Each year, since 2007, over a million of the students enrolling in colleges all over the country are over 50 years old. For some, it’s the beginning of a second career or a way to move up the corporate ladder, others are finally finding the time to get the education that was delayed by the rigors of raising children.
Some return to school to get a degree, but many just want to learn more about a certain subject, and don’t care about the sheepskin. You can attend college classes on campus, or there are plenty of high-quality online universities that offer coursework and degree programs from bachelors to doctorate. Today, there are plenty of graduates over 70, and at least one octogenarian, recently graduated from medical school.
Going to college or graduate school later in life has many advantages.
For one thing, you’re just plain smarter in many ways, having lived longer, than your classmates… there’s truly no substitute for experience. For another, most older college students often feel privileged to be where they are, certainly no one is forcing them to attend, so homework is never a chore… it’s a chance to learn. And older students tend to be more disciplined, not distracted as easily, and rarely stressed out by the challenges of student life.
Some older Americans want to go back to finish college, but they’re afraid of being conspicuously the oldest person in their class, the professor included. They worry about not fitting in.
The thing is… while you may think this is likely, it’s not always the case. These days you might just find another student your age or older taking the same class in which you’ve enrolled. And many professors enjoy and value having older students in their classes, because they often can contribute based on experience and share perspectives otherwise unavailable.
Going back to college today does require some basic computer skills.
You should be comfortable using a word processor and maybe a spreadsheet program too, like Microsoft’s Excel, if you’re enrolled in finance or accounting classes. And you’ll also need to be at least somewhat familiar with surfing the Web so you can do basic research, but there are still libraries on campuses where you can do things the old fashioned way and get plenty of help from the librarians.
One thing to be cognizant of is that the cost of a higher education has gone up quite a bit these last few years, so those that will be paying their own way will need to make sure that the tuition costs, plus books and other incidentals won’t break their banks. One way to save quite a bit, if attending as an undergrad, is to attend a community college for freshman and sophomore years, and then transfer to a four-year university to complete the last two years before graduating.
Scholarships for seniors…
Some states also provide funding for government scholarships for older adults and other nontraditional students returning to school. Visit the Department of Education website in your state, and look under grants, scholarships, or financial aid, and check out a financial aid database like FastWeb.com or Scholarships.com, you can find scholarships for older students at those sites, as well.
Attending an online university program can also be a cost-saving alternative, and although it may not offer the same sort of social experience as you’d get on campus, the quality of the education can be just as good, and you can interact with other students by collaborating online. If getting around is a significant challenge, then an online university program may just be the ideal choice.
When choosing an online university, however, the program’s accreditation is important.
Accreditation signifies that the school has meet the standards of quality education set by a board or government agency. From the quality of instructors to eligibility for financial assistance, accreditation is generally the determining factor. Also, getting a degree from an unaccredited college can mean you won’t be able to transfer your credits to other schools and even that an employer doesn’t recognize your degree or certificate.
To determine whether a program is accredited, you can search the U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs. On that site, you can also find in-depth information on regional and national accrediting agencies that are recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as reliable authorities on the quality of education.
In the United States, online colleges that are fully accredited have been recognized by one of the six regional accreditation boards that also evaluate traditional campuses. These include:
• The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
• Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
• North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
• New England Association of Schools and Colleges
• Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
• Western Association of Schools and Colleges
In addition, the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize the Distance Education and Training Council as a reputable elevator of education programs that offer online degrees.
Going back to college later in life, no matter what you’re reason, can be a fantastic way to discover new interests, improve your knowledge and value to employers, and socialize with fascinating and like-minded people of all ages.
Whatever you do, don’t let your age hold you back… these days there are millions of seniors attending college classes all over the country every single day. And don’t feel like the younger students won’t want you there, seniors that have attended college classes always report that their classmates not only welcomed them, but many report that they found they had a lot in common and became fast friends with others many years their junior.
Lastly, not knowing what you’d want to study is perhaps the best reason to consider going back to school. Taking classes in a subject you’ve never considered before can lead to discovery of a new passion, perhaps a second career, and maybe even a whole new life.
You never know what will happen when you give it that old college try.