Online College Programs for Seniors

Your average college freshman may not be fresh out of high school these days. Seniors are returning to college in record numbers, some to enrich their lives in retirement, others to go after dreams they put off while raising a family. Some attend local community colleges and other traditional schools, but for many, online learning is the way to go.

Seniors choose online learning for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few of the benefits distance education provides to those returning to school.

It’s less intimidating. For many seniors, going back to school can be a daunting prospect. The students and even the professors can be decades younger. While older adults are becoming more and more common in the classroom, there can still be some worry that the older learner will feel out of place.

In an online learning environment, age and other surface factors don’t prevent older students from participating fully and feeling comfortable. Participation is often assessed through a student’s contributions to forum postings and online discussions. In these formats, students can consider what they want to say and participate as much as they want without fear of being drowned out by more talkative students.

In addition, there is sometimes a worry among older students that professors will be impatient with their perspective—especially when their considerable experience contradicts an academic teaching. In online learning, age is much less of an issue between professors and senior students. Since online learning tends to attract nontraditional learners, most online professors are more accustomed to working with adult students.

Effectively, online learning negates most of the fears older students have about returning to school by removing age as a serious factor. Online, nobody needs to know how old you are—and many of the other students are also nontraditional learners.

It’s less expensive. Online school tends to be less expensive in terms of tuition than most private schools and some community schools. But the tuition isn’t the only place you’ll save as an adult learner. There’s no commute required, and books and supplies are often less expensive and more readily available online rather than at expensive college bookstores.

There is scholarship money available for nontraditional learners. As a senior, you’re eligible for the same financial aid through the FAFSA that traditional students apply for. Be sure to apply as close to January 1 before your first academic year as possible; Federal aid is often first-come, first-served.

In addition, your government at the state or local level may offer scholarships dedicated to nontraditional learners, and it’s likely to be worth your while to check out the Department of Education website for your state.

Online schools deal more often with nontraditional students than brick-and-mortar schools do. Because of this, they’re often more likely to offer life experience credit, allowing seniors to translate some of their professional experience to credits toward a college degree. Most schools require students looking for life experience credits to undergo a review process that can include standardized testing, a portfolio review, interviews and essays to determine whether your experience is analogous to any courses in your major.

It’s more flexible. Adult learners of all ages often have more difficulty committing to a full-time class schedule at a traditional school than younger college students do. Online learning allows you to study and attend class anytime and anywhere—allowing you to schedule study time around your other obligations.

For some seniors, physically getting to classes can be problematic. Some older students have difficulty driving due to health reasons, and public transportation isn’t widely available everywhere or accessible to those with physical handicaps. Online learning allows everyone to attend school no matter where they’re located—and no matter what physical limitations they face.

Online education provides senior students with an opportunity to go back to school to achieve lifelong goals and enrich their lives. It offers added flexibility in terms of scheduling and location. Online degree programs are often accustomed to meeting the needs of nontraditional students, so they’re more likely to be able to create a positive, welcoming environment for seniors—and meet their needs in terms of life experience credits and other concerns. It’s no wonder more and more seniors are returning to school—and so many are going online to do it.