The After-50 Guide to Continuing Education

With the average retirement age increasing, many people over 50 are taking on opportunities to learn a new, necessary skill and stay marketable. In addition, many retirees take on second careers to supplement their pensions and stay active. With roughly 30% of the population older than 62 and financially ready to retire, it has never been more important for middle-aged and senior Americans to engage in professional development, particularly within employment sectors in which they can contribute and be productive past the age of 65.

Post-Retirement Careers

Those who are able to retire often want to work at least a part-time schedule in order to earn extra income and remain engaged with the world. Many even choose to follow through with dreams they once had as young people. As noted in a recent article in Forbes, ‘encore careers’ frequently involve stints with charity groups, non-profit organizations or other volunteer agencies. Many older Americans find fulfilling post-retirement employment with organizations such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps.

Others build on the skills they developed over a lifetime to create service-oriented second careers. One long-time litigator established an agency to find pro bono lawyers for social entrepreneurs. Another, a former PR consultant, became a senior move manager, helping others downsize their lives when they moved into smaller homes. Although their new careers may not be nearly as lucrative as if they had remained at their old positions, these seniors enjoy fulfilling second careers that reinvigorate them.

One profession growing across age groups is the home-based entrepreneur; those over 50, with their years of experience and fully developed professional skills, have a qualified advantage over younger self-starters. Some of the most common home-based job titles among the AARP crowd include handyman (or woman), real estate appraiser, senior helper, and financial planner.

Many seniors are tapping into their skills and flexible schedules to become freelance workers. Those who speak a second language are highly desired as translators. Others, whose first career was in human resources or conflict resolution, are often hired as mediators. Those who spent years conducting research and tending to details find work as blog and grant writers.

There are a few helpful guidelines for those switching careers later in life. First, think about what you want your life to be going forward and choose a career that fits that vision. Second, particularly if you’re thinking of investing in a new home based business or franchise, take it for a “test ride” first by volunteering in the field. Third, become visible on social media and other networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter.

Professional Development

Professional development is an ongoing enterprise for anyone who is serious about acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary for furthering their career. Although many individuals receive professional development opportunities through work, others enroll in online college courses and attend conferences and seminars to hone new skills.

Seniors can often take college courses at reduced tuition rates, and sometimes for free. According to a recent report, nearly 60% of accredited colleges waive tuition for older adults. There may be a few hurdles to jump through before you get the waiver, such as obtaining an instructor’s permission, but the savings are worth it.

Another frugal option is to simply audit a course. Since many professionals over 50 no longer have to prove their qualifications with a degree, simply having the knowledge to apply in the workplace is often sufficient. Community colleges are generally less expensive, and many offer reduced-fee classes designed for seniors.

One caveat: older adults should weigh the risks and benefits of college if they’re thinking of attending a full-tuition program. With fewer years left to recoup the cost of that tuition, it simply may not be worth paying for a new degree. One far less expensive option is to learn new skills through professional development seminars. Some of the most popular careers that can be started this way include medical transcriptionist, substitute teaching, practical nursing, freelance writing, and home-based healthcare.

Continuing Education

Whether seeking a second career or just satisfying an interest, a number of online course options are ideal for seniors. Even the under 50 set enjoy the flexibility and lower cost of the thousands of classes available on the web. Many courses are offered for free, a boon for those on a fixed income, and the flexible structure enables students to learn at their own pace.

One such online education site,, offers a wide variety of online classes that are free of charge. Courses are taught by top educators from colleges across the country; subjects range from genetics and calculus to digital programming and Greek mythology. Anyone in need of credentials, such as people hoping to launch a career in financial planning, can take a flexible online course and receive a verified certificate for a modest fee.

Others who are looking to move into positions with service organizations can also find informative and engaging online material. The courses offered at Edx, which are taught by professors from top universities like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, explore themes that have great appeal to those who wish to enter the public sector, such as justice and poverty.

Another option for seniors looking to broaden their minds is free educational content known as open courseware, or OCW. MIT has made nearly all of its course content available for free through the school’s OPENCOURSEWARE site. This open content is perfect for the self-starter who can learn on his own, such as an entrepreneur hoping to launch a home-based business.

Whether they are looking to take a different path or develop a new skill, older Americans have found that continuing their education is a great way to enhance life after 50. Take some time to explore the wide array of professional development opportunities, seminars and conferences, formal coursework and online materials designed to make your retirement years as much fun, fulfilling, and productive as the first 50.

Posted on 05/01/13 | by Staff Writers | in Career, Education | No Comments »

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