College for Seniors: Going to College for Free

Have you ever dreamed about getting a college degree or furthering your education, but figured the expense put it outside your reach? Well, if you’re over 50, you’ll be happy to know that your higher education options are not only a lot cheaper, sometimes they’re free.

Lots of schools offer free and discounted courses, both live and online, for mature students looking to keep their brains active, meet new people with similar interests, grow their knowledge, reboot their careers, or just learn something they find interesting. At some schools, the magic age is 50 while others set the bar a little higher at 65. However you look at it, you can take advantage of your golden years to learn something new without taking on the crippling debt of a recent high school graduate.

The Benefits of Going Back to School

If you ask someone to tell you about their school days, the stories you’ll most likely hear will revolve around that person’s friends, maybe a favorite teacher, or the clubs, extracurriculars, and sports teams they belonged to. The message is clear: the relationships you built in school are just as meaningful as the education you received.

As adults, we tend to lose touch with friends. If we didn’t get married or start a family, chances are high that most of our friends did. People become too busy working and caring for family to nurture friendships. Once our kids are grown, we often find it difficult to rekindle old friendships or make new ones. As a result, many people become isolated, especially after they retire. Going back to school – whether to a community college or a university or simply a community center offering – inspires meaningful connections with others and ensures you spend time interacting with other people, even if it’s only for a few hours a week.

Of course, the main goal of school is learning, and studies show that the learning process helps improve brain health by reducing cognitive decline and dementia. Students have to solve problems, conduct research, and, of course, remember things, all of which strengthen the brain through growth of new brain cells.

Finally, if you’re looking to improve job prospects, begin a second career, or stay current (or get ahead of the curve) in your industry, continuing education helps you get there.

What Sorts of Classes Are Available?

Colleges, universities, and community centers across the country offer an enormous variety of courses, including both credit and non-credit classes. Here in the Phoenix-Metro area, Maricopa Community Colleges – all 10 campuses – offer anyone aged 65 or over a 50 percent discount on tuition. At ASU, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers non-credit classes to anyone over the age of 50; all you have to do is pay a $20 membership fee each semester ($10 during the summer sessions).

Arizona is hardly the only state offering these benefits. UCLA, NYC, Georgetown, University of Texas Austin, and so many more offer free and reduced tuition for mature students. Free courses range from film history to criminology to entrepreneurialship to writing, while discounted tuition programs typically allow students to take any course offering so long as there’s an open seat.

In addition to formal education programs, libraries and community centers are an amazing resource for those looking to increase their knowledge or learn something they’ve always want to learn.

Where Can I Find More Information?

Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to discover where to find these offerings. You can begin with a simple Google search, such as “Free Courses for Seniors.” Also, check out the websites for local colleges, as well as local community and senior centers. Offerings vary from program to program – qualifying age, discounted versus free, types of classes – so it takes a bit of research, but the rewards are huge. Forming new friendships, improving your cognitive health, learning something you’ve always wanted to learn, and expanding your horizons are only a few of the benefits of continuing your education.

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