When you think of the phrase “college student,” you probably picture a person between the ages of 18 and 25. Though many grad students and post-graduate applicants are well into their 30s and 40s by the time they get around to pursuing higher education, we still imagine a college student as a young person; boys barely of shaving age, and girls still wearing braces and bows in their hair.
But for lots of students, a college education can take a lifetime to achieve. Retiring from a career at a young age gives a person plenty of time to finally study a favorite subject or area of interest, so many “non-traditional students” may first enter college or return to a university in their 50s or 60s. It isn’t unusual these days to see college students with gray hair in undergraduate courses; colleges even offer specific scholarships to such students, hoping to draw in people who may think they are too old to earn money for tuition and other educational fees.
For many people, taking college classes isn’t a means to a career. Expanding your mind is a perfectly good reason to go back to college, and for some people, they simply don’t have time to pursue their academic careers until their full-time jobs are over. It isn’t unheard of for an older person to want to pursue a new career or learn more skills at the college level to make themselves eligible for better jobs with higher salaries. The additional training required to get these jobs is often found only at the university level. And while attending college is more expensive than ever, there are plenty of scholarships for senior citizens who want to go back to college, for any reason at all.
Types of Scholarships for Seniors
The first thing we should do is define exactly what makes a person a “senior citizen.” Every scholarship or grant award will have its own age-range, some with no age requirements at all. But generally speaking, a person in America is not a senior citizen until they are “of retirement age,” which currently rests at somewhere around the age of 50. For example, you can join the American Association of Retired People at the age of 50, and a number of scholarships aimed at seniors set the cut-off point at age 50.
Historically, women of senior age have more access to scholarship money, thanks to the fact that it has simply been harder for women to gain access to higher education than men. The aforementioned AARP gives out hundreds more scholarships to low-income women over the age of 40 than they do to men.Contact a college or university that you’re interested in attending for special offers they may have for students considered “senior citizens.” Most colleges these days offer lowered or even totally free tuition to seniors who qualify, but the only way to know if to contact each school individually. If all you are interested in is expanding your mind, and not earning official college credit, you may be able to do what is called an “audit” of a certain number of courses each semester at no expense. An audit allows you to learn without earning a formal grade or transcript.
For seniors who aren’t chasing a formal degree or an actual transcript, you should look for trade schools, colleges, or universities that have special classes on the books aimed at non-traditional and senior students. These classes often cost less than standard college classes, are shorter in duration than a traditional college semester, and may even be available for free. There are even scholarship programs geared at this type of student, such as the Road Scholar program, a take-off of the famous Rhodes Scholar scholarship foundation. This program lets seniors combine a love of travelling across the country with a desire to expand their minds. For more on the Road Scholar program, check out the Road Scholar Website.
Some senior citizens are home-bound due to illness or physical injury. Thankfully, for those seniors who are unable to attend traditional college classes due to illness or injury, most online college course programs have senior scholarships, just like traditional college settings. A final avenue for senior citizens to consider when looking for a break in the expense of college and university education: senior citizen tuition tax deductions currently available through the IRS.
Examples of Senior Citizen Scholarships
For just one example of thousands of such offers, Marygrove College in Michigan gives anyone aged 50 or older an across-the-board 50 percent reduction in tuition. Another school, Independence Community College in Kansas, gives every student aged 55 or older some form of scholarship aid, and Methodist University in North Carolina offers senior citizens access to college courses with no cost at all. Take note, however, that you’ll probably still need to buy your own books, pay your own course fees, and be responsible for other costs of attending college, such as travel to and from school, parking permits, etc.
The state of Kansas is a great model for what other states could do to help senior citizens expand their academic access. In Kansas, all state residents who are 60 or older are earn a fee waiver at state-sponsored colleges and universities. Take note, however, that any course you take through this program doesn’t count towards earning you an actual degree. The idea behind these courses is to allow seniors to expand their minds or study a subject they’ve always been interested in as an auditor only.
The Go-60 Program at Penn State is an example of an actual free tuition offer to seniors (people over the age of 60) for which they can actually earn college credit for the time they spend in class. This program offers qualified applicants totally free tuition if you are a Pennsylvania resident who is retired or working part-time, or any Penn State alumni or employee.
Opportunities for senior citizens at the college level are improving. The trick is to contact a college or university that you’re interested in attending and finding out what offers are available to you. You might also want to check with the AARP or any other senior citizen program you’re a part of to find out what types of college aid offers you are eligible for.