RegisterSign In

Seniors Returning to School: Six Myths About Older Adult Education

Dec 18, 2007 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Not all college freshmen are just out of their teens.  This year, over a million students over 50 are expected to enroll in colleges all over the country.  Some are empty-nest parents pursuing career goals they’ve put off while their kids were in school; others are retirees in retirement communities looking to enrich their lives and make a difference in the world.  Whatever the reason, the face of the “typical college freshman” is changing.

While some seniors are eager to return to school, others may be reluctant because of certain misconceptions.  Don’t let the following myths hold you back.

You will be the oldest person in the room

Actually, you may not be.  Older adults are becoming more and more common in college classrooms.

Professors are impatient with older students

Expect your teachers to be younger than you—and for your life experience to conflict with their viewpoints occasionally.  This happens, but it doesn’t mean your relationships with instructors will go sour.  In many classrooms, professors appreciate the experience and perspective older students bring to the table—and so do younger students.  Teachers are there to help you, and as long as you’re contributing valuable insight to class discussions, they’re more likely to appreciate your input than to grow impatient with it.

You won’t be able to afford it

The cost of college is increasing—and adult students paying their own way need to be particularly cost-conscious.  Seniors who are concerned about cost should consider community colleges and online distance education schools; these often cost significantly less than private institutions.  If you’re going back for enrichment purposes and don’t need a degree, consider auditing—it’s often free, even at the more expensive schools. 

Anyone considering returning to school should fill out a FAFSA form for government student aid.  Check out a searchable financial aid database like or to find scholarships for older students.

Some states also fund government scholarships for adult and nontraditional students returning to school.  Go to the Department of Education website for your state, and look under grants, scholarships, or financial aid.

Some schools offer experience credit that could save a lot of money and time in getting a college degree—especially for older adults with a lot of workplace experience.  Check out this article on life experience credit and how to go about earning it at your school.

The technological gaps are simply too great

If you’re reading this article online now, you may have all the skills you need to start.  Some courses of study only require word processing and online research skills; and even then you may be able to do all your research at the library and use a typewriter if you’re more comfortable that way.  Other programs may require more advanced computer skills.  Online schools expect students to know how to upload and download documents, use email and online forums, and be familiar with basic Microsoft Office programs such as Word and PowerPoint. 

Check with your school or look over the syllabus to see what’s expected.  If you have limited experience in these areas or need help in Microsoft Word and other programs, check out your local library.  Public libraries often have free classes for seniors on basic computer skills.

Nobody goes to college for the heck of it

Some people think of college as an all-or-nothing investment: either you go back full-time and earn a degree, or you don’t go.  And adult students in general need to be particularly conscious of why they need a degree because it’s such a big investment of time and money to earn one.  However, many seniors don’t need a degree—but they still want to go back to school.

If you’re considering going back to school but don’t want a degree, you have a few options.  Auditing allows you to attend classes for free, although you won’t participate in graded assignments and tests.  Open Courseware is a bit like auditing a class online; you’ll get access to all the materials, handouts, video lectures, and even tests and assignments given in class, although you won’t have access to the professor.  Many seniors attend classes at local community colleges part-time, taking classes when they fit into their schedules and budgets.

Getting there would be too difficult

Some seniors no longer drive, and public transportation isn’t always accessible or convenient for those with physical handicaps.  That’s where online education can help.  Online schools bring the classroom to students’ home computers, so seniors can learn without having to worry about getting to campus.

Going back to school is a challenge for students of all ages.  But a growing number of seniors are heading back for many different reasons.  Seniors who choose to go back to school may find more familiar faces than they expect.


Back-in-school Over a year ago

At 65 decided to return back to school. Enrolled into a Junior College and taking a Phlebotomy course. After having worked in the business world for 40 years, the challenge is a struggle although very rewarding. Enjoy matching mind and skills with ages 17-49. Rewarding, rewarding, rewarding. Have thoughts are going back to school?

blog comments powered by Disqus