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Money-saving steps for Lifelong Learners at Minnesota Colleges and Universities

As a senior citizen living in our beautiful state of Minnesota, I recently embarked on a journey to fulfill a lifelong dream of going back to college. I had heard the State of Minnesota had some great programs to lower college tuition, and I want to share my experience with fellow seniors who might be in a similar situation.  In this article, I will guide you through the steps I took to reduce my tuition costs and make pursuing lifelong learning more affordable.  The cost of credits can vary but range from zero dollars to about $10 per credit.  Other fees may also apply, like a registration fee.  Recent legislation will likely reduce the cost to zero for anyone with an income under $80K per year.  

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Step 1: Choose a College Wisely

The first and crucial step in lowering tuition costs as a senior citizen is to choose the right college or university. In Minnesota, many institutions offer tuition discounts and special programs for senior citizens. Research colleges in your area and inquire about their senior citizen tuition policies. Look for schools that have favorable policies, such as reduced or waived tuition fees for older adults.  Pay attention to their policies on when they “accept” senior students into their program.  Some schools will not accept discounted fee students until after all of the full fee students have a chance to sign up for a class.  If a class is full, and you wait, you may limit your ability to get into another class.  I found the community colleges the most difficult to get into because the classes were often full–however, after the semester started many people dropped out, and space would open up.  In this case, however, you would likely miss the first class and a lot of important information.  Missing the first class just adds to my anxiety, so I prefer to try other classes or schools.  


Step 2: Determine Eligibility

Once you've identified potential colleges, contact their admissions or financial aid office to determine your eligibility for reduced tuition as a senior citizen. Each institution may have different age and residency requirements, so it's essential to clarify these details upfront. In my case, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I met the criteria for reduced tuition at the college I wanted to attend.


Step 3: Gather Necessary Documentation

To prove your eligibility for reduced tuition, you'll likely need to provide some documentation. Commonly required documents include proof of age (such as a driver's license or passport), proof of residency in the state of Minnesota, and proof of retirement or senior status. Make sure to find out what documents the school(s) you have chosen require.  


Step 4: Apply for Admission

After ensuring you meet the eligibility criteria and have the necessary documentation, it's time to apply for admission to your chosen college. Follow the regular application process, and remember to mention your senior citizen status and desire to take advantage of reduced tuition in your application.


Step 5: Explore Financial Aid Options

Even with reduced tuition, college expenses can still add up.  Books, class fees, and other costs are higher than what I remember from the '70s! Don't forget to look at online resources for books. It's essential to explore additional financial aid options that may be available to you as a senior citizen. Scholarships, grants, and federal financial aid programs can further reduce the cost of education. Visit the college's financial aid office or search online for scholarships and grants specifically for older adults.  


Step 6: Register for Classes

Once you've been accepted into the college and secured any available financial aid, it's time to register for classes. You can work with the college's academic advisors to choose courses that align with your educational goals or interests. They can help you create a schedule that accommodates your needs as a senior learner.  Most colleges and universities in Minnesota, including public institutions like the University of Minnesota and various private colleges, offer online courses. The availability of online courses can vary by school and program.  This may be very desirable during the winter months, you could even take classes if you travel away from Minnesota.  


Step 7: Stay Informed

Remember that college policies and procedures can change, so it's essential to stay informed about any updates to the senior citizen tuition program. Attend orientation sessions, read college newsletters, and communicate regularly with the college staff to ensure you're taking full advantage of benefits.  Being a senior and talking with the instructors has been very helpful–in general, instructors I have worked with go out of their way to help me know my options. 

If you are seeking a degree you will take classes with the same homework and grade expectations as the students around you.  In many cases, you can just audit a class and still receive the same learning benefit but without a grade.  I am not seeking a degree so I enjoy just auditing classes.  I also found communicating with the instructors before registering was beneficial.  They could guide me as to whether the class would have room for me. 

As a senior citizen in Minnesota, I've found that pursuing lifelong learning is not only possible but also affordable. By choosing the right college, meeting eligibility requirements, applying for admission, exploring financial aid options, and staying informed, you can significantly reduce your tuition costs and embark on an enriching educational journey. Don't let the fear of high tuition fees hold you back from achieving your academic or learning goals—you can even do it remotely and stay warm!


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