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Alia CurtisOver 50 and Back to School

by Alia Curtis

One of the most pressing questions often heard about returning to school after age 50 is one of practicality: is returning to school practical for someone who should be considering retirement? The truth is that today, the security of retiring with a substantial income, worry- free housing, and the good life deserved after being employed for a lifetime is non-existent for many. Instead you are often faced with forced early retirement, job replacement, unemployment, and a market requiring skills you simply don’t have. The question of age practicality becomes moot because age does not determine practicality and retirement does not guarantee financial security.

The decision has to be based on survival. Viewing your situation on the grounds of survival clarifies direction, and a more practical question can be considered, “How can I survive comfortably as I progress into my retirement age?” If survival involves brushing up old skills or relearning new ones, returning to school is a clear-cut, confusion free decision. So the next question is, “Where do I start?”

You start at the beginning.

1. Be prepared to do research. Specific information is mandatory. Research what is required on your present job that will enable you to compete with the new generation. For example, the public school system is changing dramatically. In some areas, teachers that have been on the job for years have
to reapply for their positions. The new trend is charter schools and the demand for future teachers is skills that will rescue the student that has fallen through the cracks. These skills require techniques that improve communication between student to student and teacher to student. New approaches to assist learning will be in demand. A long-term teacher could research the higher learning institutions for degrees or certifications that will make her/him more marketable. If you are not employed, research the job market; find out what the top jobs are and what skills the employers require. If you are not sure what direction you want to go in I would suggest reference books like Cool Careers for Dummies, by Nemko Edwards, or consult your local library or online bookstores.

2. Having assessed the required skills, research the institutions of higher learning that offer degrees or certifications that teach or enhance those skills. You can request a syllabus in many cases and compare the curriculum and prices to determine which is best in terms of your needs. Many institutions have Web pages that answer questions concerning curriculum, admissions, financial aid, location, housing, contact information and/or scheduling. You can choose between distance learning or physically attending a college or university. If you are not computer savvy, your local library will provide you with that information.

3. Having found the institution of your choice, research the admission requirements from their brochure or Web pages and familiarize yourself with
application forms. Many downloadable forms are available online and to review or practice filling them out makes it easier to prepare for the paperwork
that is required.

4. Many perspective students will need financial aid. After determining what the cost of your education will be find out if the institution offers financial aid in the forms of grants, scholarships and/ or loans. It is best to familiarize yourself with financial aid applications and their deadlines. You can review the downloadable forms on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Web site. Reading and practicing filling out the forms clears some of the confusion in the application process. Applying online is efficient and convenient and directions are given step by step. It cuts down time in the personal financial aid application process. It clearly defines deadlines and once you have applied, it files and records your application. If you need to reapply all of your past information is available accessed by a personal PIN number.

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