How college is different now

What Baby Boomers Returning to College Need to Know

by Paige Estigarribia

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You've decided to heed that nagging feeling in the back of your mind, telling you to try something different. Maybe it's the empty nest. Maybe it's pending retirement. In any case, returning to college for a photography class, a few finance classes, or even interior design classes may seem like a way to keep your mind sharp. And so you've decided to apply for college. But if you're a baby boomer, where years have passed since you've seen the inside of a classroom, you'll find that things have changed in college education. Here's a few new things that baby boomers need to know before they return to college.

1. You can rent textbooks, rather than buy them.

Gone are the days when your options for classroom textbooks are either brand new or questionably used from the bookstore. In fact, generally college students spend about $370 on required course materials in a semester, according to NACS' Student Watch™ fall 2013 report. Many college bookstores, and even Amazon, now offer students the ability to rent their textbooks, rather than buy them. For example, this Operations Management textbook currently costs $161.20 to buy brand new from Amazon, where you can rent the same book from Amazon for $51.23. is another site that offers options for renting textbooks. So if you're against creating a dusty collection of textbooks in the corner, or you're discouraged from used book resale values, renting your book for the class term could be a good option.

2. Many classes (and textbooks) are online.

Many schools have implemented easy to navigate online classrooms. The ones that I've been part of include discussion forums, ways to contact the professor, online syllabus, online assignments and tests, and even handouts, all within easy student access. Along with online textbooks, many professors also opt to use online texts, available through different publishers. Some of the ways online texts can be accessed include via a downloaded PDF, a kindle or tablet version (which is often less expensive than a hard copy of the text), or a link to the publisher site through an access code. The online aspect of the class is sometimes a trade-off though. These types of environments are wonderful for providing schedule flexibility, but you are missing the classroom aspect of teacher and student, and the ability to flip through a real book.

3. Classes are offered at varying times, dates, and lengths.

Typical classes used to follow a regular schedule where students attended certain days and certain times every week through an entire semester. These types of traditional classes are still available on college campuses. However, many classes now are offered with more flexible schedules. For example, some classes are eight-week classes, some only meet on Saturdays, and some have one class meeting a week with the rest of studies done online. Colleges have become more accommodating to those students with families or working schedules.

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4. Newer technology within classes is the norm.

Even if your class isn't a technology themed class, it's likely that there will be new technology involved in your assignments and/or classroom instruction. From computerized whiteboards, to online discussion forums, to college registration smartphone apps, tablet learning and free Wi-Fi, colleges seem to be incorporating more and more new technology every semester. It may be wise, if you aren't already, to start getting comfortable with newer technology in case you see it in your future classes.

Taking an extra college class is wonderful way to keep your mind active and explore new interests and hobbies. Just be ready for changes in the college experience!

Paige Estigarribia is a writer for The Dollar Stretcher who enjoys writing about food, frugal living, and money-saving tips. Visit Paige on Google+.

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