What it is Like Being a 65-Year-Old College Student

It is one thing to say you want to take some classes. It is a whole other thing to actually do it. This is my experience being a 65-year-old college student.

I am taking college classes to get a better foundation of knowledge about communications. I hope it will help my blogging. Minnesota Statute 135A.52 sets up something called the Senior Citizen Education Program. The University of Minnesota’s explanation of the program can be found here.

How I got to be a student is a long story but the short version is: applied, accepted, attended orientation, declared my major, transcript analyzed to see what former classes counted, set up official account, prove I am over age 62, registered, paid, figure out how to get my textbook and that all took several months to complete.

What was supposed to be my first class was canceled because of a snowstorm. So our first day of class was during the second week of the semester.

At 5:50 A.M. on what became my actual first day of class, we got a robo-call from the University of Minnesota letting me know due to a public safety situation, parking could be an issue on campus. Turned on the news and there was a gunman holding hostages in a hotel room about two blocks from where my class met. So that happened. I took the bus from the St Paul campus.

I just completed my fourth class of the semester.

The professor is half my age. The 25 other students in the class are “college age.” During introductions, I learned most of them are freshman. I think technically I am an upperclassman but it has been over 40 years since I was last a student on this campus.

FYI – college-level classes require one to actually do homework and lots of reading. I can now confirm the other students are very smart. I think I am doing okay but the reality is, college is not easy. Success is not a given.

Taking a class takes time. It would be easier to watch some TV or play a video game than writing a speech, doing an outline, reading the text. During orientation, they said on average there are about 3-5 hours of studying per week per credit. Homework takes time. It is a 3-credit course and, so far, I have spent 8-10 hours of studying for each week of class.

It would be easier staying home. It has been very cold, very windy, snowing and there’s been freezing drizzle on my class days. My class is in the basement of Ford Hall on the Minneapolis campus. There is a bathroom next door and you can hear it every time someone flushes. The room is not spacious. There is room to walk between the desks but people hold onto their papers or computer when you walk by them.

Before class begins the students, myself included, find a seat and get set up for taking notes. Virtually nobody talks to each other. We are not a bunch of friends sharing stories from the past week. If you say “Hi” to someone they say “hi” back but pretty much it is all business. I make an effort to say “hi” to at least two people.

The students are well groomed and dress casually but neatly. Some have backpacks but most don’t. My guess is the ones with a backpack do not live on campus and the others do. Several have a notebook computer. Some just have a folder and notepad for notes.

Class starts at 6:00. I park in the parking lot on the west end of the MN State Fairgrounds. I take a connector bus to the Minneapolis campus. I have waited 15 minutes for a bus once, otherwise, it has always come within a couple minutes. The other people on the bus are mostly college-aged students but there are a smattering of “older” folks. The class is scheduled for 9:00 but we get out a little early so I am usually home by 9:00. I enjoy the bus ride. People watching is fun.

During the class, the professor talks us through slide presentations on various topics. Questions are asked by the professor and discussions are held. If you do not volunteer to respond, you will be called upon. Over the couple-hour period of the class, he makes sure pretty much everyone speaks. We are also graded on participation.

Short videos are shown and discussions are had about the video. We sometimes break into small groups to discuss a topic and then report back to the whole class on our conclusions. The whole time we take notes. I am not a good note taker. That is my biggest challenge.

It is a speech class. Everyone is very respectful when others speak. English is a second language for several of the students. Some of the students are very shy. Sometimes they struggle to pick the right word to express themselves. At the end of each speech is polite applause. As speeches go, the presentations are not always the best but the content of the speeches is remarkable. They do not let just anyone into a university, I guess.

The professor has said some provocative things to make this point or that. Nobody giggles or reacts like a teenager at the provocative thing. They react to the point being made. Smart kids.

What has surprised me the most? The personal realization that I am a college student who is there to learn just like every other student. The weirdest thing is nobody treats me any different than anyone else, even though I am over three times older than they are.

I am enjoying the experience of being a 65-year-old college student.

What we perceive often depends on how close we look.


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Kaitlin Moller

I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying your time as a college student! I also really liked the style of this post, it felt a lot like creative nonfiction. Wishing you the best of luck in your studies.