Going back to school at 50 can seem daunting, but planning will ensure a smooth transition into the classroom. Once you choose your course of study, decide on full-time or part-time enrollment and whether you will study online or on campus. Then investigate testing requirements, sort financial options and send out applications.

Choose a Program

First, choose what kind of program you want to attend. According to Jane Glickman from the U.S Department of Education, older people have always gone to school part-time, but because of downturns in the economy, more are attending full-time programs. (Reference 1) Students can also choose between on the ground education and online learning. The Sloan Survey of Online Learning revealed that 4.5 million students took at least one online class in 2008. This was up 17 percent from a year before. (Reference 2) Online learning is growing in popularity and may fit more easily into older students’ schedules.

Testing

If you want to attend a four-year college or university for an undergraduate degree you will probably need to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test or the ACT, which stands for American College Testing. Community colleges usually do not require these tests. According to The College Board, the company that designs the SAT, the best way to prepare for the test is to take difficult high school courses and do well in school. (Reference 3) Older students can be at a disadvantage because they may have been out of school for a long time. However, practice tests are available and some students take practice classes. On average, students take the SAT once or twice and scores are sent to the schools of their choice. Graduate, law, business and medical schools will require different tests.

Applications

According to Dr. Don Martin, former admissions dean at Columbia University, “Institutions desire older students with work and life experience because of the value they add to the discipline being studied and discussions in the classroom.” (Reference 4) So applicants should play up their work history when filling out applications and writing college or graduate school admission essays. Martin says that even if your previous grade point averages were not strong, your work history may overcome these shortcomings. You will also need to find references for most applications. If you have not taken any academic classes in recent years, look to employers or colleagues to vouch for you.

Finances

According to Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO of IvyWise, an educational consulting company that helps older students go back to school, “Older students are less likely to receive school financial aid or private scholarships and will need to extensively research the options available for funding a college degree.” (Reference 5) However, you will still be able to apply for financial aid and educational loans. You should also check with your employer for assistance. Older students can also use money left over in their children's 529 Educational Savings Plans and can create 529 Plans for themselves.