there a career field that you’ve always dreamed of, but lacked the needed credentials? There is no time like the present to go back to school, and fulfill your dreams. I guarantee you’ll be in good company.

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