Retiring need not lead to fishing, crocheting or macrame work. Instead, it can lead to studying "Fundamentals of the Atom," "The Celtic Myth in English Narrative" or "Japan Today." These courses and many others will be offered by the Institute for Learning in Retirement, a new American University program for older people whose second semester begins March 7.

The ILR has been designed for retired persons--and those getting ready to retire--who are genuinely interested in learning. For a membership fee of $110 for this semester, they can take as many Institute courses as they wish. Courses meet on campus once a week, for eight to 10 weeks, and are taught by qualified ILR members. While applicants needn't hold a college degree, they should be ready for college-level study and a good bit of homework.

Members do not spend all their time deep in thought. They can attend special luncheons and lectures, look into AU plays and concerts or just hang out. But central to the ILR are the study groups, of which play-reading, theoretical economics and comparative religion were reported to be first semester front-runners.

"It's pure fun," says ILR member Peggy Goldsmith. "We have 87 of the most interesting people I've ever known. Many of them are planning to take more courses this semester than they did last time. The general feeling seems to be, 'Isn't this great? And nobody's making me study!'"

The Institute for Learning in Retirement. $110 for the spring semester. For a catalogue, call 686-6152.