Going back to college can help you improve your life and open up new career opportunities. Getting a degree could help you advance further in your current line of work, or allow you to switch careers entirely. Pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree might seem difficult, especially if you’re used to a steady income or have a family to support. However, going back to school doesn’t have to cramp your comfortable lifestyle. You can still get a degree without giving up the things you enjoy or living like a broke college student.
Make a Plan
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Start by making your academic game plan. Write down your goals, and figure out how to achieve them. Do you need a degree or just a few specific courses? What education do you need to change careers — and how hard will it be to get a job after graduation? Does your employer offer tuition reimbursement? If they don’t, you might consider applying to a company in your field that does. Will you be going back to school full-time or part-time, in-person or online? Time is money, and you need to make all of these decisions before you begin applying to schools.
Apply for Financial Aid
When you’re ready to take the plunge, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid before the deadline. The FAFSA is for college students of all ages, and adults usually have more financial aid opportunities. If you’re over 24 or married, have dependents, or have completed military service, you’ll likely qualify for Pell Grants or bigger federal loans. Some states offer grants of their own or tuition waivers for unemployed workers, and schools have additional funds reserved for non-traditional students, too.
Leverage Your Expertise
Even if you’ve never been to college before, your life experience can give you a leg up through competency-based programs. Some schools will let you submit an academic portfolio showcasing your experience, giving you up to 30 credit hours without your setting foot in a classroom. You can also sit for exams in your areas of expertise, allowing you to test out of courses while still receiving full credit.
Get a Private Loan
If your federal and other financial aid won’t cover your academic plan, you should consider taking out a private student loan. Just like a home or auto loan, lending institutions offer private loans to students to pay for their tuition, fees, and other expenses. Additionally, private student loans typically come with much better interest rates and repayment terms than federal loans.
Save for School
Finally, decide how you’ll pay for expenses without lowering your standard of living. Establish a budget which still allows you to splurge a little, then save the rest of your income to keep you afloat when you go back to school. If you want to put that money towards tuition instead of your bills and caffe latte habit, invest it into a tax-free 529 college savings plan. Going to college is expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to trade in your ribeye steaks for ramen noodles.