It’s hard to miss the tale of good ol’ college-dropout Bill Gates. Yeah, I hear he went on to be pretty successful, and the school he quit mid-semester was Harvard, but thirty years after he bailed (to go form something called Microsoft) the head honchos of the Ivy League school decided to give him an honorary degree. Good luck getting your hands on one of those, everyone else. However, there is always the old fashioned approach – you know, actually taking the courses.

Late-in-life degrees are becoming the norm and not just token trophies for wealthy celebrities. The news abounds with stories of people like 52-year-old Gac Filipaj, an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia and Columbia University custodian who recently received his bachelor’s degree in Classics. He kept his job as a janitor and plans to go for his Master’s.

People no longer see academic study as something simply for teenagers and 20-somethings hoping to crack into their dream field. Indeed, it’s now being viewed as a life-long pursuit, embraced by retirement-age co-eds up to nonagenarians. 94-year-old Hazel Soares, who recently graduated from a California college, supplied the understatement, “It’s taken me quite a long time because I have had a busy life”. Or Nola Ochs, of Kansas, who received a Master’s at age 98, graduating alongside her 21-year-old granddaughter. Her first degree was acquired at 95 and she’d been taking courses for 77 years. She currently holds the Guinness Book title for oldest college graduate.

Stories of Success

One needn’t wait until they’re Miss Ochs’ age to embrace secondary learning. The question “what should I do with my life?” is one that follows you up until the end. Late bloomer success stories, like say, 4th-grade-dropout George Burns writing eight best-selling novels, are inspirational to the whole span of generations. There are so many resources out there for getting back into the scholastic game. Between online courses and distance learning, higher education is more flexible than ever before. It’s about learning for the sake of learning, not to pad your resume right out of high school.

A few years ago Brian May, guitarist for rock n’ roll wizards Queen, finished the thesis (‘Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud’ – whoa) he had abandoned in 1974, completing his doctorate in astronomy. Remember Dr. May next time you hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio.

“One is never too old to succeed in life,” so said Grandma Moses, who didn’t start painting until she was in her late 70’s. She went on to grace the covers of Time, Life and a postage stamp. In her last year, at age 101, she painted 25 pictures. In 2006, her work “Sugaring Off” sold for 1.2 million. She never understood why people paid so much money for art. But she definitely had the right idea – age is irrelevant to success.

Today’s Guest Contributor:

Freelance writer Will Bankovich is eager to start with his online MBA. At 42, he considers himself in good company.