Dear Gen & Kelly: I'm a parent of two sons, ages 20 and 13. But neither of them is interested in going to college at the moment. I am the interested one and I'm due to retire from my present job in New York City law enforcement next year.

While I only have 13 college credits from completing my academy training courses and I'm 41 years old, my true passion is to become a Naturopathic Physician. I could start out by obtaining my Nutritional Counselor's certification first.

Where do I begin? I'm still employed until next year and I still have certain obligations here so I was interested in distance learning or an accredited correspondence course. Yet, I've been out of school so long I may also need the discipline of a mentor or professor yet still have the convenience of no classroom. What should and could I do? Will I be eligible for government aid? Signed, A. White

Dear A. White: It’s very inspiring to see you planning for your post-retirement career in order to fulfill your true passion in life. You are part of a growing national trend of adult students who have realized that learning is a life-long process that does not stop once you get a job. It will also certainly have a positive influence on your sons.

To become a Naturopathic Physician (ND) you need to complete a four-year graduate program at one of the four accredited schools in the U.S. There are several correspondence courses in naturopathy but you should realize that none are accredited programs.

Why is it important to attend an accredited program? According to Birgit Lenger, who works in the admissions office at Bastyr University in Seattle, only accredited institutions can award an ND that is recognized by the state and insurance companies.

In the state of Washington, for example, if you have an ND from an accredited college your patient’s insurance will by law have to cover their visits to you.

Also, you should realize that a large part of the ND program involves patient interaction. This cannot be taught via correspondence or online.

Be aware that not all states license doctors with an ND degree (even from an accredited program) and in your case New York does not. However, should New York in the future begin to license Naturopathic physicians you can be sure that they will only do to those from accredited programs. For a list of accredited schools check out: www.naturopathic.org/education/accredited_schools.htm. We believe the closest school to you is in Bridgeport, Connecticut. At this website you can also find other NDs in your area and we recommend that you contact them to learn how they practice in the state of New York.

Let’s say that you decide to get an ND degree. To be accepted into the ND program at an accredited college you will need to first complete your bachelor’s degree. While this might seem like a waste of time, it is actually a blessing in disguise since you still have a son in high school and need to remain in your current job for another year. Since your second son won’t be ready to head off to college in less than five years, you can use this time to get your undergraduate degree. Take a look at your local community colleges that might offer night or evening courses. You could also transfer after two years into a state college. Regardless of where you go, take courses that put you on a “pre-med” track similar to other students who are thinking of going to medical school.

At the same time you are studying toward your degree, think about volunteering or working for a Naturopathic physician. This would give you some real insight into the business side of the practice and make your application much stronger. Lenger explained that admissions to Bastyr is based not only on your grades but also experiences you have had in the field. She also noted that there are many types of students at Bastyr including former chemical engineers who like you have realized later in life where there true passion lies.

A Nutritional Counselor's certification is not really necessary and it would be more important for you to focus on getting your bachelors degree.

As far as financial aid, you would be eligible for the standard Federal Aid packages, which would often be composed of low interest loans, work study and grants. There may be some scholarship assistance and you should check with your Union and other civic organizations. You should also speak to the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend. They will have the best list of places were you can apply for scholarships and other forms of aid.

We highly recommend that you call the various colleges that offer ND programs. Often the first person you reach in their admissions office will be a graduate student in the ND program who can answer most of your questions. They are also more than happy to send you information about their specific programs.