Between the day-to-day demands of life, and fiscal responsibilities (like budgeting) necessary for retirement preparation, sometimes important aspects of planning for the future get overlooked. It’s not uncommon for someone to have spent their entire career with an eye toward their post-work life, only to retire and wonder, what am I going to do now?
Some people are fortunate to have had careers that they loved, gaining fulfillment and constructing a social network along the way. But even that comes with risk. People who love their jobs can find the isolation of retirement a letdown. Feeling a loss of purpose is one of the reasons that, according to the health website, mercola.com, recent retirees are 40% more likely to experience depression and substance abuse than any other adult demographic.
And let’s face it, not all of us got to work at our dream job, and some of us can’t wait to make a change. But that’s one of the things that’s so exciting about retirement: The opportunity for reinvention. It’s our time to try things we always wanted to try, and to become the person we always wanted to be.
With that in mind, and with the drawbacks of the isolation of retirement previously documented, here’s one post-career lifestyle choice that has become incredibly popular: when you retire, take all the wisdom and experience you have accrued, and go to college.
Why college? There are several reasons, all speaking directly to the continued growth and experience that so many pre-retirees and retirees list as a vital component to personal happiness. What follows is a list of some of the top reasons that, if you haven’t considered returning or attending college before, you should now.
Almost everyone else is doing it!
Colleges here and abroad are catering to mature students. According to a study by the American Council on Education, just 700,000 people over the age of 40 were enrolled in accredited colleges in 1970. Today, that number is over 5 million. The oldest student enrolled at Harvard this semester is 95!
College towns can be great places to live.
According to the financial news outlet Kiplinger, based on access to culture, sports, health care, low taxes, beauty, infrastructure and the median cost of owning a home, of the top 15 American cities to retire to, nine of them have been deemed “college towns,” which, according to the editors at The Chronicle of Higher Education, are “Places where the identity of the city is both shaped by and complementary to the presence of its university, creating an environment enjoyable to all residents, whether they are enrolled in classes or not.”
Even if you’re not enrolled in school, as members of the community, locals get access to the workout, art and health facilities that are located on campus. To more closely integrate disparate generations, dozens of colleges including Penn State, George Mason and Michigan State have constructed ultra-modern retirement villages right in the center of their bucolic premises.
You could study overseas.
The world’s population, especially in the West, is aging and in response, colleges and universities are adapting. The Sorbonne of Paris now has an average enrolled student age of almost 41. An homage to this shift in demographics can be found at universities throughout South America, Europe and Asia, many of which now devote considerable class space and resources to meeting the needs and expectations of their maturing student bodies. In fact, studying abroad for the over-50 set has become so common, that about 60 American colleges actually have campuses overseas with entrenched, well-funded and diverse programs aimed squarely at fulfilling the educational demands of seniors.
College can be surprisingly affordable.
There’s been a lot in the news recently about how high tuition and hefty student loans have buried our recent college graduates under a mountain of debt. However, the advantage of being retired is that college can actually be less expensive than it is for 20-somethings. If you’re over 50, Harvard offers you the opportunity to take any three courses in a single year for just $600. A healthy 120 universities in 49 states, including UC Berkeley, UCLA, and North Carolina State all have branches of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute—which serves the needs of older students—right on campus. Being a member of Osher means that to attend courses, you merely pay nominal dues instead of full tuition. Lastly, most colleges and universities offer retirees the option of “auditing” courses (sit in and learn without worrying about your grade), and some European universities (such as the Sorbonne) actually offer scholarships and grants to foreign retirees.
You could reinvent yourself.
Maybe you’re one of those people who always dreamed of teaching art history, running a cooking school, or becoming a graphic designer. Perhaps you have no intention of slowing down, and you see retirement as the opportunity to have the career of your dreams.
Good for you! (According to polling giant Gallup, 75% of people say they plan to work past the age of 65, with over half of those saying they plan to do so by choice.) With the average American lifespan approaching 80, for most people there’s ample opportunity (and time) to reinvent yourself and experience something completely new.
Said Professor Andrew Carle, director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University: “Today’s retirees and the baby boomer retirees want three things: They want active, they want intellectually stimulating, and they want intergenerational retirement environments. Well, I’ve just described a college campus.”
No matter what route your next phase of life takes, I urge you to consider attending (or living near) a college. Colleges and college towns conspire to help people meet many of the criteria for a fascinating and fulfilling life. The opportunity to keep growing is something that all of us should consider essential to our happiness as did Michelangelo, the famous Italian Renaissance sculptor, painter and architect. At a time when the average Italian lived to be just 29 years of age, he lived to be 89. Famously, Michelangelo’s last words were reported to be: “I’m still learning.”
I think we can all agree that “I’m still learning” is an epitaph well worth aspiring to.
For help in deciding the best course of action for your transition toward retirement, please contact: Hanson McClain