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Continued education: Why you still have plenty to learn

May 22, 2015

It seems as though people who are in the midst of their college careers are often wishing the years away. Theyre in a hurry to leave study sessions behind and join the workforce. On the flip side, many graduates dream of returning to the classroom not long after tossing their caps in the air at graduation.

Do you crave formal classes and bona fide school assignments? Are you interested in a second career now that youve retired? Perhaps these goals seem out of reach, but new data from a variety of sources shows that a second round of learning and working may just be starting for you.

A healthy lifestyle for seniors should include physical and mental objectives. Learn why you should return to school or find a new job during your retired years.

Have you considered returning to school as a professional or a pupil?

College beyond your 20s
When you hear about college-aged people, you likely imagine millennials who are glued to their smartphones and complete most of their coursework online. Its true that most college students begin their degree programs shortly after completing high school, but universities arent exclusive to people in their 20s. Its becoming increasingly commonplace for retirees to get back in the education game and learn new skills.

The New York Times wrote about a woman named Helen White who went back to college in her 50s and graduated from George Washington University with a masters degree in sports management when she was 60 years old. Since completing her second degree, White runs recreation and sports events for older adults. According to the article, she wants to combat stereotypes about older people, show them how exercise can be fun and demonstrate the usefulness of a second college career.

Many colleges are shifting their focus to this generation thats hungry for education. NYT explained how 22 different schools including Columbia University and Cornell University gathered in March to discuss programs for older adults. Theyre looking for ways to make degrees less expensive and time consuming so more people have opportunities to learn something new. This can be done through hybrid classes, which meet occasionally while being completed online.

Community colleges are also an excellent option for adults seeking another degree. The American Association of Community Colleges has the Plus 50 program, which helps retirees find the right educational track.

A second career
Despite the retirement age growing each year, it seems people arent ready to settle down when they leave their lifelong careers. These days, many retirees find second careers, part-time jobs, volunteer opportunities and focus on learning new skills. Helen White is an excellent example of this trend.

A study conducted by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave found just how prevalent this mindset is. Nearly 75 percent of pre-retirees over the age of 50 plan on finding another job. At this stage, people are often looking for careers that are more flexible, rewarding and enjoyable.

"Some cognitive skills actually improve with age."

Your intellectual peak
If you think your mind isnt strong enough for the classroom environment, think again. Some cognitive skills actually improve with age. People often think cognition only declines once you reach a certain age, but research shows this thinking is incorrect.

A study published in Psychological Science analyzed how specific cognitive skills ebb and flow as people grow older. It began with online quizzes that were completed by roughly 3 million participants. This expansive data showed researchers that there wasnt a set curve for cognition in general. From there, the pool of subjects was narrowed down to 50,000 people across a range of ages. The group took more intelligence tests that honed in on different cognitive skill sets. Additionally, researchers analyzed retro data that focused on cognitive skills in older adults.

Results showed that people often continue building their vocabularies into their 60s and 70s. These numbers have increased over the years as more people complete college, join the workforce and stay active after retirement. Meanwhile, your cognitive ability to handle emotional situations peaks in your 40s and 50s. As you probably expected, your brain processes information slower and your short term memory begins declining early on - typically during your 20s and 30s.