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Attending an ‘Encore Program’ With Your Spouse

What to consider to make the experience the best one possible


Editor’s Note: During the coronavirus pandemic, universities have made adjustments to how they offer the education experience for all students, including encore programs. Though programs may be modified through virtual, hybrid and extended terms, encore programs are not only active but growing as post-career adults engage in purposeful and pivoting journeys. (This content is sponsored by University of Texas TOWER Fellows Program.)

University-based encore programs are gaining popularity, with an increasing number of higher ed institutions across the country offering these on-campus “gap years” for adults. While some people enroll in these programs individually, others decide to return alongside their spouse or partner and share in the experience. Below, we look at some of the unique benefits of participating in an encore program with a spouse or partner. We also explore key things to consider as you prepare to embark on the journey as a duo.

3 Benefits of Pursuing an Encore Program With Your Partner

Explore Individual Passions

Joining a university encore program with a partner does not mean you will have an identical experience – unless, of course, you want to. One of the greatest benefits of the more flexible encore programs is the opportunity to explore and enroll in whatever courses you wish. By pursuing unique academic coursework, you’ll have the opportunity to chart your individual path. Each of you will be on your journey, exploring your passions, curiosities and goals while still sharing in parts of the program like guest lectures, social events and cultural activities.

Connect Outside the Classroom

One of the biggest benefits of enrolling in an encore program with your spouse or partner is the chance to grow together – even as you pursue individual passions. Couples who participate together consistently report that the program brings them closer, both on- and off-campus. For many couples, being back in a university setting can feel exciting and a bit like dating again. It provides new experiences in an unfamiliar environment, bringing new energy into a relationship. Encore programs also foster reconnection at home, as you look forward to sharing details of your personal learnings and discoveries each night. In many instances, encore programs lead couples on a path to discover a new, shared purpose in their next “chapter” of life. In these cases, the sum of the experience becomes greater than the individual parts. And, overwhelmingly, couples find encore program participation energizes their interactions outside the classroom and invigorates their marriage.

Build A Community

Participating in an encore program with your partner is a great way to build and explore new friendships and expand your community. Encore programs generally include opportunities for cultural events – from music to happy hours to on-campus offerings like art exhibits and fitness programs. They provide more than just learning. (Of course, the pandemic may require social distancing for those events.) When you participate jointly, you build new bonds and relationships together. Many partners report making long-lasting connections and staying in touch with their cohorts long after the program ends.

Before the First Day: Things to Consider

Once you’ve decided an encore program is the right path for you and your spouse or partner, there are a few things to consider to help shape your experience. Mulling these over before semester’s start will ensure you both have the best experience possible, and that you’re on the same page before you step foot on campus.

Full-Time or Part-Time?

Do you both want to participate fully, or does one of you want to take advantage of a part-time option? Some encore programs provide that flexibility, and depending on the program you select, you will have the option to participate full-or part-time. Part-time participation involves attending select social and educational events, without the full-time immersive academic experience. Part-time would be a good option if you want to participate together, but one of you is already engaged in another professional or personal pursuit. Full-time works well if both parties have the time to dedicate fully to the program. In some instances, partners may be able to attend some social events without formal participation in the program.

Individuals as a Unit?

Regardless of how you choose to engage in such a program, doing so with an intimate and trusted partner can greatly enrich the experience for you both. As some couples have expressed, four eyes and ears exploring the campus are better than two. The first questions to answer are: How much do you want to do together and how much do you want to experience alone? For some couples, the program is a chance to pursue individual passions and share in day-to-day group events. You may want to enroll in completely different coursework throughout the program – opening up possibilities to “drop in” on particularly interesting events of your partner’s curriculum – but come together as a unit for all joint activities. Or, you may want to be together in the same location geographically yet attend the program as individuals, sitting in different parts of the room at events or presentations to foster as much personal growth and connections as possible. It’s also possible you may want to do everything together, from coursework to events to meals.

What Are Your Goals?

It’s important to consider your goals for attending the encore program, both individually and collectively as a couple. Are you looking for personal exploration? Does one or both of you need a pivot or new path forward professionally? Are you looking for reconnection? Are you seeking a shared experience or a way to grow and learn together? For many, encore programs are a way to explore purpose and to discover what’s next in life after transitioning out of a previous position or career. When you enroll in an encore program as a couple, it allows you to explore your individual purposes and shared ones. Discuss what success will look like for both of you in advance, to ensure your participation supports it.

Want to learn more about encore programs and see if one may be right for you? Check out the University of Texas TOWER Fellows Program today!

logo for Text TOWER Fellows program
By University of Texas TOWER Fellows Program
The TOWER Fellows Program at The University of Texas at Austin provides accomplished individuals an opportunity to renew their passions at one of the nation’s leading research universities. The TOWER Fellows Program is a full-time immersion opportunity that spans an academic year. The program includes inspiring discussions with world-class thinkers and doers, access to exceptional courses and professors on campus and a backstage pass to the best events the University has to offer. As a bonus, Fellows have the opportunity to live in and explore the beautifully unique surroundings of Austin, Texas, ranked the “Best Place to Live” in the United States according to U.S. News & World Report.

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