6 Tips for Older Adults Thinking About a Degree or College Classes

Show the world that it's never too late to start learning by heading back to school.

Published March 17, 2023
older man learning on his laptop and taking notes

College is marketed as this midway point between childhood and adulthood that funnels you through your early 20s and spits you out on the other side with a piece of paper and some know-how that'll get you a stable future. Yet, we never stop learning, and there's no actual age barrier to studying new skills and subjects. If you've matured and are looking for college courses for older adults to expand your current life, these tips will help you pick the perfect path for your third act.

Tips for Older Adults Looking to Start College Courses

In spite of its cultural reputation, college isn't only a young person's activity. Naturally, we tend to get wiser as we age, and so we're primed in a way to absorb all of the knowledge the world has to offer that our still-developing brains in our 20s aren't.

Before you jump headfirst into the first program that accepts you, consider these tips.

Determine Why You Want to Go Back to School

older man learning in classroom

There are a myriad of reasons why someone middle-aged or older might be thinking about going to college for the first time or heading back to school. In fact, here are just a few examples:

  • You couldn't afford college until now.
  • You were raising a family and didn't have the time to attend.
  • You've discovered a new skill or subject you'd like to know more about.
  • You want a new challenge.
  • You want to get more comfortable with digital work.
  • You want to try a different job or career.
  • You want to expand your skills or advance your current career.
  • You want to start your own business.
  • You want to keep your brain engaged and active.
  • You might want the sense of accomplishment that comes with college courses or a degree.

There's many more; the reason you want to go doesn't matter so much as the fact that you figure out what it is. Once you know the why, you can look for the right programs to fit your needs.

For instance, if you're looking to learn some more about digital marketing to enter a new field, you'll probably only want to take a few courses to learn the poignant information rather than tackle an entire degree.

Think About the Best Degrees for Older Adults That Apply to You

If you're thinking about a degree, start by looking at the reasons so you can make the decision that fits your life. According to U.S. News and World Reports, some of the most in-demand fields for seniors include teaching, administrative assisting, nursing, real estate, sales, financial services, management, and consulting, among others. While these are some possibilities, ultimately the best degree for any older adult is one that really matches where you are in life and what your goals are.

Good options could include two-year degrees or accelerated programs in a new field, a bachelor's or advanced degree in your existing field, or simply getting a degree in a specific area you're interested in. Whether you're wanting to advance your career or have the sense of accomplishment that comes with getting a degree, there's no right or wrong no matter what your age is.

Check Your State's Policy for Free or Reduced-Fee Courses

Every state in the United States has some form of incentive to bring in older students to their college campuses. The specifics vary from state to state, but places like AARP have collated all 50 states' policies in one place.

Depending on where you live, you might be able to get free classes, reduced fees, or even free tuition. For example, North Carolina residents who are 65+ can audit classes at any UNC state school to avoid paying registration or tuition fees. Similarly, California residents 60+ can attend classes at any of the state's universities for free. If you're thinking about going back to school full-time or just attending a few classes, make sure you brush up on the advantages your state offers.

Don't Over Commit Yourself

Entering into a new adventure can be exciting, but it's important that you don't overcommit yourself at the very beginning. If you're still in the workforce, consider starting with only one course and seeing how you fair. School can be exhausting, especially when you add the other responsibilities that life throws at you. Don't overdo something that's supposed to be fun by taking on too much at once.

Don't Think That College Is the Only Way to Learn

older woman sitting on couch on her laptop

Unlike 15-20 years ago, college isn't the only place you can go to learn more. Thanks to the internet, there are far more places where you can sign up for self-driven classes on specific subjects that you're interested in. Some are free while others have costs associated with them, but they're just as valid as going through a traditional program.

So, if you're interested in something specific, take a look at these other digital learning options that will filter out the gen ed noise and get you straight to doing the fun stuff.

  • Masterclass - Masterclass has a huge catalog of courses created by experts in their fields about so many subjects.
  • Skillshare - With a paid subscription, you can browse Skillshare for all sorts of different video courses on a variety of topics.
  • Babbel - Babbel is a subscription-based online language learning platform that helps users from every skill level learn a new language.
  • Coursera - Coursera partners with universities and professional organizations to bring online courses on all sorts of subjects to you. They have certificates, free classes, and so much more.

Enjoy the Chance to Continue Learning

At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that you're supposed to be enjoying it. If the entire process to get there's making your life horribly stressed, maybe you're looking at the wrong programs. Learning can be fun or fulfilling and it shouldn't be anything less.

School's Back in Session

You might feel like there's a stigma against older people from attending school. Whether it's the idea of being surrounded by younger people, not knowing how to work the newest technology, or feeling like you somehow 'failed' the first go-around, your fears don't have to control your decisions. Choose to pursue your interests and make your future filled with learning by heading back to school in whatever way works best for you.

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6 Tips for Older Adults Thinking About a Degree or College Classes