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How to Get a College Scholarship if Youre Over 60 - Copy How to Get a College Scholarship if Youre Over 60 - Copy
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How to Get a College Scholarship if You're Over 60

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  May 5, 2016 | Enjoying Retirement

By Sonya Stinson

David Williams, 74, spent his career as an electronics engineer in the aerospace, computer and telecommunications industries, but his first love was drawing cartoons. With retirement, he took the opportunity to rekindle that old interest by going to art school.

Since 2008, Williams has taken at least 10 art courses at Seminole State College of Florida in Sanford, using the school’s tuition waiver program that provides free classes for students ages 60 and older. His landscape and wildlife paintings have earned him membership in two area artists’ associations, and he spends three days a week painting with other retirees at local senior and community centers. 

The college’s welcoming atmosphere for students of Williams’ age made going back to school an easy transition. “The schools are becoming more accommodating to elderly students,” he said. “I first thought there was going to be some difficulty there, but there never was.”

Retirees like Williams are discovering that 12th-graders aren’t the only seniors eligible for college aid. A number of programs offer tuition assistance to students ages 60 and older who want to get some credentials for a second-act career or simply to pursue a passion.

Here’s a sampling of what’s available:

Tuition Waivers

According to FinAid, at least 21 states and the District of Columbia allow students 60 or older to receive tuition waivers at some or all of their public colleges. While these programs generally offer free tuition for auditing classes, some charge a discounted tuition fee for college credit enrollment. Students must buy their own textbooks, and additional fees may not be covered by the waivers.

At Seminole State, participants in the waiver program must pay their own lab fees, said Jay Davis, the college’s director of communications and media relations. They may enroll free for one college credit course per semester, but not until the day classes start and only if the class is not filled at the close of registration. Eligible students can also use the waiver to audit a class for no credit. Eighty-six seniors took advantage of the waiver in the 2014-15 academic year, taking a total of 156 classes in subjects ranging from music to math.

With so many options, Williams is now even thinking about taking a course in chemistry—one of his weakest subjects as an engineering student—once he’s finished with some of the other art classes he wants to try.

In Ohio, the chancellor of the state’s Department of Higher Education and director of the Department of Aging introduced a pilot program in August 2015 that allows seniors to earn education vouchers at Youngstown State University in Youngstown or Eastern Gateway Community College in Steubenville by volunteering at one of three designated organizations.

The Business Journal, a regional print and online publication, reported that the new program, GIVEback. GOforward, will provide 100 Ohio residents ages 60 and older with a waiver worth three credit hours in exchange for 100 or more hours of tutoring and mentoring local children. Those who log 200 or more volunteer hours are eligible for the maximum six-hour waiver.

MedicareSimplifiedWhile those who have signed up so far intend to gift their vouchers to younger students, participants may also use the aid to go back to school themselves, said Jeff Robinson, director of communications at the Ohio Department of Higher Education. The results of the pilot program’s first year will be studied closely, with an eye toward a possible statewide expansion.

Silver Scholar Awards

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act authorizes Silver Scholar education awards of up to $1,000 to students 55 and older who perform 350 hours of volunteer service. Recipients may use the award for their own educational pursuits or transfer it to a child or grandchild, although the funds must be used within 10 years. The act also permits awardees to use the scholarships to repay some education loans and cover some non-college education expenses, such as for programs with Road Scholar, a nonprofit organization that organizes educational travel.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) has more information about the Silver Scholar awards on its website.

Other Aid

Seniors can also take advantage of other types of college financial aid with no age restrictions, including federal Pell grants and student loans, said Karen McCarthy, senior policy analyst at NASFAA. For working seniors, workplace tuition assistance is another option. As McCarthy noted, major employers often provide tuition reimbursement for attendance at area community colleges.

“Those generally aren’t specific to older students,” she said, “but to the extent that older students are more likely to already have a job and just want to go back to school to change their direction or get some additional credentials, that might be something that’s a benefit to them.”

A Smart Second Act

For Williams, the tuition waiver program at Seminole State was the ticket to his post-retirement transition from engineer to artist. His paintings are already selling at local art shows. 

“The self-esteem aspect of that was invaluable,” Williams said.

In his later years, continuing education has taken on a completely different meaning from what it had when he was working as an engineer.

“I read a lot of application notes and technical journals,” Williams recalled of his engineer’s life. “We had perpetual training all those years. Now, instead of learning for a job, I get to learn for the fun of it.”

From tuition assistance that’s tailor made for your age group to grants and scholarships that are open to all, there are plenty of financial incentives to encourage your back-to-school dream later in life.

Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on

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