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   To School Too Late?

For most, senior citizen years are a time to relax, maybe pursue a hobby, travel or just relax and let life go by. But, for many, retirement isn’t just a time to lay the goals of life down. It is a time to look back over life at the unfinished challenges and then go back and finish them. And for many, an unfinished goal in life is to go back and get that degree. Whether it is finally graduating from high school, finishing a bachelor’s degree or starting and finishing a masters or PHD, it’s a big challenge to go back to the classroom and get that certificate, especially as a senior citizen.

So why do it? This may be a question their children ask when they see seniors going after such an ambitious goal so late in life. But when you think about it, senior citizens have a right to be a bit offput by the question. Where is it written that seniors are denied the right to better themselves just because they are in the later years of life? Implicit in the question is “What is the point of you getting a degree since you are not going to do anyting productive in retirement and you are so close to death?”

The last thing senior citizens want is to be seen as people who are just sitting around waiting to die. Many a senior citizen have started an entirely new career and accomplished great things after 50. With the advances in medical science today, it’s perfectly logical that they could live 20-30 years or more “in retirement”. That is plenty of time to accomplish great things. And starting out this era of life with a good education makes just as much sense as a youth doing so as they start out on their first career. 

This is not to say that going back to school is going to be easy. If finishing a high school degree is the goal, the senior is moving into an alien world - one that was probably pretty hostile the first time around. The senior's presence in the high school or college classroom may be the source of some initial murmurs and they might take some teasing for being there. But those same teasers will come to admire what the senior is doing and even grow to enjoy having “grandpa” in class with them each day, and maybe actually learn something from the senior's vast experience.

On top of the social situation that may exist in a high school or college classroom, school is a challenge. The senior will have to get used to being in the classroom and listening to lectures, reading textbooks, taking notes, doing papers, taking exams all over again and surpressing the urge to set their instructor 'straight' on a subject or two. If they go after an advanced degree and take several classes, they will be a very busy senior citizen just keeping up with their studies.

But there are some joys one can expect from going after an advanced degree. College life and being on a college campus each day is, by itself, a very stimulating environment. And the senior may find themselves at a few pep rallies and enjoying campus life just like the other students. Being with young people each day can be energizing and a senior may find themselves looking and acting as much like the youth they “hang out with” as they do with their fellow senior citizens.

But the greatest benefit of getting that advanced degree is the pride of accomplishment a senior will get. If they are finishing their high school or bachelor’s degree, it no doubt nagged them all their lives that this was something that they started and didn’t finish. So by going back and finishing it, they close that door and take away the power of that nagging voice. 

Don’t be surprised if they fall in love with academic life. Learning is tremendously addictive and a senior may wish to go on for yet more studies in fields of learning that have always been fascinating. Nobody will turn away a senior's tuition dollars if they just want to be in college for the pure joy of learning. And they will be an inspiration to their fellow students when they see the senior succeed and they tell themselves, “If Grandpa over there can do it, so can I.”