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College of Social Work

A lifelong love of learning leads MSW student in her 60s to USC

Marion Janis’s journey through life has been anything but predictable. 

At 65, she has done everything from being a head therapist at a psychiatric hospital to managing a tack shop in Aiken, South Carolina. Along the way, she has learned something from every job and from every person she’s met. Education, she says, can come from anywhere. 

Now, she’s seeking her master’s degree in social work at the University of South Carolina. 

“I love to learn, and I want to continue to learn until I die,” Janis says.  

Her life choices have been guided by family and faith. Janis grew up in Long Island, New York, in a close-knit Jewish family. She says she and her brother were bullied because of their faith and academic success.  

“I didn’t want other people to feel that kind of pain, so that led me into a career in psychology,” Janis says.  

“I found psychology very rewarding. I realized my first year all the stuff you learn is in the back of your mind, but what makes you a good psychologist or counselor is trustworthiness and empathy. By being genuine, you can have an easy rapport with people and engage them in the therapy process.” 

After a 20-year career, she moved to Florida to care for her parents. After her father died, Janis and her mother decided to relocate to Aiken in 2001. She worked a variety of jobs, including managing a tack shop where she was able to share her love of horses. 

Estrella de Sarafina, Paso Fino
Estrella de Sarafina, Paso Fino

When her mother passed in 2014, she decided to make another move to Columbia, where there was a larger Jewish community. To make ends meet, she worked at Goodwill for several years. Although her “counseling skills were really honed by working with the public during COVID,” she wanted to secure a job using her expertise, education and “God-given skills to help people.” 

She learned that South Carolina residents aged 60 or older are eligible for the state's free tuition waiver. She did some research and decided to pursue an MSW at USC. 

“Steven Cote, a College of Social Work recruiter, was reassuring about being an older, nontraditional student and what we can bring to the college,” Janis says. “That gave me confidence, so I applied and was accepted.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 550,000 U.S. adults 50 and older were enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs in 2021. Kiplinger reports that institutions in all 50 states offer free or inexpensive college courses for older residents. This provides a great opportunity for older students to gain new knowledge about a subject they’re curious about or to launch a second or even third career, according to Cote. 

“Our state needs social workers. We work hard to cast a wide net when recruiting, hoping to attract those who are interested in improving their world,” he says. “It’s never too late for a person to shift gears and become a change maker, and older students are known for being diligent scholars. Everyone benefits when they’re contributing to classroom discussions.” 

Janis was drawn to USC by talking with alumni and students, and she was impressed by the campus, the facilities and the university system.  

“I just love being on a college campus, and I absolutely love this program. The level of professors is really great, and they are dynamic teachers,” she says.  

While she’s taking classes and doing field placements, Janis has continued working full-time as a live-in caregiver for a client. She admits it’s tough getting enough sleep but has managed to do well academically.  

“One of my professors told me to focus on what you learn and not on your grade,” she says. “But that grade thing is important to me because my dad always said that everything in the world can be taken from you except what you have in your head.” 

While Janis finds it easy to develop a rapport with younger students, that’s not to say there’s not an occasional generation gap. When that happens, she tries to put herself in their place by remembering her college days the first time around. One thing she’s not worried about is the future of social work: “I’m so impressed with these young people. They are so focused and smart. The profession will be in their good hands.” 

Returning to college in her 60s hasn’t come without other challenges – including learning new technology and her professional experience, which she calls both a benefit and a liability when trying to approach classes from a new learning perspective. 

While she completes the master’s program, Janis also plans to obtain a trauma-informed practice certificate. After graduation in spring 2025, she hopes to move to the Charlotte, North Carolina, area where she can use her new degree either from a macro perspective such as with a nonprofit or government organization or in a therapy position.  

“My goals are to find a job I enjoy doing in a positive workplace environment,” Janis says. “I want to meet new people and become active in the large Jewish community. I hope my horse is still kicking – she’s 25 years old – because there are very good horseback riding trails in the area.” 

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