One of the best ways to keep your mind sharp is to take classes, gain knowledge, and learn new skills. That's good advice at any age, but it rings especially true for older adults.
To encourage lifelong learning, every one of the 50 states offers some form of reduced (or even free!) tuition for seniors. In fact, there are so many options, we put together this list of resources and suggestions to start a learning adventure.
State Universities and Colleges
Many state universities and colleges offer programs for state residents age 60 and over (some even for 50 and over). Programs can vary widely from state to state and institution to institution. Some programs offer no-cost class auditing that won’t earn credits. Others offer low-cost classes for credit or non-credit. Some, like The College of Wooster in Ohio, offer community members of any age one tuition-free class audit per semester.
The University of Minnesota has a robust program for residents 62 and over. Seniors can audit classes for free or earn credits for just $10 per credit.
Looking for a program near you? The Penny Hoarder has a list of free or cheap learning opportunities for seniors in all 50 states.
Most urban communities offer a wide range of low-cost classes through their community education programs. These often focus on specific skills, such as photography, learning another language, or boning up on computer skills. But the range of options is usually pretty broad. For example, St. Paul Community Education offers everything from cooking and Driver’s Ed to business classes. Similarly, Minneapolis Community Education has a full range of opportunities, including lifelong learning for adults 55 and over. Check out your local community ed calendar to discover the opportunities.
Community Centers and other local resources – like parks, museums, and even retail shops – offer general and special-interest classes in everything from using your cell phone to beekeeping. The 350 Jewish Community Centers (JCC) across the nation are just one example.
The opportunities for online learning seem endless. Some of our top universities have free online classes, including Duke, Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Stanford. Many college and university courses are offered through companies like Coursera or Udacity. Or, you can choose from over 100,000 reasonably-priced courses at Udemy.
Benefits of Lifelong Learning
Aside from being just plain fun, lifelong learning has some added benefits for seniors. Here are just a few.
- Keep a Sharp Mind – This includes slowing memory loss, which learning new information and skills can help. In particular, focusing on new, unfamiliar skills can improve cognitive function.
- Make New Friends – Avoid the loneliness and isolation that so many seniors experience. Learning with others is a great way to make new friends and share new-found interests.
- Retain or Build Physical Abilities – Taking a class isn’t just good for the brain. It can be good for the body, as well. Learning to use new tools in a woodworking class can help strengthen the upper body, just as joining a bird-watching group can have a restorative effect on the whole body.
- Feel a Sense of Accomplishment and Purpose – Learning a new language, picking up a new skill, or creating a new work of art can all bring a deep sense of pride and even a renewed sense of life purpose. And that’s surely worth the price of admission!