An Inspiration: Going To College if You’re 50 and Older

by Pam Russo


Nontraditional Student Going Back to CollegeI know from experience that beginning a college education in your 50s or above is not only possible, but, an attainable goal. At the same time, it is a bit frightening.

The need to be productive does not diminish as one grows older. By the time we turn fifty most of us have, or, are in the process of, sending our own children to college. Baby Boomers, the generation of change, born after World War II (1946-64), want to do more than resign ourselves to the traditional role of seniors as one who has worked hard and now, as convention goes, should be content with a life of staying home; maybe do some traveling, and simply waiting for visits from sons, daughters and grandchildren as the highlight of our week. After pursuing the “American Dream” of a home and family, we very often find there are dreams of our own left unfulfilled.

Thus, the feeling that we have not yet attained our full potential still plagues us. The good news is, in our graying years, we still have the opportunity to do so. For us, medical and technological strides have provided us with more time to step through open doors towards vast new highways woven with intersecting roads yet to be traveled. Increasingly, Boomers, who number a record breaking 76 million, know that it is not only acceptable today to interact with the young in all aspects of society, but is, and, will become, the norm. Therefore, it is perfectly natural for the 50 or 60-something generation to begin anew by fulfilling a dream of a college education put on hold, for example, as a result of the unprecedented effect Baby Boomers had on the national culture in the United States. From the protest and activists groups of the 60s and 70s, coupled with increased drug use, to the so called sexual revolution and high divorce rates of the 80s we were busy recovering from the consequences of decades past.

By the 90s, as we approached retirement, it became evident to many of us that we are not ready, however, to retire from society. I am sure that apprehensions about going back to school late in life may have prevented some of us from realizing this dream, but whether your dream is a college education or anything else you aspire to achieve, it can definitely be fulfilled, with confidence, in the second half of your life.


My Story:

The butterflies in my stomach were fluttering in an uncontrollable frenzy as the moment I enthusiastically, yet, apprehensively awaited, drew near. It had been, after all, a long time–1966 to be exact–since I had been a student.

I completed the college application process without a hitch, endured long lines at the financial aid windows and nervously took the required entrance exams. Late to register for the 2000 fall term, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to enroll in a newly opened 8:00 a.m. English class, which had been added to the curriculum to accommodate the excessive number of students yet to be placed.

At 53 years of age, and, alone in my room the evening before my first day as a college student, my mind wildly concocted one scenario after another in a vain attempt at imagining myself amid the sharp, bright minds of classmates no older than my own children. Wondering if they would chuckle when I walked into the room, I decided to be the first to arrive, already seated when the room begins to fill up.

This was my plan.

The parking lot was empty (a luxury I rarely experienced again) when on the big day, I arrived at 7:40 a.m. The warm morning sun sparkled on the walkways surrounded by mini fields of green grass. Sporadic wooden benches, strategically placed under large trees dressed in multiple shades of green, provided a refuge from the end of summer heat.

I walked up the steps of the English building, my heart audibly in sync with my footsteps. Finding the classroom door locked, I nervously paced back and forth, stopping only to read the notices pinned to the cluttered bulletin board next to the room. I thought to myself, ‘There goes my plan.’ Soon the young students began to arrive. I noticed that they, too, were anxious about this day.

A maintenance man nonchalantly walked to the end of the hallway where our classroom was located and unlocked the door. As we politely and silently seated ourselves to await the arrival of the professor, the frenzied fluttering of the butterflies subsided and I realized my fears were unfounded. The class was small. I was the oldest person in the class, but, the young students treated me as just another fellow classmate. During the course of the semester, I was included in conversations about everything from homework to football games. I knew from that very first day that everything was going to be okay, and I continued on to accomplish my goal of a college education.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Always.


My name is Pam Russo and I am a new senior citizen who created a fun and diverse Web site called elephantMama Gift Shop located at – selling gifts for all-occasions. (The business name was the creation of my oldest granddaughter who thought of it when we were selling decorative “lucky” elephants at flea markets – but I liked it a lot).

Added to the Gift Shop are Virtual Office Support Services and Gift Programs for businesses, groups and organizations. I am now in the process of trying to increase traffic to my fairly new website so that it is viewed by not only large amounts of people, but also, the right people for my products. My goal: fives sales a day. Feel free to contact me at


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