Tips on Paying for College as a Retiree
Most collegebound high school seniors know the importance of applying for scholarships to help pay for college. But senior citizens heading back to the classroom can also cut their costs. And the great part about being a senior is that there are lots of ways to save on tuition and other expenses.
Seek out scholarships for senior citizens. "It's not just grandchildren who can win scholarships but grandparents too," says Gen Tanabe, author of 501 Ways for Adult Students to Pay for College. For example, Northern Michigan University has a scholarship that covers full tuition for students 62 or older before the start of the semester, although fees are still required. But you need not restrict yourself to scholarship money designated for senior citizens. There are also awards for adults of all ages. Tanabe recommends the Calgon Take Me Away Scholarship and the Jeannette Rankin Foundation grants for women 35 and older.
Audit free or at reduced prices. Many universities allow senior citizens to audit classes at no charge or at a discount. "It's a bargain," says Mike Feinsilber, 72, who pays $50 to audit a history class at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., through the Senior Citizen Auditor Program. "If you are not interested in earning a degree but simply want to gain specific skills or knowledge, this is an ideal and inexpensive way to do so," says Tanabe. Additionally, Feinsilber says he doesn't have to take exams, write papers, or even do the readings, although he usually enjoys the books.
Look for tuition waivers. Many public colleges will waive tuition for senior citizens. A number of states, including Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Virginia, have statewide tuition waiver programs for senior citizens who wish to attend public colleges. The states that don't have tuition waivers sometimes offer tuition discounts to senior citizens. The South Dakota Board of Regents says that any South Dakota resident age 65 or older may enroll in a public university for one quarter of the full tuition cost. "It provides remarkable value to the citizens," says James Shekleton, general counsel for the South Dakota Board of Regents, "and an opportunity for them to come back and benefit from some of the facilities they have helped to finance over a good many years." Many community colleges also waive tuition for senior citizens or charge reduced rates.
Take classes just for seniors. Some colleges offer continuing education classes exclusively to adults 50 and older, usually lasting four to eight weeks. "It's a cohort of people who have similar interests and similar life experiences," says Kali Lightfoot, executive director of the national resource center for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a collection of 93 noncredit senior citizen programs nationwide that cost between $25 and $450.
Call your local college and ask. Many programs for senior citizens are not well publicized. You need to call the school and ask questions, says Gabe DeGabriele, consultant and founder of the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education. "You don't have to go to the school down the street," says DeGabriele. "You need to find the program that's right for you."
Watch out for other expenses. Just because a program covers or waives tuition doesn't mean you won't have to deal with other expenses. The Senior Citizen Scholarship Program at Northern Michigan University says on its application that other charges, such as the student discretionary activity fee of $30.26, are not waived. The University of Connecticut waives tuition for senior citizens, but university and activity fees still apply. UC also allows seniors to audit classes for $15 a semester.
Try to save on books. "The books are the most expensive part," says Feinsilber of the class he is auditing at Georgetown. To save money on books, he takes classes with a friend, and they share the books. Students can also buy used books, shop around for the best prices online, or check books out of the library.
Factor in transportation costs. You must also budget for commuting costs. Allen Bernstein, 93, doesn't drive, but he still has to find a way to get to class at the University of Southern Maine. "I always have to figure out what is the local bus schedule," he says. If you do drive, you may have to pay for parking on campus.