12 Things Older Adults Should Do Before Going Back to School

Must-do tasks for older adults contemplating a return to the classroom.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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You’re never too old to go back to school. There are plenty of good reasons for you to decide to pursue an education as an older adult.

You may want to try a new career to make more money, or perhaps you want to learn new things since you have extra time to do so.

However, the decision to go back can be daunting. Consider these tips if you’re considering returning to make the decision easier.

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Determine why you want to go back

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Going back to school is a major decision. You need to figure out exactly why you’ve decided to take on this challenge to avoid throwing your money away.

Defining your motivation can be a smart way for you to focus on the process and the best way to do it.

But the process can also help you decide that this isn’t the right move and that you should try something else that may not take as much time, effort, or money.

Check for tuition waivers for seniors

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One of the great things about some states or colleges is that you can get tuition waivers if you’re an older student.

Check into the laws for your state or contact local schools and community colleges to see if you qualify for a tuition waiver.

If you qualify, find out exactly how much of your tuition is covered and if there are additional costs like books or other fees that may not be included in the waiver.

Consider the financial implications

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Returning to school has financial implications, such as using student loans to cover tuition, reworking your budget to pay for tuition, or spending extra money on campus for parking or food.

Consider these costs and make sure you include them in your monthly estimated budget to see if going back to school is feasible, especially if you retired early or are living on a fixed income.

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Look for senior-only classes

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Some schools may have continuing education courses specifically for seniors that might not cost as much as regular student tuition or are geared toward older students.

See if senior courses may cost less than a typical course at a college or university by visiting the school’s website or calling its enrollment office.

Think about taking online courses

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You may be intimidated about going to a college campus with younger students or might not have a college nearby with the programs you want.

Consider online courses instead that allow you to work at your own pace, try new options, or stay at home while going back to school.

Consider living close to campus

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You may also decide to immerse yourself in the college experience if you’re going back to school.

Think about moving close to campus, allowing you to walk to classes or enjoy campus life even if you’re doing so as an older student.

Find the best degree programs for older adults

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Some degree programs may be better for you to pursue than others. Consider vocational schools or a two-year program like an associate degree rather than attending school for four years.

You may also want to check on getting possible credit for a college degree you might already have or previous college classes that can count toward your new degree.

Review other options

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You may think of school as your only option to change careers or do something different, but other choices may be available.

Research certifications or qualifying for a license for a particular position. Your previous experience could also be a good base for you to change careers or try something new instead of school.

Set specific goals

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You may want to go back to school now that you’re older or if you’ve retired early. But why do you want to go back?

It’s important to set goals for yourself to keep you motivated and get a clearer picture of what you plan to do with the things you learn.

It can also help you better understand why you’re going back and what you want to achieve with your work.

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Don’t go overboard

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You may think college is easy now that you’re older and have more life experiences and decide to add extra classes to your schedule or take on extra projects.

But remember that college is more than just the hours you’re sitting in class. It can include work outside of school or additional positions like an internship.

Enjoy different campus amenities

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One of the great things about being on a college campus again is the campus amenities you can enjoy.

You may want to work out between classes at the school’s rec center or attend evening lectures or other events while on campus.

See if you can fit it into your schedule

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One of the great things about being older or retired is that you can travel more or fill your days with volunteer work and other activities.

So make sure you can fit college into your personal life if you’re returning to school while also balancing your other activities.

Bottom line

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Returning to school can be a rewarding experience when you’re older, so make sure you get the most out of it.

Consider putting college costs like tuition and other expenses into a high-yield savings account you can draw from when needed while also earning extra interest on the money in there.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.