Online College Courses for Senior Citizens

Today, senior citizens are returning to college to earn or finish degrees, to advance careers, and to learn new things. Their (re)entry into higher education benefits the classroom in two complementary ways. First, older students can enhance class discussions through their life experiences. Second, diverse classmates can offer older students new perspectives on the world.

In 2009, 40% of college students were over the age of 25; that number is expected to rise to 43% by 2020, according to NBC News. These numbers makes sense. Since humans now live longer, retired seniors have considerable free time on their hands. Going back to school not only passes this time in a worthwhile way, but it also helps improve memory and staves off dementia and other late-life issues.

Our guide — which provides information about free college courses for seniors, where to find financial aid, and the basics of online classes — will help seniors figure out if going back to school is the right decision for them.

Online programs are accessible and flexible. Many courses are asynchronous, meaning that you can log in to the course and do your work when it fits into your schedule instead of having to visit campus at certain times on certain days.

You can also attend schools around the country and the world. What's more, if you're lacking in this area, online courses help improve skills with computers and technology.

Online courses typically make use of learning management systems like Blackboard or Canvas, which allow professors to manage course materials and interact with students. These systems typically require an internet connection and work directly in your browser (e.g., Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari,or Chrome).

Course materials may include videos, online textbooks, and discussion though online bulletin boards or chat programs. Email is frequently used to communicate between students and professors, and exams are often timed, with students filing in questions or selecting answers.

As mentioned above, online classes are either synchronous, where everybody meets at the same time, or asynchronous, where materials are posted and students can read or view them on their own time. Most online programs include quick lessons on how courses are delivered in order to help new students adjust.

Online Classes Senior CitizensIn an online course, you'll need to dedicate some time, preferably each day or so, to working on homework, and reading and watching course materials. Asynchronous courses are popular, so checking in frequently can be helpful. Each online course is unique, and different professors will have different guidelines. Some might prefer communication through email while others might prefer the use of online bulletin boards so that all students can interact.

Programs offered at schools with a physical campus often hold graduation ceremonies, which online students can attend, for those who want to take to the stage and receive their degree.

What Do You Need to Take an Online Course?

First, you'll need access to a computer with an Internet connection. High-speed connections are generally better, but these can get costly. Note that most online courses have a recommended minimum speed for connections. A laptop is a good option if you plan to be working from different locations, and some schools provide them to students.

Second, some courses may require specific browsers, such as Google Chrome, which are free to download.

When choosing any program, make sure the school is accredited, meaning it has been approved by a regional or national accreditation board. Then, look for a school with free online college degrees for senior citizens. Many schools offer free or reduced tuition for seniors, and some will have services specifically geared toward older students. And of course, you want to find a school with a program that interests you.

Because more seniors are taking college courses, an increasing number of schools are offering discounted or free online courses for them. There are schools in all 50 states with options that allow older students to study for less. At the University of Alaska, for example, any student old enough to receive full Social Security benefits has her tuition waived. Some states mandate free or discounted tuition for people over 60.

In some cases, the course selection might be limited and based on space. Filling classes with engaged learners is a big priority, and universities with free tuition for seniors will help you find classes that qualify. Your state might offer options or individual colleges might, but finding free college for seniors is more likely than you think.

Eligibility Requirements

Finding free online college degrees for senior citizens can be tricky, as each school will have different requirements. Again, most have an age restriction, usually 60 years (sometimes 55) before a student qualifies, while others might base it on Social Security income. You'll have to do some research, and it's best to start looking in your own state or at schools you're already interested in attending.

Attending a School With Standard Tuition Rates

You may find yourself interested in a program or courses where you have to pay full tuition costs, and that can get expensive. Federal financial aid has no age restrictions, though, so you can still qualify for loans and grants from the government. Scholarships for senior citizens returning to college are a great option, and you can probably find others for which you qualify.

Another option for senior citizens going back to college is OpenCourseWare. This is a movement to bring free online courses to people around the world through the Internet. Universities like MIT and organizations like the Open Education Consortium offer these kinds of courses to anyone with an Internet connection and an interest.

Another option are massive open online classes, which are designed to reach as many people as possible. These courses are usually free, often taught by experts in their fields, and are great options if you're just looking to learn about something new.