Education At Any Age

By Sharon Naylor

May 20, 2016 5 min read

Equipped with a backpack, a laptop and a thirst for knowledge, many older adults and retirees are choosing to continue their education. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 8.2 million students over the age of 25 attended college in 2013. The reasons for doing so are many.

For one, many older adults desire to learn new skills and/or improve existing skills to continue advancing their careers. With most companies moving increasingly digital these days, for example, it may be desirable or necessary to improve one's knowledge of computer technology and digital industries.

In general, cost of living continues to increase, as does competition in the job market. As such, many adults now choose to continue working into retirement age. In fact, it is more common than not these days to change careers multiple times before the age of retirement. So, continuing one's education is a great way to improve personal marketability, efficiently and confidence.

Many older adults seek continued education as a path to a career change, big or small. If you've spent decades working a job that you only mildly love, take the opportunity to learn new subjects and gain new qualifications in school so that you might finally pursue your passion. If you love architecture, take an architecture class. If you love baking, take a pastry class at a cooking school! Maybe you gave up a career in nursing in your younger years, but choose to go to esthetician school now.

Not all who go back to school are looking for a career change. Many want to learn for the sake of learning! Staying mentally and physically active does wonders for cognitive function, alertness and memory. Not to mention that learning new things can offer personal enrichment and fulfillment to individuals.

I know what you're thinking. How do people afford college these days? The cost of education is higher today than ever before. According to Forbes, in 2015, the national average cost of attending a four-year public college exceeded $28,000 per year, and the average cost of four-year private colleges went over $59,000 per year. If you are considering going back to school, don't be defeated by the thought of student loans and sky-high prices. There are ways to make education work for you. Take a look at these options and amenities.

--Free tuition. According to The American Council on Education's 2008 survey, "approximately 60 percent of accredited degree-granting educational institutions offer tuition waivers for older adults."

--Tuition discounts. Your chosen school may not offer free tuition, but many schools offer specific courses at a discounted rate. This way, you may be able to continue your education without jeopardizing retirement funds.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute network spans all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Each of the 119 institutes is part of an American university. They offer "university-level, non-credit courses and learning opportunities for people '50 and better.'" Fees vary, although the institute at George Mason University reportedly charges fees between $125 and $350 annually for unlimited courses over four semesters.

--Audit basis. Taking a course on an audit basis means attending lectures without being responsible for doing assignments and taking exams. With this approach, you can broaden your skill set, or simply get exposure to a different area of study, without test-taking pressure and consuming hours of study.

--Online courses. Many accredited educational institutions offer courses online, allowing you to listen to lectures and take tests according to your schedule. This is a great option for those who live far from a college campus or work full time. Plus, you have the added bonus of learning in the comfort of your own home.

--Scholarships. Some states have scholarship programs just for seniors. Research online to find one that's right for you.

When you are finding a program that works for you, there are a few considerations that may not come to mind.

--Cost of books, additional tuition fees and parking passes can add up quite a bit.

--Often, waivers are not offered for online classes.

--Online courses require some computer literacy. Check with the school to find out what program knowledge is necessary for a course.

--Though night classes work for those who are night owls, working late into the night may pose a challenge to others.

No single program will work for everyone. But these options offer many possibilities for you to tailor your education to your career goals, budget and lifestyle.

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