by Tina-Marie Harris
Returning to School
Transferring College Credits
Financial Aid Opportunities for Older Students
Recently downsized? Tired of your dead-end job, but afraid to look around? You're not alone. College campuses nationwide have seen a boost in enrollment. College re-entry programs designed for those who have been away from school for a number of years are flourishing, and a quick trip to your local community college will show that there are more older students than usual. But you don't have to go the macaroni and cheese route to make going back to school cost effective.
Scholarships and Loans
Free money for college. Sounds great. The school financial aid office is an excellent place to start, but you shouldn't stop there. They have forms and such for you to fill out to determine if you are eligible for state and federal aid. What if you don't qualify? This seems to be a common issue for those who have been in the work force. Take heart as there are many overlooked ways to make it financially possible.
Financial aid offices generally have listings of scholarships available to the general student body. At a community college near my home, there were several hundred scholarships available for this last semester. Skipping those that required financial need, there were many for re-entry students, youngest siblings, and aspiring librarians, to name just a few. A couple required an essay or statement regarding career aspirations, but a few hours work for several hundred or even a thousand dollars seems like a good investment.
Are you currently repaying student loans? Many lenders have deferment available if you are a half-time student or more. This usually means taking 6 or more credits. To boost credits, consider taking co-op coursework, where you get a part-time internship (that often pays you a salary) and college credit. The credit options vary, but a two credit internship for 12 hours a week that pays $10 per hour will not only pay for its own tuition, but will get you networking in a new field, more resume fodder, and could help get that $100 a month loan payment deferred. Check with your lender.
Tuition Reimbursement and Tax Credits
Your current job may offer tuition reimbursement as part of your benefits package. Jobs with companies such as McDonalds, UPS, and FedEx have tuition benefits even for part-timers. Some even cover the expense of books.
There are several tax breaks currently available for tuition. You will need to check with a tax advisor, but these are worth it! It's worth checking into.
Non-Tuition Related Savings
Take advantage of every option on campus that you can. Most college campuses have a health center. See what services are available, as student health charges are far below market. In addition, there is often some sort of health insurance coverage available for purchase. Check out medical programs at the college and any affiliations. A dental hygienist program for instance may offer teeth cleaning at a significant discount.
Colleges usually have a career center where you can get free counseling and resume writing help. They also often have access to skills and interest inventories, as well as the Myers Briggs tests to help you find your niche. Outside of a college, this testing often costs over $1500 in total. Take advantage of this free service.
See if there are ways to accelerate your program. There are several standardized tests that you can take (CLEP and DANTES are only two) as well as local department challenge exams that can eliminate introductory courses, or courses covering topics that you are very familiar with. Take the time to review for placement tests, so that you don't have to take a course covering material you know. If you are going for a four-year degree, or have a few courses to take to qualify for a master's program, take the time to investigate options at community colleges. They are generally cheaper and most have articulation agreements with local four-year universities.
If you are motivated enough, it can also be very cost effective to take courses by correspondence or online, as the costs are generally less. This also allows you to research tuition costs and take a cheaper course or one that lasts longer than a traditional quarter or semester.
The cost of books is incredible. The cheapest option, if you are able, is to get the books at the local or college library, or have the professor put them on reserve. If you are buying your books, take the time to research where to get the best deal. There are several online places that sell used textbooks at a significant savings, even when you include shipping. This semester I was able to save $71 this way for two classes. There are also shopping bots online that will search a number of sites for you. These can be found by running a search at google.com.
Use the campus as a networking tool. If you can, get into a student internship. Though these may not pay the best, they are an excellent entry into a company, and are usually exempt from hiring freezes. Though they may not come with benefits, the experience and job contacts are worth consideration, especially in any field where a portfolio may count a great deal. These jobs are not part of the federal work-study program, but may require that you be a half-time student.
Though going back to school while balancing work and family can be difficult, it can be satisfying and rewarding. Whether by choice or necessity, you can reach your goal, without breaking the bank.
Take the Next Step
- For all things "college," please visit the TDS library.