I'm thinking about studying in retirement...

By Megan Giles, Retirement Transition Consultant

‘I am still learning” Michaelangelo at age 87.

Ongoing learning is important to many in retirement. Not only as a means of keeping the mind active and in good health, but for ensuring that they’re able to continue to contribute meaningfully to conversations with the people around them. The concept is great, but how to actually get started on that journey?

Image: Lady commencing webinar.

I know that for many retirement provides a wonderful opportunity to return to formal study – either an undergraduate degree in a new area or a post-graduate degree to complement their wealth of real-world knowledge and experience. I also know that the thought of returning to a university lecture theatre can be quite a daunting prospect.

But before you talk yourself out of this, consider the facts.

Unis are no longer the sole domain of teenagers drinking, lounging on grassy knolls and skipping lectures (though there’s still plenty of that happening!). Rather, an Australian university census found that in 2011 the average age of university students was 26 years and 11 months. This is quite a contrast to what we might imagine in our heads (everyone able to pass as our grandchildren) and it means that there must be a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and above to counter those school leavers. Further to that, don’t assume that younger students won’t be interested in you (or you in them), as you can learn a lot from each other.

Additionally, a study lead by John Richardson found that mature-age students do at least as well as school-leavers in their university results, if not better. This is thought to be because mature-age students are highly motivated – they are returning to study by choice and with a specific goal in mind. Don't think that you'll be out of your league!

First Steps - Preparation

Perhaps you’re confident about navigating the university setting but the next challenge is “I haven’t studied for 40+ years- how on earth am I going to structure and write an essay?” Fortunately, you’re not alone in this concern and there are university preparation courses that you can undertake to develop skills such as referencing (including referencing electronic references), academic writing styles, and applying critical thinking. Having had a friend complete one of these courses recently, I know that they are great for building one’s confidence in preparing to study. To find out more do a quick google search and see what comes up near you – TAFEs are a great starting point.

Massive Open Online Courses

But perhaps a degree is more than what you are seeking. You’d like to learn but don’t have the desire to commit to three years full time study (or six years part time) – there are too many other things to see and do in the world! Well, have you heard about MOOCs (massive open online courses)? MOOCs are free online courses delivered by university that are available to anyone who would like to take the course. MOOCs are offered by some of the most prestigious universities and by academics well-renowned in their area of expertise – why not learn from the best! They typically involve video lectures, quizzes and test though they don’t provide academic credit. The beauty is that they are free and there are no entry requirements, you simply need to have an interest and a desire to learn. A good resource for finding out more is www.gooduniversityguide.com.au .

TED Talks

In terms of less formal learning I can’t recommend TEDTalks highly enough (www.ted.com). TED is a non-for-profit organisation driven by the goal to spread great ideas and it does so via online talks that they cover almost every topic imaginable. They are short, 18 minutes or less, and you can hear from the best - people who are truly passionate about what they do, what they’ve learned and how they can share their message to benefit others. The great thing is that new presentations are constantly being uploaded and you can learn in your own time by visiting the website and typing in a topic or speaker and finding a talk that piques your interest.

When it comes to learning, there are many different forms it can take and it’s a matter of finding what’s right for you. Find something that you are genuinely interested in and then find the approach that will work for you and your lifestyle.

Remember, you’re never too old to learn something new!


Richardson, J.T.E. (2014). Mature students in high education: academic performance and intellectual ability, Higher Education, 28(3), pp.373-386.

If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in the following blogs; How do I stay connected in retirement? and What if retirement isn't for me...?.


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If you approaching retirement or starting to think about it, and worried about the "what's next', wondering:

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  • What to do with the amazing skills, energy and ideas you have
  • How to prevent slowing down too soon and getting old before your time

you may be interested in the Next Steps: My Way sessions. You can find out more here. You can also visit and like her Business Facebook Page.