What Are the Best Online Degree Programs for Seniors?

By Alexander MiradorLast Updated Jun 24, 2020 7:18:18 PM ET
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One national survey recently revealed that more than half of adult Americans between the ages of 23 and 55 have considered going back to school. For some seniors, retirement gives them the opportunity to finally earn the degree they dreamed about when they were young but never had a chance to accomplish.

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Some experts point out that older adults in their 50s or 60s still have plenty of time to enjoy significant economic gain in entirely new careers after completing advanced degrees. For seniors who are considering going back to college, the following guidelines can help you find the best online degree programs for older students.

Associate Degree Programs

Seniors who want to earn or complete an associate degree can choose to do so online for convenience. Online associate degree programs typically consist of courses that students can complete in as few as two years. Older adult students, however, can choose a flexible online program that allows them to complete courses at their own pace.

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Examples of associate degree programs that seniors can pursue include bookkeeping, tax preparation, real estate, paralegal, art, accounting and child development. The choices for online associate degree programs are extensive, numbering in the hundreds. That means that seniors have a very good chance of finding a degree program that fits their area of interest.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Seniors who have already earned their associate degree can seek an advanced degree in their particular field of expertise. Some of the most popular degree choices for seniors include psychology, accounting, business, engineering and medical billing. Some seniors may want to pursue brand new career paths or self-employment in another industry. For many students, a business degree related to their former careers, such as photographer, hair stylist, tailor, writer and trainer, can be rewarding.

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Master's Degree Programs

Seniors who already have a bachelor's degree can pursue a master's degree through online master's degree programs offered by a number of graduate schools around the country. Of course, these programs require students to pursue advanced degrees in the same or related field as their previous four-year degree. Seniors can benefit by pursuing an advanced master's degree in fields like nursing, accounting, public health, business administration and more.

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Doctoral Degrees

Online Ph.D.s are also available for seniors who are seeking to advance their master's degrees. Eligible seniors seeking doctoral degrees may want to refine their specialties or continue their prior research. They often seek doctorates in law, philosophy, history, biology and literature.

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Universities with the Best Online Programs for Seniors

Pace University offers the Encore Transition Program for seniors. Students can complete credits to go toward the requirements for associate and bachelor's degrees, and the program also helps senior students adapt to new careers with career coaching.

The state of Florida has a long-standing association with seniors and retirees, so it’s fitting that the University of West Florida offers hundreds of course options for older adult students. Tuition is even free for senior Florida residents.

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The University of Washington offers 18 online degree programs. In fact, it has one of the most flexible online degree programs that seniors can take part in from any location around the country or even the world.

Other highly reviewed colleges with lots of positive ratings and online degree programs for seniors include the University of Minnesota and Mississippi State University. Seniors can also explore their own states’ colleges and universities to find distance learning opportunities that best suit their preferences. Those who are working with limited budgets can often take advantage of tuition waivers for seniors that also apply for distance learners.

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Other Benefits of Going Back to College for Seniors

Apart from career and economic advancement, seniors can also benefit in other ways from going back to college and earning a degree. Taking advanced college classes helps older adults keep their minds active. Countless studies point to the fact that seniors who read and regularly engage in problem-solving games have better cognitive functions than those who don’t. Other studies suggest that seniors who continue to support and challenge their cognitive skills have better memory function and retention, and it could even help prevent senile dementia.

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Some seniors and retirees end up living by themselves, isolated from the busy world that they were once part of with colleagues. Some research points out that such living conditions can make an individual feel detached, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. Going back to college — even as distance learners — allows seniors to engage others in a virtual classroom setting. Activities that foster interaction and collaboration help them form bonds and achieve a sense of importance and belonging.

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There are a number of important considerations for seniors when they’re ready to choose an online degree program to pursue. Reaching out to the program's counselors for additional information can help them narrow down their choices and get their questions answered. After all, choosing the right degree program as a senior adult is just as important as choosing one as a fresh high school grad.