Lifelong learning serves multiple purposes. It helps to keep your mind active and sharp and you can be socially active and develop new social circles. You also have the time to pursue an education that may have been difficult while you had a full time job.

One of the best things about learning when retired is that many courses are either discounted or free. Some scholarships and grants may be available for those courses that are not free.

Some of the key considerations are:

Auditing a Class – Auditing a class is defined in most situations as taking a class for self-enrichment. When auditing a class you do not receive a grade or credit toward a degree and typically will not be required to take exams. Most schools or colleges require that you register to audit a class. Many schools do not charge for auditing classes although some fees may apply. In addition you may also have to purchase textbooks for the class.

The Classes – Classes available to older adults vary from the same classes provided to under-graduate and graduate students at colleges and universities to classes on various hobbies and other areas of interest typically offered at adult education facilities. Classes can be found at various locations including adult education facilities at local high schools, libraries and senior centers, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities. There are some classes that are specifically provided for older students including those from the Osher Institutes. The philanthropist Bernard Osher founded the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes in 2001 which offers non-credit courses with no assignments or grades to adults over the age of 50 at over 120 universities and colleges in 49 states and Washington DC. These are provided for minimal fees.

Online classes – There are many organizations and universities that offer their courses on-line, which provides another avenue of learning for those who are unable to physically attend classes. Many of these courses can be audited for free. Some universities have Youtube channels and offer lectures/course for free. You can also download podcasts of lectures from iTunes for free. Online courses/lectures can also be found at Video Lectures, and Academic Earth. Khan Academy, founded by Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, is a non-profit educational website. Its stated mission is to provide “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere”. You can check out several of the Kahn Academy videos on our site about finances and health.

Community colleges – Many community colleges provide courses specifically designed for those over 50 at reasonable tuition rates for those seeking credit. Auditing is available for free at most community colleges. A survey by The American Council on Education indicates that nearly half of adults over 50 attending courses do so at community colleges.

Waivers for Tuition – Waivers for tuition vary from institution to institution and State to State. Some institutions provide tuition waives for non-credit courses only while others provide these waivers only for credited classes. Some colleges/universities have one or more of the following requirements to receive waivers: State residency, minimum age, income caps, a high school diploma, proof of retirement, etc.. In addition some institutions may only provide classes/waivers if space is available. Over 50% of colleges/universities provide tuition waivers for older adults. Contact your local college/university for information on what they offer and if tuition waivers are available.

Non-Tuition Expenses – While there may be tuition-free classes available there are other possible costs to consider when taking classes. There may be registration fees, costs for books and other supplies, computer purchase and internet access costs, etc. Calculate all costs before signing up for a class.