Senior Citizens in the College Classroom

Finding joy, purpose and fulfillment

By Donna Wood, CPA/PFS, CFP®

Retirement can often be a challenging time. Putting financial concerns aside, the transition from working full time and being committed to consistent goals to having no defined structure to your day-to-day can be tough to make. One way that some retirees, and senior citizens who are still employed full time, are finding purpose, fulfillment, and joy in this new season of life is by attending college or continuing education courses through a waived tuition program at a local college or university. 

Who is Eligible for the Waived Tuition Program in the State of Virginia?

As of 2019, the state of Virginia allows senior citizens to enroll in courses for free if their taxable income doesn’t exceed $23,850. If you have an income below $23,850 and are over age 60, you may be eligible to earn a degree through this program. However, even if your income is over $23,850, you can still audit a course for free – you just won’t be able to use the credit toward your degree.

Of course, students are still required to cover their own fees for course materials or lab work, when applicable. 

Senior citizens can only take three courses at once, but there’s no limit to the number of semesters or academic years you can participate in the program. It’s also important to keep in mind that you must meet the admission qualifications for the institution of your choice, and you may only be accepted to an individual course after all tuition-paying students have signed up.

What is a Class Audit?

One way that senior citizens with taxable income of over $23,850 can take advantage of waived tuition in Virginia is by signing up to audit a course. The difference is that auditing a class does not provide the student with credit toward a degree. For individuals over 60 who are still working part or full time, or are freelancing instead of following a traditional retirement path, this can be a great option. 

Auditing the class is, essentially, just enrolling and taking it like you traditionally would. You aren’t obligated to take courses that are in your specific industry (or the industry you were in before retirement if you’re retired at the time of enrollment). This is an ideal opportunity for you to explore your interests, learn a new skill, or take a course that inspires you.

How Can You Enroll in Virginia?

Qualifying individuals over age 60 fall under the Senior Citizen Higher Education Act and can apply to enroll in continuing education courses at the institution of their choice. Every college or university has a slightly different application process, so it may be helpful to contact the admissions or enrollment department at the college you’d like to attend. They’ll be able to give you more information about how to apply, what courses are available, and whether a class you’re interested in is currently full.

Why Go Back to School as a Senior?

There are so many reasons you might be inspired to go back to school as a senior. Many American adults have, at one time or another, considered the idea. However, the cost is often prohibitive, and there may not be enough time between growing your career, raising kids, and spending time with friends and family. Going back to school as a senior helps you to sidestep a lot of these problems that may have prevented you from continuing your education in the past. 

You may have more disposable income now that you’ve paid down debt and adequately saved for retirement. You may also have more free time on your hands as you run your successful business, or enjoy the benefits of being higher up in your organization. Whether you’re currently retired, reducing your working hours, or still working full time and loving it – waived tuition in Virginia is an exciting, cost-effective way to expand your horizons, continue your education, and enroll in courses about subjects you’re passionate about. 

Wood Smith Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), located in Haymarket, is a fee-only financial services firm that partners with its clients to simplify their financial lives. Wood Smith focuses on women, entrepreneurs and individuals with complex financial situations, providing objective and competent advice, education and services to help them develop and build their businesses and reach their financial goals.



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