Back to the Classroom

By Robert F. Bornstein, PhD and Mary A. Languirand, PhD

One of our main retirement goals-at the top of our wish list-is to go back to school. We're both students at heart, and we look forward to taking some classes (like economics, astronomy, and music) that we didn't have time for when we were younger.

Of course, we're not alone. Many schools offer adult education courses at night (or on the weekend), for nontraditional, part-time students. It might also be possible for you to enroll in or audit a regular undergraduate class if what you're hoping to study isn't available through the adult education program (some colleges allow this, others don't).

Both options have their advantages. Adult education classes usually address material on a less technical, more accessible level, and they tend to move at a more measured pace. On the other hand, regular undergraduate classes address a much broader array of topics, and you're more likely to find one that matches your interests.

If you do take an undergraduate class, be advised-things have changed. Not just course content, but college culture as well. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Most courses have websites

    The syllabus will be posted here, as will the required journal articles and book chapters (the era of checking out reserve readings at the library is long gone). Many professors use course websites to post assignments and announcements as well, or have online discussions about class material. Most course websites are quite user-friendly, and colleges typically provide online or "helpdesk" support if you get stuck.
  • Textbooks cost $100+

    This stems in part from the fact that textbooks have pictures (and those with color pictures are especially pricey). Fortunately, you can buy many textbooks used at the college or university bookstore, or through online booksellers-just Google "used textbooks".
  • PowerPoint has replaced the blackboard

    Most classrooms no longer have blackboards at all; they now have "whiteboards", and markers rather than chalk. But few professors use these very much these days. Expect most or all of the material for your courses to be presented via PowerPoint, a high-tech slideshow that integrates text, images, and online media (like clips from YouTube).
  • Everyone texts during class

    It takes some getting used to, but 24/7 texting is now the norm among the college set. Some professors have very strict rules about this, others are more lax, but be prepared to see many of your classmates texting regularly throughout class. (If you find that upsetting, know that many students-other people too-are also texting and chatting while they use the bathroom. In a word, ew.)

Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand are the authors of When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In Home Care, which is available at, or may be purchased directly from HarperCollins Publishers.

Our latest book is entitled How to Age in Place: Planning for a Happy, Independent, and Financially Secure Retirement, published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House.