It is never too late to go back to school or learn a new skill. In fact, data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that 41% of students who attended private, for-profit colleges in fall 2017 were ages 35 and over. About 33% of individuals who attended a private nonprofit school during the same time frame were ages 35 and older.
Individuals who retire early or find themselves with extra time on their hands for other reasons often thrive in an academic setting. Senior citizens can also benefit from additional financial aid opportunities. Certain financial aid programs consider anyone over age 55 as a senior citizen, while others consider individuals older than 60 as senior citizens. Some colleges may even offer free online college courses for senior citizens.
This guide covers important information for anyone considering pursuing an online degree during retirement, including the benefits of earning a degree and scholarships reserved exclusively for senior citizens.
Featured Online Programs
Why Get an Online Degree After You’ve Retired?
Retirement can serve as a great time to pursue a passion, and earning an online degree can help achieve fulfillment. These days, colleges across the country offer unique degrees and certificates in subjects like wine tasting and floral arranging. Earning credentials in enjoyable subjects like these can position individuals to turn a hobby into paid employment.
However, students don’t need to earn a degree with the goal of earning money. Thanks to free online classes for seniors, retired individuals can learn just for the sake of gaining new knowledge about an interesting subject, like American history or a famous writer’s works.
Studies show that exercising the mind can improve memory in seniors as well. For example, a study published in Psychol Sci reveals that seniors who learned a new skill, like digital photography or quilting, experienced more memory improvement than seniors who engaged in less cognitively demanding activities, like socializing.
How Does Online College Work?
Online college is similar to in-person college. Online learners gain the same valuable knowledge as learners who attend school in person, but they listen to lectures and engage in discussions online instead.
Online programs may feature synchronous or asynchronous formats. Asynchronous programs feature pre-recorded lectures that students can watch at their convenience before a set deadline. Synchronous programs require live class sessions and discussion chats. The best format simply depends on the learner’s preference.
To post assignments, tests, and lectures, professors use learning management systems. Typically, learners can access these platforms by visiting a website. These websites usually come with tutorials for users, and the website developers create them with user ease in mind. Common learning management systems include Blackboard, Instructure Canvas, and Absorb.
Some online classes use digital textbooks, but students can often order paper copies if they prefer. Other than textbooks, online learners typically only need a reliable computer and an internet connection to succeed.
When enrolling in an online program, be sure to pay attention to any in-person requirements. Some programs that advertise as online programs may require proctored exams or monthly on-campus meetings.
What Should You Look for in an Online College?
With so many online programs to choose from, seniors should keep a few standards in mind to select the right one. For instance, some programs offer free or reduced tuition for seniors. Additionally, some online colleges provide extra resources for seniors, like mobility assistance for occasional campus visits or technology training courses.
But one of the most important things a prospective student should look for is a program that interests them. Reading through course descriptions can give a clear picture of what a program covers.
Speaking with program graduates can also help individuals learn about what they can do with a particular degree. Program directors and admissions counselors can help interested individuals connect with program graduates. These faculty members can also provide prospective students with data like graduate success rates and student satisfaction rates.
Unfortunately, some online programs may lack quality and legitimacy, just like some traditional colleges. To avoid a poor-quality university, prospective learners should pay attention to a school’s accreditation status, which we cover in the section below.
Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to factors like student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and academic rigor. To earn accreditation, schools must regularly undergo evaluations from third-party accrediting agencies, which receive oversight from the U.S. Department and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation .
Schools may receive regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Several regional accrediting bodies accredit schools around the U.S. depending on where the school is located. For example, the Higher Learning Commission regionally accredits colleges based in the Midwest.
In addition to regional and national accreditation, online schools can hold accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission , which serves as the top accrediting agency for online programs and schools.
Degrees and departments within a school can also earn programmatic accreditation. For example, the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs accredits business-related programs. To check a school or program’s accreditation status, prospective learners can use the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs .
Can Seniors Go to College for Free?
Yes, it is possible for seniors to attend college for free. In fact, schools in all 50 states offer discounted or free online college courses for seniors. To qualify, individuals typically must possess U.S. citizenship and meet certain age requirements. Some colleges may consider individuals as young as 55 as seniors, while others consider individuals older than 60 as senior citizens.
Some colleges only offer free courses to seniors for non-degree credit. Other schools may only let seniors enroll in free courses after paying students complete enrollment. Therefore, some popular courses may fill too quickly for free enrollment candidates.
Due to the limitations of discounted and free online courses for seniors, some senior citizens may choose to pay normal tuition rates. Students can help offset the cost of a degree through financial aid opportunities, such as loans, scholarships, and grants.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows prospective learners to apply for federal financial aid. The government does not place any age limits on funds provided through the FAFSA. Students do not need to pay back most federal grants, and payments on federal student loans are not due until six months after graduation.
Scholarships for Seniors
Scholarships are an ideal form of financial aid because they do not require repayment. Applying for scholarships with a limited applicant pool, like scholarships reserved exclusively for older students, can increase an individual’s chances of earning one. Below, we outline three scholarships for senior citizens returning to college or pursuing higher education for the first time.
Jeannette Rankin Scholarship
Who Can Apply : Female students older than 35 may apply for this scholarship. The Rankin Foundation awards this scholarship to low-income individuals who are working toward an associate degree, vocational degree, or first bachelor’s degree. As part of the application, individuals must provide a written explanation of their goals and how they will use their education to give back to the community.
Alpha Sigma Lambda
Who Can Apply : Each year, the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society awards 14 $3,600 scholarships to adult learners earning an undergraduate degree. However, Alpha Sigma Lambda aims to increase the scholarship amount each year. The organization typically awards these scholarships to individuals who demonstrate financial need. Applicants must have already earned 24 semester hours at their current institution.
Amount : $3,500
The Adult Students in Scholastic Transition Grant
Who Can Apply : The Executive Women International (EWI) organization offers grants to adult women returning to school. Applicants must be experiencing economic, social, or physical challenges, and they must first apply with their local EWI chapter. The local chapter finalists are up for consideration for scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.
Amount : Varies
MOOCs and Open Courseware
Lately, gaining new knowledge has become even easier thanks to two forms of free online learning. Through OpenCourseWare , learners worldwide can further their education through free online courses. Anyone with a computer and internet connection can take these courses found on the OpenCourseWare site.
Seniors can also take free classes through massive open online courses (MOOCs). Even prestigious schools like Stanford University and Harvard University provide MOOCs. Schools design these courses to reach as many learners as possible. The instructors are often industry experts. Examples of noteworthy websites that host MOOCs include Cognitive Class, Khan Academy, Udemy, Coursera, and FutureLearn.
Both MOOCs and OpenCourseware Classes do not lead to degrees; they provide accessible opportunities to learn something new.