Returning to School? How to Pay For It

People return to school for many reasons. Perhaps you didn’t get the chance to jump from high school to college before now. Or, you may have your Bachelor’s degree, but you hope an advanced diploma will push your career forward. No matter what, there are plenty of pros and cons to consider as you decide whether or not to go back. One of those considerations will undoubtedly be your financial situation.

If you think paying for school is a deterrent for your return to higher education — think again. With smart planning, you can make your academic dreams come true without breaking the bank. Here are six ways you might foot the bill:  

1. Trade Experience For Credits

Older students who go back to school often rack up real-world experience that leads them back to the classroom. Although they have hands-on credentials, they don’t necessarily arrive at the university with the academic pre-requisites required to enlist in higher learning.

That’s where the College Level Examination Program tests come in. These simple tasks help older students prove they already know what’s on the curriculum in college-level courses. On top of that, some universities will allow you to prove your experience in a trade or in your career to place you out of some classes.

2. Take Out a Loan

Perhaps this one goes without saying, but the list would be incomplete without including loans as an option. Different countries will have different types of loans available. In the UK, for example, students can apply for loans through the government.

In the US, federal student loans can be withdrawn alongside privately funded ones. Although, make sure you read all of the interest rate information, as well as the terms and conditions that come with the money, so you know how much you’ll have to pay back.

3. Ask Your Employer For Help

Even if you’ve found your place in the workforce, you might have realised that an advanced degree or additional certification could push your career to the next level. Your employer likely recognises that, too — and they may help you pay for your training.

Even if you pursue a path that’s not in line with your current career path, your employer still might offer continuing education credit. There’s no harm in asking — the human resources department at your current company is sure to know if there are any educational credits provided to employees who want to go back to school.

4. Budget Like a Boss

You’re already a working adult, which means you’ve probably learned a thing or two about proper budgeting. When you return to school, though, you’ll want to be even more strict about spending, since you’re funneling so much of your income into education instead of into your savings account, travel fund, dining-out budget, etc.

There’s a different budgeting style to suit every soon-to-be student. Perhaps the 50/20/30 plan will work during your upcoming academic career. This budget style stipulates that you use half of your income to fund essentials. Twenty percent goes into savings. And the remaining 30 percent would traditionally pay for whatever extras you wanted. In this case, though, you could funnel a third of your money toward your diploma.

Even if you don’t adhere to such a strict budgeting plan, do pay great mind to the extras you buy as you prepare to head back to school. You should do the same during the term, too, so you don’t have to stress about the next semester’s tuition bill in the midst of studying.

5. Apply For Scholarships

Another tried-and-true option to pay for your education is to apply for scholarships. Of course, it’s not a guarantee that your applications will be successful. However, it’s worth a shot, especially if you’re heading back to school as an advanced learner or older student. Your experience could lend itself to a killer application essay, which will only help your cause. Plus, contacts from your career or pre-existing education experience will help write recommendations for you, too.

6. Be Decisive

Education is expensive — this is true whether you go back to school for one year or one decade. Even if your career goals require the latter, it’s worth the investment so long as your degree is what you want to do. Speak to a career counselor so you know the program you’ve chosen will lead you right to the job you imagine.

So, before you go back to college, be clear and decisive about your goals. To that end, only take the classes and credits you need to get your diploma. Dawdling or taking extra courses will only make your degree more expensive, which is what you want to avoid.

Get a Budget-Friendly Degree

Your career aspirations have brought you back to academia, but they don’t have to break the bank. These six ideas will undoubtedly help slash the cost of your degree, which should only spur you in the direction of that long-standing dream of yours.

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she's a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in your career. You can find her tweeting on her coffee breaks @SarahLandrum