Today, I received an email from Evelyn, a devoted parent from Tennessee. In her note, she said that she needed to get re-educated in order to survive. She had spent a lifetime as a parent and wife and had provided for the children but now there was nothing left. She was frightened and discouraged. Was this how her life was to end? Was awaiting death in a state of poverty her reward for being a loving parent and wife? She had tried before and applied for financial aid but had been turned down even though she had an annual income of only about $25,000. The system in which she had placed her trust had abandoned her at her most vulnerable point.

First, the college financial aid system is in place for all people, regardless of age. Anyone at any age who wishes to continue education, to get a degree, certificate or professional credential that may have been put on hold years ago, or a person who wants to change careers, or anyone with a passion for learning can and should apply to a college and complete a financial aid form (FAFSA). It is time for you to recover some of your own tax money.

Second, you should apply to and enroll in a degree or certificate program at a real public or private college near your home. And, if possible, you should enroll as a full-time student (12 units or more). This will increase the student budget and make you more eligible for need-based aid.

Third, if any of your children are still in college, you should indicate on the FAFSA that you are an independent student with a dependent in college. That will profoundly increase your eligibility for need-based aid along with an increase in aid eligibility for your FAFSA-completing children BIG time!  To benefit from the latter will require a bit of negotiating with the dependent student’s financial aid officer at his or her college to show that the parent had to return to college as a means of sheer financial survival and/or required for future employment in the parent’s field of interest.  Most colleges will work with you on this issue.

Fourth, when listing your housing status on the FAFSA, don’t list “at home”. Instead, list “off campus” making you eligible for more financial aid which may help you pay some of your housing expenses while in college.

Be prepared for the colleges to discourage you (mostly because they don’t quite know what to do with you) and be emotionally steeled for your friends to make fun of you (they are just jealous of your initiative and feistiness). Don’t let anyone discourage you! Your brain does not die after 50. In fact, it thrives on use. So use it. There’s still a lot to learn.

You can probably think of all sorts of reasons not to re-enter the college system at an advanced age but you only need one reason that overrides all else; you simply choose to do it. Your presence in a typical college class will lend a dimension to that class that the brainiest young adult can only imagine; you bring the wisdom of a lifetime, something that is often absent in our hallowed, sheltered halls of ivy.

I am not a huge fan of Madison Avenue and its advertising campaigns but there is one I like. It belongs to Nike and it simply says, “Just do it!” But reentering college will not require athletic shoes or skin-tight, lycra-laced garments. It only demands one thing, heart.

 

Note: This short piece is a reprint of one of my earliest blogs. It was relevant a decade ago and is even more so in 2017.  Just do it!

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