Universities and colleges have often been associated with preparing young adults for their prospective careers.  As people have had needs and opportunities to return to campus, or learn online, these institutions of higher learning have become a multi-generational mix of students with young and mid-career or career-changing adults taking the same classes.

Recently, an additional opportunity for continued learning is taking place at a few universities.  Some of the most well-respected universities including Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Notre Dame, University of Minnesota, and University of Texas at Austin are offering programs aimed at successful people over 50. These programs offer highly experienced executives the opportunity to find different uses for their experience and passion.  These older students take some of their courses alongside much younger undergraduate and graduate students.

This is an appealing trend for older individuals who fit the criteria and is one that is likely to spread to other universities.  Here’s why I believe this type of learning will expand to other universities offering in the coming years.

First and foremost, longevity is increasing. In the book, The 100-Year Life- Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, the authors point out an interesting trend that is changing how we live and work. The three-stage life- education, work (one career), retirement, is beginning to disappear. Because of longevity, a multi-stage life is emerging. Instead of having one career for a lifetime, is is becoming more common for people to work from age 22-80+, living to age 100- having two or three careers at various stages of our lives is now possible. Having one career as you are trying to maximize earnings, another one as you balance raising a family while managing your career, and yet another career near or as you transition into your later life.

Imagine how much career opportunities and your field of expertise has changed in your 30 or 40 year career?  If you think back to when you were younger, you used to know people or heard about the large number of jobs in manufacturing or farming for instance.  Career fields over a 70 to 80-year working life are likely to change as the world and society changes.

Second, people are not only living longer, but are generally living healthier, which allows them to have the energy to feel they can continue to take on a new challenge.  At the same time, medical technology is helping people live longer.

Third, there is a segment of the population who have had a successful career but ended up in a field they don’t necessarily have a passion for or have left the workforce though something not under their control (usually a reorganization).  They are seeking a change by using the skills they acquired in their career and want to apply it to something similar or perhaps something different.  They just need to figure out what that next career is and what skills needed to make the change.

And finally, people with the knowledge and experience have an opportunity to change the world by tackling issues and challenges that, we as a society, somehow cannot seem to come together to solve.  Many people in their 50s and 60s still have passion and have things they want to accomplish and want to contribute in some way, whether in their career field or in a new or different field. Some reach the top levels of their career and end up saying “Now what?”  Some want to take on challenges to make a difference or to make the world a better place. Think of all the issues and problems we bemoan each day and say, “There has to be a better way?” or “Why can’t this issue get solved?”  Many are saying, “Hey, I can make a difference to this cause!” It becomes their legacy.

As the Stanford website points out, “We live in an era in which successful individuals are rethinking the concept of life journey. Increasing global life expectancy and a rapid increase in the number of talented, accomplished professionals has caused a shift towards longer careers and the desire to contribute beyond the typical retirement age.  We believe that higher education can play a role for those who have already been successful in one or more career pathways and who are looking for a new direction.”

The Harvard website similarly points out, “Candidates for the fellowship should be motivated to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing communities around the world.”

I agree with both of these statements and believe (hope) the number of challenges and the number of retirees will come together to solve many of these worldwide challenges.  You just need to figure

Additionally, the shared experience of having these professionals in the classroom sharing their wisdom with current undergraduate and graduate students is beneficial for all parties involved.  The younger student gains from the experience of the older student and the older student gains from passing on their experience to the younger student.  Both of these groups benefit from the shared experience and understanding the perspective of each of these different age groups.  Perhaps each will also learn that the stereotypes of each group aren’t accurate!

Here are the university programs offering advanced learning opportunities to help find a new direction later in life.  Also included is a brief overview of the program along with links to the program, FAQs, how to apply, and the cost for the program if listed.

The information below was taken directly from each university’s website to keep the wording and description intact. Links (in blue) are included to get you to the particular pages of the program website.

Harvard University- Advanced Leadership Initiative

Program Info

Program Video

Program Brochure

Overview from the university’s website:  The Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI) is a third stage in higher education designed to prepare experienced leaders to take on new challenges in the social sector where they have the potential to make an even greater societal impact than they did in their careers.

Faculty from Harvard’s professional schools of business, education, government, law, medicine and public health formed ALI to build knowledge about societal challenges requiring interdisciplinary leadership skills and to deploy accomplished leaders at later life stages in public service. This bold, academic innovation has now become another facet of higher education, changed the concept of “retirement” and helped change the world for the better.

A simple one-off approach cannot solve systemic problems with political and technical dimensions—poverty, global health, environmental degradation, and basic education—however, research universities are uniquely positioned to close knowledge gaps by finding new ways to develop and implement comprehensive solutions through integrative research and educational innovation.

Candidates for the fellowship should be motivated to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing communities around the world. They should recognize the value that engagement with Harvard University can add as they prepare for their next phase of life’s work. Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellows work with students as guides, mentors, and team leaders. The faculty thus seeks leaders of the highest character and integrity who can serve as role models to the University community.

Through the Advanced Leadership Initiative, Harvard is seeking to tap the experience of a socially conscious generation of leaders. ALI aims to help redirect and broaden these leaders’ skills to fill these critical gaps in solving major social issues.



The most common questions about the selection process

Cost: No cost cited.


Stanford University- Distinguished Careers Institute


Program Video

Overview from the university’s website:  A highly personalized curriculum for each fellow includes discussion seminars that highlight both the intellectual richness of Stanford and personal transformation; opportunities to attend classes and participate in intergenerational learning  at all levels in departments and interdisciplinary programs; colloquia on major societal and intellectual issues; and the construction of a purpose pathway for each fellow. Faculty advisors provide guidance and support.

To promote future longevity and success, each fellow has the opportunity to work with the DCI Wellness Educator to develop health, exercise, and a personal well-being plan. We provide a list of individuals and organizations that provide transition-planning services that fellows may pursue on an individual basis and at their own expense. The list includes executive coaching and executive search firms that may be helpful as transition resources. Finally, systematic data gathering provide insights to be shared among our community and advance our understanding of life-career transitions.

From the university website: The Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute offers people in midlife with major career accomplishments the opportunity to renew their purpose, develop new communities and recalibrate wellness, and to transform themselves for new roles with social impact.



Cost:  No cost cited.


University of Notre Dame- Inspired Leadership Initiative


Program Video

Overview from the university’s website: The Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) is a program for accomplished individuals from all disciplines (business, non-profit, academic just to name a few) who have completed their chosen careers and wish to spend an academic year at Notre Dame experiencing intellectual immersion, local and global community engagement, and many of the rich resources the University has to offer to pivot to their next stage in life.

The Inspired Leadership Program Elements Include:

Core Elements

  • A core course designed to provide exposure to the Great Books and the themes they elucidate to broaden the mind and facilitate inner exploration
  • A personally tailored curriculum, under the guidance of a faculty advisor, with selected classes and research opportunities from across the University
  • Weekly cohort luncheons and dinners featuring the best of University faculty and external guest speakers across multiple disciplines

Distinctive Elements

  • A discernment process for those who know they want to transition to something new but are uncertain as to what best to pursue
  • An invitation, at your discretion, to spiritual enrichment for those of all faiths
  • Access to Notre Dame’s expansive global network through the Global Gateways, based in London, Rome, Dublin, Jerusalem, and Beijing and beyond including exposure to the myriad of University initiatives housed there

Community Elements

  • Opportunities for fellows and their spouses/life partners to build lifelong relationships with members of their cohort as well as the broader University community
  • Engagement in research with students and/or faculty in the fellow’s desired area of study
  • Planned cultural and sporting events on campus and in the region



Cost: The cost for the academic year commencing in the Fall of 2020 is $53,000.


University of Minnesota- Advanced Careers Initiative

Program Info

Overview from the university’s website: UMAC provides the framework, guidance, and hands-on learning to smooth this transition time, gain a sense of renewal, and set the stage for you to successfully launch a new career or volunteer in the social sector.

University of Minnesota Advanced Careers (UMAC) is a “gap year” for leaders as they transition from career jobs into what’s next. UMAC prepares leaders for new roles and identities, connects them with nonprofits to address community needs, and offers inroads to the richness of the University of Minnesota environment as corporate leaders explore their encores.

UMAC fellows spend fall semester expanding their understanding of themselves and the ways that they can contribute their talents for the greater good. Fellows form a learning community, participate in intergenerational learning, and engage in discussions with some of the best and brightest thinkers in the country.

In the spring semester, fellows gain practical experience through a skills-based volunteer placement in a nonprofit, where they apply their workplace skills and expertise in a host organization.

The University of Minnesota Advanced Careers (UMAC) initiative aspires to: 1) enrich the development of adults in the second half of life; 2) connect experienced talent with community needs for the common good; and 3) reimagine higher education as an intergenerational enterprise.

The inaugural (pilot) year of the program was 2017-2018.



Cost: The 2019-20 academic year (fall and spring semesters) cost is $15,000.


University of Texas at Austin- TOWER Fellows Program

Program Info

Program Brochure

Overview from the university’s website: As a TOWER Program Fellow, you will work collaboratively to craft a personalized curriculum of courses and seminars from across the Austin campus. Program staff, Faculty Advisors, and your peers will be there to bounce ideas off of and help you craft a curriculum that is a perfect match to your goals. With over 12,000 courses available, you gain access to a breadth and depth of study as big as The University of Texas itself. You will participate in inter-generational classroom learning, as well as enjoy discussions and dedicated lectures on major societal and intellectual issues that affect each of us.

And, you will exchange ideas with other Fellows and faculty, achieving a rich cross-pollination of knowledge. Take those classes that you never got a chance to take in college the first time around. Sit in on lectures by professors who wrote some of your favorite books. Discuss topical issues with world-renowned experts, and debate policies with undergrad or grad students looking to you for advice as they start their own journeys. Selective programs like the TOWER Fellows Program (as well as Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative and Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute, both of which inspired the TOWER Fellows Program) give individuals a chance to explore, discover, and think about what comes next.

As a TOWER Fellow, you will have the opportunity to work with faculty and other professionals as you reflect on your life and chart your future course. There are also executive coaches and organizations available to you that offer transition-planning services that you may pursue on an individual basis (at your own expense).

TOWER is designed to provide Fellows with a world-class opportunity for:

  • Exploration (Experiment. Try new things. LEARN.)
  • Community (Interact. Connect with peers and others. GROW.)
  • Self-Discovery (Recalibrate. Optimize your wellness. IMPROVE.)
  • Transformation (Change. Find a new path. RENEW.)



Cost:  The 2019-2020 academic year (fall and spring semesters) cost is $59,950.

This cost includes all classes, official program lunches (1 per week), official program receptions (1 per week), official program dinners (1 per month), as well as other program events such as colloquia, symposia, etc.  Books, class fees, class materials, tickets for sporting events, tickets for performing arts events, etc. are not included in the tuition.

If you are looking for your next challenge, and want to pursue this search in an academic environment, the universities above provide some great options.

If there were any I missed, or any new additions, please send them to me.  I would like to keep this list updated as additional university’s add similar programs.