Many retirees want to go back to school. Whether to study subjects of passionate interest in depth, or to pursue practical courses in preparation for a new career, retirees see their new freedom as an opportunity to chase new dreams. Many universities across the United States actively recruit adults and seniors, both to casually pursue interests in various topics by auditing courses as well as to enroll in full degree programs. Seniors have more options than ever.
Some Options to Study When Selecting a University Location
Because so many colleges and universities welcome seniors, retirees who aim to pursue continuing education can put as much weight behind the location as they do behind the university itself, in selecting an appropriate retirement destination. Boulder, Colorado, offers a wealth of outdoor adventure activities; Austin, Texas, the excitement of a large city and an extra-large campus. Middlebury, Vermont, and Hanover, New Hampshire, on the other hand, offer more intimate learning experiences in a small-town ambience. Retirees still need to look at all the other variables that make up a comfortable retirement: housing costs, local taxes, access to health care, senior activities off-campus, and more. But get online, start downloading course offerings, and you’ll find the perfect retirement spot in which to continue your education.
One thing to look for in a university is what, specifically, it offers seniors pursuing continuing education. Many state schools invite seniors to audit courses free of charge. You’ll most likely need to clear your request with the professor, particularly if the class is small and there is limited space. But auditing is a great way to find out about a range of different topics; you may decide to pursue a specific subject in more depth later. If you want to take a class for credit, many institutions will offer substantial discounts to seniors. A full degree program, likewise, will usually come with a reduction in cost. And many colleges and universities have implemented special programs designed specifically for retirees. Such a program would be ideal, if you would be more comfortable studying with a group of adults close to your own age rather than a college-age crowd, with whom you may have little in common.
South Eastern USA
The choice of a particular college town depends on so many variables, it’s hard to enumerate a specific list of “best” destinations; it depends on your preference. Many college towns that often appear on such lists are in the south: Charlottesville, Virginia; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Athens, Georgia are all medium-sized college towns in which large state universities play a major role in civic life. The cost of living in Athens is perhaps 20 percent lower than it is in Chapel Hill or Charlottesville, and state and local taxes in Georgia are also marginally lower. But UNC and UVA tend to rank higher in terms of educational quality than the University of Georgia. You can make these kinds of comparisons endlessly, but the best strategy would be to take an extended road trip, visit all three towns, and see what feels right to you.
Austin, Texas, is home to another large southern state university, but Austin is one of the U.S.’s fastest growing cities, with a population of nearly 800,000. Austin is the state capital of Texas, and the state’s governors are forever running for president, so there’s a lot going on in town apart from campus life, despite the enormity of the University of Texas campus and student body (over 50,000 students, including graduate students). Living costs in Austin are quite reasonable, and Texas does not impose a state income tax, so the state is very affordable for retirees.
Colorado and Oregon-Outdoor activities
Two other often-mentioned retirement college towns are Boulder, Colorado, and Eugene, Oregon. Boulder is within spitting distance of the Rocky Mountains and winter sports; students from eastern states have traditionally flocked to the University of Colorado to take advantage of the skiing more than the academics, and there is no reason retirees can’t follow this same strategy! Eugene, at the southern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, also offers a variety of outdoor activities, including rafting and kayaking. Neither Boulder nor Eugene are particularly cheap places to live, but Oregon does not have a state sales tax, making everyday purchases easier to manage.
Small Town/Small Campus
If a small town and small campus are more to your preference, many small colleges offer programs for seniors as well. Two New England towns that are popular among senior students are Middlebury, Vermont, and Hanover, New Hampshire. Middlebury College is one of America’s foremost liberal arts colleges; the student body of 2,400 includes students from more than 70 countries. The college is well known for its Bread Loaf School of English, a summer graduate program in English literature, as well as its intensive language program, which offers instruction in ten languages during summer sessions. Middlebury is the only college in the United States to offer a Doctor of Modern Languages degree. If you have a particular interest in language study, you should give Middlebury serious consideration.
Hanover, New Hampshire, is home to Dartmouth College, the smallest of the Ivy League schools. Sewanee, Tennessee, is home to the University of the South (often referred to as “Sewanee”), also highly ranked as a small liberal arts college. The university’s School of Theology is an official seminary of the Episcopal Church; Sewanee also offers graduate programs in literature, creative writing, and other liberal arts topics. And a good option in the west, in the southwest corner of Colorado, is Durango, a small town that is home to Fort Lewis College. The college started out as a military fort, then became a boarding school for native Americans. In the 1920s and 1930s, the college gradually evolved into an institution of higher learning, first offering courses in agricultural and technology and now offering a full liberal arts program.
Whatever your preference, you will be able to choose from among several good options. Do your research and plan at least a few road trips to prospective destinations — then enjoy your retirement as an adult student.