The Benefits and How-Tos of Continuing Education for Adults

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This guest post is contributed by our friend Amanda Wilks

While returning to postsecondary education (or applying for the first time) as an older adult this may not be the typical path laid out in our society, it has a surprising number of benefits—plus if you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you know that we’re not the type to follow the “typical path.”

We’re supporters of the forever student, the learning teacher, and the wise women that seek knowledge wherever they can—hey, most of us fall into one or more of these categories.

When it comes to college it doesn’t matter whether you choose to obtain a second degree for a career boost, or are returning to college or vocational school after dropping out years ago, or attending for the first time, we’re encouraging you to follow your dreams and step into that classroom.

Below, we'll consider why continuing your education as an older adult can be beneficial and offer poignant, inspirational advice for going back to school.

The Benefits of Continuing Your Education

For adults, and especially older adults, continuous education can be beneficial in terms of both career advancement and general well-being. While it may seem unusual compared to the typical college age to return to school, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that, in 2013, 8.2 million adults over 25 attended college.

Learning New Skills Can Make You More Competitive

Some adults returning to school are retired, but others seek additional classes in hopes of being able to earn more money or to learn more skills in order to become more competitive. If you are someone in a technology-related field, returning to school is the best way to stay up to date with the ever-growing technological field. 

In some cases, adults who apply for and attend college for the first time do it so they can get access to a higher paycheck.

Theresa Cardamone, who was 55 when she attended college for the first time, explains that she found herself unable to get a minimum-wage job despite having extensive life and work experience. This motivated her to return to school, where she is vice president of the undergraduate student council and holds a 4.0 GPA!

The Cognitive Benefits

Some adults who continue their education are looking to improve their career options, while others are returning in retirement for the sake of learning itself.

Especially in old age, actively using your memory can help guard against cognitive decline, and the challenges posed by college classes offer an excellent way for older adults to continue exercising brainpower.

When a Career Change is in Order

Going back to school after a break may help you advance in your current career. But for some, returning to school is the start of a career change. It is certainly challenging to make a dramatic shift like this one as an older adult, but some studies have shown that people who change careers later in life are happier and make more money.

For  Dr. Christiane Northrup, it simply took a little encouragement from her college adviser and her father to convince her to leave a job she hated and go to medical school. Now, she is an ob/gyn and a New York Times bestselling author. Essentially, while returning to school after a break or deciding on a career change may seem risky, for many older adults, the end result is a happier and more fulfilling life.

The How-tos of Continuing Your Education

If you are considering continuing your education, you may be unsure of where to begin. The exact process you take will depend on a variety of factors, including your age, your location, and the type of education you're looking to pursue.

You May Qualify for a Tuition Waiver

Few states offer completely free tuition across the board, but most states have options for free or reduced tuition for older adults, whether they are returning to university or community college or applying for the first time.

According to School Choices, “The state of California has the largest public post-secondary education system of all 50 US states. It is one of the strongest systems of public education in the world.”

If you do not meet the age requirements for tuition waivers, you can still fill out a FAFSA and apply for scholarships to help offset the cost of college. Tuition prices have risen astronomically in the past few years but there are options to help those who hope to return to school.

Find a Support Network

Depending on where you are applying, your college or university may have an office to support nontraditional students. If your school has one of these, use it—an office like this can be very valuable in helping you acclimate to life as an older student.

If your chosen school doesn't have a dedicated office like this, reaching out to other nontraditional students is another way to develop a support network. 

If you have not yet chosen a school, online forums can also provide a helpful support network. These networks are often full of people who have been where you are, and while they are informal, they can be an excellent source of advice and guidance.

Essentially, whether you want to develop in your career or learn for the sake of learning, returning to postsecondary education or applying to college for the first time as a older adult is admirable. When you have a clear plan and a support network, you will be more likely to have a positive, successful experience with continuous education.

Have you gone back to school in your adult years? Share your best tips in the comments below!

Author bio: Amanda Wilks is a regular guest blogger interested in the education field and social activism. For more of her work go to Twitter @AmandaWilks01.

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