When most of us graduate, we celebrate the idea of “being done” with school. But life has a funny way of changing our views. More retirees are returning to college than ever before, and it’s often for the sheer fun of learning.
Going back to school later in life can happen for many reasons. Some people want to finish a degree. Others want to sharpen their skills for a post-retirement job. Many do it for social connections and personal enrichment. In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of returning to college, how to pay for it, and what to consider before signing up.
Benefits of Going Back to School in Retirement
When we picture seniors returning to college, many of us imagine someone going back to complete the degree they never managed to finish. And while that’s common, it’s just a fraction of older students. Many retirees enroll for socialization, to hone their technology skills, or the simple joy of learning.
Whatever your reason, there are plenty of benefits to returning to college later in life:
- Meeting new people - Forming and maintaining relationships is one of the keys to building social wealth in retirement. Taking classes is a great way to meet new people with a variety of interests and backgrounds
- Health benefits - Research has shown that remaining physically and intellectually active is critical to reducing cognitive decline. Even if you’re not pursuing a degree, learning about any subject that interests you has cognitive benefits
- Personal enrichment - Many seniors struggle with a sense of direction after retiring. Going back to school can be a great way to find purpose and fulfillment in retirement
- Job skills - Whether you need to work after retiring or want a part-time job to stay active, learning new skills will be a boost. Certificate programs can be a great way to set yourself up for success without the expense of a 4-year degree
- Online learning - Thanks to online and distance learning programs, going back to school is more accessible than ever. It can be an especially great option for retirees in rural areas or those with busier schedules who can’t commit to being in a classroom regularly
Paying for College as a Retiree
College costs have risen steadily for the past 20 years. Paying that price can seem daunting, especially for seniors who might be living on a fixed income. The good news is that if you’re interested in going back to school, there are plenty of options to reduce or even eliminate the costs:
- Free class audits - Many colleges and universities offer programs that allow seniors to audit classes for free. While you won’t receive any credits, it enables you to enjoy the social and educational benefits without the cost of tuition. UC Denver and Colorado State University both have Lifelong Learners programs.
- Senior discounts - If you’re looking to pursue a degree or certificate program, seniors are often eligible for reduced tuition. The specifics vary, but many schools like Community College of Aurora offer up to 50% grants for seniors.
- Financial aid - Depending on your financial situation, you might be eligible for other scholarships, grants, or aid. However, it’s important to understand the tax consequences of accepting financial aid, as it can create an unwanted burden.
- Leftover 529 funds - Did you create a 529 plan to help your children or grandkids pay for college? You can set yourself as the beneficiary and use any leftover funds to cover educational costs, including tuition, fees, and books.
If you do incur out-of-pocket costs, you might be eligible for tax credits. The American Opportunity Tax Credit is a good option for first-time college students. It only applies for the first four years of higher education, and you must be pursuing a degree. However, the Lifetime Learning Credit has fewer limits. You can claim it every year on courses towards a degree, certification, or improving your job skills.
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Enrolling
Going back to school is an exciting idea, but you need to make sure it fits your lifestyle. Before you select a program, ask yourself these questions:
- What’s your goal? - There are numerous course types available, from four-year degrees and associate degrees to certificate programs, job training programs and continuing education classes. Whatever you choose, it should align with your educational goals.
- Will it help you get ahead? - If you’re going back for the sake of your career or job prospects, make sure the program will be worth the time and expense
- Will the courses match your learning style? - Some people need the structure of sitting in a classroom three days per week, while others like to learn on their own time. Make sure the classes you’re looking at match how you prefer to learn.
- Can you afford the full costs? - Remember, there’s more to college than tuition. Make sure to consider all of the costs, such as books, fees, and supplies, when determining your financial investment.
- Do you have the time to commit? - It can be enticing to sign up for a few different classes, whether it’s out of personal interest or to complete a program quickly. But you’ll need to be able to balance it with friends, family, and other time commitments.
Most importantly, ask yourself if you’ll enjoy going back to school. Retirement is the perfect time to find out who you really are. Whether returning to college is a stepping stone to something else or a pursuit of learning for its own sake, decide how it fits your goals and follow your passions.
Want to find out more about how to enjoy your retirement to the fullest? Get a copy of Retirement Secrets to learn the keys to retiring happy, healthy, and free.