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Tips for Senior Learners: Your Options for Returning to School

Nov 4, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

College isn’t just for kids fresh from their high school graduations anymore. Senior citizens are returning to school in record numbers—and many schools are adjusting their policies, practices and tuition structures to accommodate them. If you’re a senior citizen interested in going to college, here are a few things you should know.

Going to School for Free

Audit courses. When you audit a course, you attend classes without taking tests or getting college credit. Some schools will allow you to audit classes for free—especially if you’re a senior citizen.

In Oregon, for example, all public universities and community colleges allow seniors age 65 and older to audit classes for free, as long as space is available in the class.

Money and Mortarboard

Senior citizens who want to go to college shouldn’t let anything—from tuition payment concerns to mobility issues—hold them back.

With some classes, auditing is only available when there’s enough space—and priority is given to for-credit students—but it’s still a great deal for seniors. Use OpenCourseWare. Did you know you can go to school online at MIT, Utah State University, Johns Hopkins University and a wide variety of other schools for free?

Some schools post all their course materials—including reading materials, lecture notes, recorded lectures, and tests—online for anyone to use. You don’t have access to a professor, and you don’t earn credit towards a degree—but you don’t have to pay tuition, either. If you’re interested in going back to school only for self-development without the need for a degree, OpenCourseWare could be a great solution for you. Because it’s online, it’s also great for seniors with mobility problems—you can study anywhere that’s suitable for you as long as you have access to a computer and Internet connection.

Paying for School

Ask for the senior discount. Some colleges offer tuition discounts for seniors. St. Charles Community College, for example, allows seniors to attend classes for free—either on an audit basis or for credit. Other colleges throughout the country offer discounts from 10% to as much as half off for seniors above specific ages—the discount and age requirements vary by school. If you’re considering going back to school, it’s worth it to ask your college if they provide tuition discounts to seniors—they may not advertise it.

Check traditional aid options. If you’re a senior citizen interested in attending classes toward a degree, you’re eligible for the same types of aid traditional students stand to gain. Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application makes you eligible for Federal need-based grants as well as low-interest loans. You can also check out college aid sites such as FinAid, the College Board, or FastWeb to search national scholarship databases for free.

Look for scholarships specific to you. As a senior, you may be able to find special financial aid programs specific to you—either at the local or national level. In Virginia, for example, all graduate tuition is waived for senior citizens with limited income. In addition, if you have a military background, are a member of a religious or community organization that offers tuition scholarships, or have a relative working for a company that offers scholarships to workers and their families, you may be able to get additional financial aid that way—without taking out expensive private loans.

Senior citizens who want to go to college shouldn’t let anything—from tuition payment concerns to mobility issues—hold them back. With more and more seniors going back to school, you aren’t likely to be the only one over 65 on campus—especially at schools with active continuing education programs. You have access to most of the aid available to traditional students, as well as tuition discounts and scholarships just for seniors—and in some states, you can go to school for free. In addition, if you have difficulty getting to class, you can always take classes online—including using OpenCourseWare at some very high-profile colleges for free. For seniors, attending classes and earning a degree aren’t just dreams—they’re a reality.



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