You may think you took your last exam years ago, but retirement is the perfect time to learn something new. Not only is the act of learning known to keep aging brains agile, you now actually have time to dedicate to discovery. Whether you want to pursue a degree, invest in a passion project, pick up a new skill, or visit a place that’s always fascinated you, there are more avenues than you might imagine to help you do it. While many educational resources aren’t geared specifically to seniors, many do offer special discounts or programs for older people.
The following lists of resources and ideas can help you get on the right track to finding an educational opportunity that suits your goals and needs.
Revisit Campus Life
Whether you’re interested in getting a college degree or just taking some college-level courses, senior status offers some unique options not available to younger students, notably the ability to take college courses without paying for them.
Some college institutions only allow seniors to audit classes. However, at least one institution in each state offers some form of reduced or waived tuition for those seniors who want to earn a degree. Often the only cost to seniors is books and fees, but that is a small percentage of what a full college education costs these days.
The following resources can help connect you with higher education opportunities in your area or online:
- Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). OLLI offers noncredit courses with no assignments and grades to adults over 50. In addition to services and programs designed to help mature adults, the institute has an extensive list of universities that offer classes in global events, the arts, history, health science research, and financial planning at 100 or more locations across the country. To be eligible to participate in OLLI courses, you must be over 50 and pay a fee to become a member. Depending on the university, seniors may qualify for other discounts.
- Online Course Report. Whether you want to add a new skill, a certification, or learn about an unexplored topic, the Online Course Report has several free university courses of interest from elite institutions like MIT, Yale, and Carnegie Mellon. Their website boasts 5400 courses in complex areas like aerospace engineering, physics, biochemistry, philosophy, and more.
Make the World Your Classroom
The joy of travel is as much about discovering something new, sparking curiosity, and gaining new perspectives as it is about leaving your comfort zone. Take a deep dive into the cuisine and local culture or experience a place where history was made. Whatever your interest, travel can offer hands-on learning and experiences that classrooms can only talk about.
Educational travel opportunities for retirees:
- Road Scholar and Elder Treks. Two of the biggest names in educational travel geared specifically to seniors, both of these organizations offer tours with a wide range of destinations and educational focuses.
- Smithsonian Journeys. This nonprofit travel group is affiliated with the Smithsonian and focuses on educational travel to various locations. Experts, including professors, scientists, curators, and diplomats, lead over 350 educational trips each year to every continent.
- Naturalist Journeys. For avid bird watchers and nature lovers, this company specializes in nature and birding tours. Looking beyond birds and their habitat, the tours also explore natural history, culture, and geology.
- Your alma mater. Many colleges and universities offer educational travel opportunities, often led by faculty, just for alumni. It is worth looking into what’s available from your alma mater or local university.
Virtual travel is also an option for those whose budgets or physical limitations make leaving home more difficult.
- National Park Service. Visit The park service offers virtual tours of places like Crater Lake National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the Clara Barton National Historic site.
Take a Class Without Leaving the Comfort of Home
Online opportunities have taken off in the last few years, and while they don’t allow for in-person socialization, they are convenient and often inexpensive. Several online sites have opportunities for seniors to learn a particular skill, hobby, or language, and the good news is that many places offer seniors these courses for free.
Online course resources for seniors:
- EdX. A glance at the website shows courses in architecture, art, cybersecurity, fashion, history, and more. These free courses are self-paced and offered by leading universities.
- BBC Language. Seniors who want to brush up or learn a new language can enroll at BBC Language for free. Some popular language courses include French, Italian, Chinese, German, and more.
- TedEd. The popular Ted conference series invites leading academics and business executives to lecture on cutting-edge social and technological subjects. Attending the conferences is pricey, but TedEd allows anyone to watch recordings of the conference lectures for free.
- Harvard, Yale, and MIT. These top universities offer open learning initiatives that give anyone access to online versions of many of their undergraduate courses. Registration for these programs is quick and free.
- Smithsonian Associates Streaming. Tickets are available to members and non-members for online lectures and courses covering a diverse range of arts and sciences topics.
Give Your Time, Gain a Learning Experience
Volunteering can be more than a way to get involved and get out of the house; many volunteer opportunities also serve as educational opportunities for the volunteer. Docent positions often provide training and education to guides interested in participating. Sharing knowledge with a young person who is just learning can help you brush up on subjects or even open new areas of exploration.
Opportunities for volunteering for retirees:
- Become a docent. A docent is like a resident expert in a specific area of expertise. Many museums and wildlife organizations offer the opportunity to become a docent. They will often train and educate you in subjects meaningful to their mission in exchange for you volunteering your time to guide tours and interact with visitors.
- Americorps Seniors. This volunteer organization offers opportunities to seniors 55 or older. Choose from various activities to volunteer for something that fits your interests and abilities.
- SCORE. If you have been an entrepreneur or business person, SCORE offers an opportunity to share your expertise with small business owners. This nonprofit organization is always looking for mentors to work with new entrepreneurs.
- Smithsonian. This storied institution signs up digital volunteers to categorize data for various research programs. This opportunity is particularly appealing to those who love nature and science.
This article is intended for general informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial or tax advice. For more information about whether a reverse mortgage may be right for you, you should consult an independent financial advisor. For tax advice, please consult a tax professional.