Top Three Reasons to Rethink Becoming a Senior Learner.
When we retire, we often have all sorts of ideas about how we plan to take advantage of our newly-free schedule. Spending some quality time with our families, exploring a new hobby or even traveling to places we’ve always wanted to visit are among some of the top goals for seniors and boomers in retirement.
Another option some seniors and boomers consider is returning to college, either to earn a new degree, or to simply take a few courses for their own enrichment.
The most recent U.S. Census data indicates that there are now 40.3 million people aged 65 and older living in the U.S. As the senior population soars in this country, more colleges and universities are taking advantage of this growing segment of the population by luring them back into the classroom with plenty of incentives.
If you’ve never considered college as an option in your senior years, here are five top reasons to rethink it.
#1 – It Might Be Free (or Close to it)
There is plenty of financial help out there for seniors and boomers who wish to return to the classroom if you know where to look for it.
The first thing you should do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The forms cover the most common types of financial aid – Stafford and Plus loans. In order to qualify for a federal loan, you must commit to attending classes on at least a part-time basis. If you only plan to take a course here or there, financial aid is not going to be an option for you.
Seniors and boomers also may qualify for the annual $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit and the annual $2,000 Lifetime Learning Tax Credit. Additionally, seniors who are under a certain threshold in their annual income level are able to deduct interest on student loans.
Loans are not the only way to pay for college. Scholarships and grants also are available. StudentScholarshipSearch and Fastweb are great resources when looking for scholarships available to seniors and boomers.
If you are a woman, the news is even better. There are grants and scholarships that are specifically for women, including:
- The American Association of University Women
- The Philanthropic Educational Organization
- The Emerge Scholarship Fund
- The AARP Foundation
- The Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund
Some colleges offer tuition waivers for seniors and boomers, which allow you to take classes for free. Community colleges are among the top institutions offering tuition waivers for senior citizens. If you have a community college near you, check to see if it offers tuition waivers.
Seniors also have the option of taking audit classes for free. Audit classes are those in which a senior attends, but does not earn a grade or a degree for doing so. Paying students receive the first opportunity to take courses, and any open seats are then offered for audit by colleges which offer these programs. Audit classes are a great way to enrich yourself without costing a penny.
#2 – Meet New People, Learn New Things
College campuses aren’t just for 20-somethings anymore. More colleges and universities are welcoming seniors and boomers with open arms because they not only bring with them life experience, they also are great examples of valuing an education.
Senior citizens take education seriously and can be a great influence on younger students in the classroom. Seniors and boomers also ask great questions and can be catalysts for starting a thought-provoking dialogue on many issues.
Many colleges that offer audit courses and other programs to entice seniors and boomers back into the classroom also encourage them to take on active mentoring roles with younger students. They encourage younger and older students to sit next to one another in class and to learn and share and participate in class discussions together. These kinds of partnerships not only help the younger student by providing them with someone with life experience who can support them in their studies, but also helps the senior to gain the perspective of an entirely different generation. Inter-generational friendships can and do form in this kind of classroom setting.
In addition to forming new friendships and learning about different views, seniors, and boomers also have the chance to learn about subjects and topics of interest to them through a variety of courses. Always wanted to test out your artistic side? Most colleges – especially technical schools and community colleges – offer a variety of arts courses. Really wish you were more proficient on the computer? Courses from basic programming to graphic design may be great options.
#3 – Update Your Skills or Start a New Career
Some seniors and boomers, after their initial retirement, find that they’ve become bored with their options and would prefer to return to the working world. Others may find they need additional income but would prefer to enter a profession that is different from the one from which they retired.
Seniors who haven’t yet retired – but are finding it difficult to compete in their current field with younger, more skilled workers – may simply wish to update their skills or acquire new ones that may be valuable to their current job.
Regardless of which situation you may be in, Massive Open Online Courses, also known as MOOCs, provide easy access to college programs from accredited institutions. Many for-profit, online universities, in addition to traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities, are offering everything from single courses to certificate programs to full degrees through MOOCs.
The only thing you will need in order to take a MOOC is a reliable computer and high-speed internet connection.
Have some additional tips about returning to school you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them in the comments.