The old adage to never stop learning doesn’t only apply to young adults. Learning can keep senior citizens sharp, too, which is why you may be interested in auditing some classes. However, if you don’t have much if any budget for this, can you audit classes for free?
Some colleges allow seniors to audit classes for free, including Clemson University in South Carolina, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers in New Jersey, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In fact, older adults can take courses tuition-free (or for reduced cost) in all 50 states.
If you’re eager to go back to school in your older age, then this article is for you.
We’ll discuss your options for auditing college classes, what (if anything) it will cost you, and how to start obtaining college credit in your golden years.
What Is Lifelong Learning And Why Is It Important?
Lifelong learners are people who take an active role in their own education, continuously acquiring new skills and knowledge throughout their life.
There are many different ways to become a lifelong learner, but one of the most popular methods is through educational programs specifically designed for adults.
These programs, known as Life-long Learning Programs (LLPs), offer courses and learning opportunities that cater to the needs of working adults, although they’re perfect for senior adults as well.
LLPs can be found at colleges and universities, as well as online and through community organizations.
While some LLPs offer academic credit, many offer non-credit courses that provide participants with the opportunity to learn new things just for the sake of learning.
How Can I Audit A College Class For Free?
Auditing college classes means that you are attending a higher education class without paying tuition costs, instead of taking it for academic credit.
You don’t have to do any of the assignments or take any tests, but you still get to listen to the lectures and participate in class discussions.
Some people audit classes because they’re interested in the subject matter but don’t need the credit (obviously, this is not the direction degree-seeking students would take).
Others do it because they can’t afford to take the class for credit, or because they’ve already taken a similar class and just want a refresher.
Whatever your reasons, auditing college classes can be a great way to learn new things and meet new people.
At any rate, considering you may have graduated from college many years ago or you never attended college in the first place, at this point in their lives, a senior auditor is probably less concerned with the credits and more concerned about all the knowledge they can glean.
So how do audit students enroll in a college class for free? Here’s how it’s done.
Step 1 – Select A College With Free Programs/Courses For Seniors
The United States has 4,360 colleges according to Research.com. Quite a few have programs that allow older residents to attend college for free.
Here’s a list to get you started:
- University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin
- The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia
- The University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas
- The University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon
- University of Minnesota Twin Cities in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- The University of Massachusetts Amherst in Amherst, Massachusetts
- The University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland
- The University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas
- The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Champaign, Illinois
- The University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida
- University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware
- University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut
- The State University of New York
- Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
- The Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania
- The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio
- Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia
- Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado
- Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina
- California State University System
Step 2 – Contact An Admissions Officer At The College To Ask About Eligibility
Many universities give you the option of selecting from an exclusively online education, an exclusively in-person education, or a hybrid that combines both online and offline learning elements.
We’d suggest researching each college on the list above to see which offers virtual education versus in-person classes. With online courses, older students can attend classes from anywhere, as long as they have a laptop or phone and an internet connection!
Once you select a college that’s nearest you or deemed the most suitable, you need to get in touch with an admissions officer.
Tell them that you’re an older adult and you’re interested in auditing a class or two under a senior citizen audit program. Stress that you’d like to take free classes.
Then ask about the eligibility terms.
The admissions officer should be able to provide all this information over the phone or through email.
Step 3 – Meet The Eligibility Requirements
Once you receive the eligibility requirements, you can review them.
What kinds of eligibility requirements are there?
Usually, to take a college class for free as a senior, you’re required to be a certain age. The range is typically between 60 and 65 years of age, but that does vary by college.
Other universities might require you to receive full social security benefits to be eligible.
The time frame that you’re allowed to register for a college course varies by the school as well.
Some schools will want you to register in the first or second sessions offered that semester while others will make you wait until all the college-aged students have registered. Then you can sign up for a class on a space-available basis.
Step 4 – Enroll And Expand Your Knowledge
If you’re eligible, then you can sign up for the class you want, if there is space availability, of course.
Wait until the class begins, show up as often as you can, and get the most out of the course. Remember to have fun as well!
Can You Audit Classes Without Being A Student?
A lot of people think that being a n official student is a requirement for being able to audit college classes, but that isn’t necessarily true.
In fact, many colleges allow senior citizens to audit classes even if they aren’t enrolled as students.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to audit classes, though.
First, you may need to get the permission of the instructor before you can start attending class.
Second, you may have to pay a small application fee to the college in order to audit the class.
If you select from one of the colleges in the section prior, then yes, you should be able to audit classes as a senior even if you aren’t an official student.
Community colleges are another suitable option for auditing classes without being enrolled in a program in any official capacity.
Can A Senior Citizen Go To College For Free?
Is it truly possible for a senior like yourself to go to college for free? After all, your working days may be behind you whether you want them to be or not, as you could lack the physical capacity to earn a living.
You worry about hidden fees even if a college advertises its auditing for free.
Well, you needn’t worry at all. Plenty of colleges and universities across the United States gladly offer free college classes to seniors who meet the eligibility requirements that we discussed above.
As a reminder, you usually have to be within a certain age range, and you might have to be on social security benefits as well.
Check in about your eligibility and enroll before the start of the semester. If you wait until the first day of classes, the class slots might be full, and then there’s typically not any more room for you to enroll until next semester.
Even if you find a college that you’re interested in that doesn’t offer classes for free, these schools often will reduce the tuition rate for a senior.
You might pay half the cost of the class or only pay a small audit fee of the overall price of the class, such as $50.
*NOTE: depending on the course you choose, you might also have to pay for course fees, such as course materials, lab fees, or other related fees, so ask if those are included before you go through the course registration process.
The payment structure varies by university, and so we encourage you to look into the school you want to enroll in and see what their payment structure is.
You will not have to pay anything close to what a college-aged student who is enrolled full-time would spend on their college education.
At most, you’d spend hundreds of dollars rather than thousands or very often, tens of thousands of dollars.
How Do I Start College Later In Life?
Of course, at your age, there are some natural concerns about returning to college (assuming you ever went in the first place). You’re going to be so far behind the regular students that you can’t help but wonder, is it even worth it?
It’s always worth it to build on your education and learn more. Here are some tips for starting college later in life that will set you up for success!
Choose What You Genuinely Want To Learn
At your age, it isn’t about college credits or career readiness anymore. This grants you the freedom to select college courses based solely on what sounds interesting to you.
Many college students wish they had this kind of freedom in choosing classes, so make sure you take full advantage of it!
Select An Education Model That Works For You
It used to be that if you wanted to take a class at a college or university, you had to physically be there, end of story.
These days, that’s not true anymore.
If your college is located close enough to your home and you’re still capable of driving, then you can always be a commuter (*be sure to find out if a parking permit is required to use the school’s parking lots).
For those seniors who struggle with mobility, you can take online classes or do independent study.
Online classes offer the full extent of one’s education that you’d receive with an in-person class.
You also get the added benefit of being able to attend when and where you feel the most comfortable, which is always important!
Don’t Take Others’ Opinions Too Seriously
Are you going to be judged for returning to school in your senior years? By some close-minded people, yes, you will.
While you can always take online classes and face less scrutiny, if you want to be in a physical learning environment because that’s how you learn best, then don’t let anyone get to you.
You’re out here living your dream and doing what you want, and that’s something that so, so many people wish they could do.
Don’t let anyone’s judgments hold you back!
As a senior, you can very often audit college classes for free or for half-off the cost of regular tuition (if not other discounts).
You have the option to select from in-person, online, or hybrid classes to suit your mobility and your lifestyle.
Learning is always a fun experience, and lifelong learning might even be able to ward off dementia. We hope you consider expanding your educational horizons!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the oldest age you can go to college?
Going to college at an older age used to be unheard of, but with the incredible advancements in education and organization in recent years, it has become much more common. The oldest age you can officially go to college depends on the school and its admissions standards, but some universities are welcoming students of any age to gain higher education privileges. You can choose part-time courses or programs with flex-schedules that allow you to study from home or at your own speed. There are also programs available for older learners who want to discover something new or take their career in a different direction – sometimes universities even have special enrollment pathways for mature students.