Seniors In College: Exploring New Horizions

Sure, going back to get that high school diploma or finish that college degree can be quite an accomplishment. But that’s not the only reason for going back to school. It’s a great way to “get a life.” School can be a lot of fun when there’s no pressure involved, and these days, where is the pressure going to come from? With all the life skills that we have picked up along the way, we’ll probably be the smartest guy or gal in class.

There are two basic reasons for starting or going back to college in our senior years: to create or enhance career opportunities, or for personal enrichment – it’s something we always wanted to do. Your reason for going back will play a big part in how you pursue your objective.

Career Enhancement:

If your reason for starting or returning to college is professional, there are many programs designed especially for seniors that can help you prepare for your “second act.” Some schools around the country offer EncoreTransition Programs. These programs offer opportunities for older adults to acquire new knowledge and skills that employers need, gain credentials, and prepare to “move up the ladder” if you are still working. Although they can be beneficial for any career objective, their primary focus is to teach you how to translate your years of experience and existing skills in new ways to improve your community and the world.

Another great way to enhance your career by way of secondary education is to enroll in online college courses. These courses are very accessible and very flexible. They are offered by colleges all over the country in any subject you wish to pursue.

Online courses can be synchronous, which means everybody meets at the same time, or asynchronous, which means the materials are posted and you work at your own pace. Some schools will even provide you with a laptop computer that is yours to keep when you finish the course.

In either case, you must be disciplined and committed, or you will find yourself falling behind and getting frustrated very quickly. Schools that offer online programs that are great for seniors include:

  • University of Washington
  • University of Minnesota
  • Mississippi State University
  • Pace University
  • University of West Florida

Credit For What You Already Know

One of the really nice things about going back to school or starting school at this stage of the game is we don’t have to start from scratch. There is a ton of stuff that we have done that we can get college credit for:

  • work experience – think about it; all the jobs you have had this past umpteen years has given you a wealth of knowledge that can translate into Lord knows how many credit hours. Even if you’ve had only a couple of jobs in your work history, you still have a plethora of transferable skills.
  • different courses you have taken here and there
  • certifications
  • training programs
  • military experience

Test Your Knowledge

There are several ways to get college credit for work/life experiences. The two most popular ones are the College Level Exam Program (CLEP), and the Dantes Subject Standardized Tests (DSST).

The CLEP program features 33 single-subject college exams and five general exams. Single subject exams are just that. They cover material in one particular subject. For example, if you take the Biology CLEP test and pass it, you’ve saved yourself a whole semester of going to Biology class. Not only that, but since the test only costs around $80, you’ve saved yourself a bunch of money.

The five general CLEP exams cover first-year course material in English composition, humanities, college math, natural sciences and social sciences. The nice thing about them is if you pass one of them, you could qualify for CLEP credit for several classes! That one test can save you a lot of time and money. CLEP test results are accepted at nearly 3000 colleges and universities around the country and online.

The DSST program offers many of the same basic tests that the CLEP program offers, but it also has offerings in subjects such as Introduction to Business, Human Resource Management, Computing and Information Technology and the like. If you’re going to school to get back into the work force with a new, well-paying career, this might be a good place to start. Like the CLEP Program, each test costs around $80.

Between these two programs alone, you can save hundreds – even thousands! – of dollars, and save a couple of years of class attendance, as you work towards your “second act.”

There’s Financing Out There

These days, with all the bad press about student loan debt, many people have lost sight of how reasonable a college education can be – especially for us seniors. By taking advantage of the aforementioned programs, and federal, state and local grants and scholarships, not only can we leave college debt free, the impact on our pocketbook can be minimal.

Unless you plan to foot your college bill out of your pocket, the first place to start your quest for financial assistance is with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is the form that the federal government, states, colleges and other organizations use to award financial aid. It opens the door to grants, scholarships, work-study programs and all sorts of financial aid that will possibly pick up your whole tab.

If you have yet to earn your first bachelor’s degree and can demonstrate the financial need, a Federal Pell Grant may be just the ticket for you. This grant does not have to be paid back unless you drop out of school or change your enrollment status. The maximum amount you can receive is adjusted for inflation each year and will generally cover the cost of tuition and books for a year at your local community college, and put a few bucks in your pocket for expenses.

Another good source of financial assistance is reduced – or free – tuition. Every state in the Union has at least one institution of higher learning that offers free or reduced tuition for senior citizens. Check your state for schools, eligibility and program particulars.

Personal Enrichment

So, maybe you’re not looking to get back in the workforce. You want to learn some new stuff and “expand your horizons.” This, too, is a great reason to go – or go back – to college. Your local community college campus is a great place to “get involved.” It will change your life.

Whatever you like to do, you can find a club or organization that shares your interest, or you can start one. You can also explore activities that you’ve always been curious about, get into something completely out of your comfort zone, and take advantage of a truly diverse social and cultural setting.

Senior Presence Rising On Campuses

The hallowed halls of higher learning no longer echo only the footsteps of the young. For many seniors making a living and taking care of a family necessitated putting our college plans on pause. Well, a bunch of us are hitting the “play” button now that we have the time and opportunity to revisit those dreams of a college education.

The number of seniors in college has been rising for the past several years and it is expected to continue to grow. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are presently about a half a million people at least 55 years old enrolled in college. Because of our life experiences, knowledge and maturity, we usually make better students than the “traditional” student.

Seniors are generally very committed to their “mission”, and have clear goals and the necessary motivation to achieve them. Because we are “older and wiser,” students and faculty tend to treat us with more respect than our younger counterparts and in some cases even hold us in reverence.

Go For It

You’ve thought about it long enough. Make that move. It will be a new chapter in your life that will be more fulfilling than you could have possibly imagined. Many of us have harbored a regret that we did not get a college degree for decades. Well, there’s no time like right now to make that dream come true.

So go on, take that leap of faith. You won’t be sorry. You’ve been sorry you didn’t long enough. I look forward to hearing about your experience.




C.al Jones


  1. I am a senior and have no plans to go back to school. However, I feel this is a very informative article for seniors who have thought about continuing their education. Thank you for your research.

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