Going Back to School? We’re Sharing 8 Tips That Will Help You Afford College as an Adult
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Going to college as an adult is possible!
Want to go back to school, but not sure how to pay for it? 🤔 Looking to advance your career? 💼 Getting a college degree may help you climb the corporate ladder, but it can also be expensive. Read on for these simple tips to help you pay for college as an adult! Start with applying for FAFSA.
Many adults today are going back to college to get their bachelor’s or master’s degrees. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 7.8 million students age 25 and older will attend college in 2020. And that number is expected to grow to 8.1 million students by 2027!
1. File your FAFSA.
Think federal student aid is only for high school seniors? It’s not! One of the most important things you can do as an adult going back to school is to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form – and do it as soon as possible! By the way, the U.S. Department of Education provides over $150 billion in federal aid every year to those who qualify, so it’s definitely worth doing.
There are three types of federal student aid you may qualify for:
- Grants: This is essentially free money for college that doesn’t need to be repaid! Most federal grants are based on financial need.
- Work-study: This is money earned through a job on or near campus while attending school.
- Loans: This is money that must be repaid with interest, but federal loans are known to have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans.
💡 Did you know? In addition to using financial aid for the usual school expenses like tuition, fees, books, or housing, you can also use it to pay for dependent care, the purchase of a personal computer, costs related to a disability, and more.
2. Apply for scholarships.
Like grants, scholarships don’t have to be repaid – and there are lots of opportunities for older students, too! First, check with the financial aid office at the college you are planning to attend to find out if they offer scholarships. They can help you with financial applications and explain the types of aid available.
You can also find scholarships at these free information sources:
- Use the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool.
- Visit sites like Scholarships.com, Unigo.com, or Fastweb.com.
- Ask foundations, religious or community organizations, local businesses, or civic groups.
- Research organizations related to your field of interest (including professional associations).
- Check with your employer for scholarships.
3. See if your employer offers tuition benefits.
Don’t be afraid to talk with your employer to see if tuition assistance or reimbursement is available to help you pay for school. Some employers like to offer benefits to cover education expenses as they believe that relevant coursework can sharpen workers’ skills, thus strengthening the company.
Plus, tuition reimbursement is tax-deductible (up to $5,250 per employee per year), making it a cost-effective choice for companies. Your employer may be willing to invest in your future, so don’t hesitate to ask!
4. Attend community college.
According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), there are over 1,100 community colleges in the U.S. with over 13 million students. If you’re looking to save money, check into a community college where tuition can be significantly lower than a four-year college (especially for in-state students).
Even if you already have a degree or career, a community college is a great way for adult learners to gain professional development, learn a new skill, or make a career change. Find a community college near you!
💡 Not sure which career is right for you? Research various careers in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. Or, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s career search website or careeronestop.org to find potential opportunities.
5. Take advantage of tax benefits.
Did you know that you can qualify for a tax break when you go to school (either as a deduction or credit)? Tax deductions reduce your taxable income, while tax credits lower your tax bill. In addition, some tax credits are refundable (meaning you can not only reduce your bill to zero, but you can get some money back). 🙌🏻
A couple of the biggest tax deductions and credits:
- The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is a credit for qualified education expenses paid for an eligible student for the first four years of higher education. You can get a maximum annual credit of $2,500 per eligible student. If the credit brings the amount of tax you owe to zero, you can have 40% of any remaining amount of the credit (up to $1,000) refunded to you.
- The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) is for qualified tuition and related expenses paid for eligible students enrolled in an eligible educational institution. This credit can help pay for undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree courses – including courses to acquire or improve job skills. It is worth up to $2,000 per tax return.
If you don’t qualify for either credit, you may still be able to take the Tuition and Fees Deduction. And if you have student loans, be sure you are deducting the interest on them. You may be able to deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest paid. Visit the Federal Student Aid website for even more tax benefits.
6. Opt for part-time enrollment.
If you’re not able to pay for a full-time program, or you have family and work obligations, consider going to school part-time. It may take a little longer than you’d like to get your degree, but it will be easier to balance work, family, and schoolwork and also makes costs more manageable. Keep in mind that part-time enrollment may limit the amount of federal student aid that you qualify for, but you’ll also have fewer costs than a full-time student.
7. Get college credits for work life experiences.
If you’re an adult college student, you may have acquired college-level knowledge on the job for your career or through various hobbies. Your life experience and work experience (such as corporate training, professional licenses, etc.) can actually be converted into real college degree credits, which can make an online degree more affordable.
You can turn your experience into valid online college course credit by:
- Taking the College Level Exam Program (CLEP) or DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST)
- Putting together a Prior Learning Assessment portfolio
- Participating in workforce training programs
- Getting professional certifications and licenses
- Serving in the military
💡 If you’re wondering which colleges offer credit for work and life experience, visit the Affordable Colleges Online website for a list of nine online colleges and four traditional colleges.
8. Get money for your (or your family member’s) military service.
If you’re a member of the U.S. armed forces or have a family member in the service, you may be eligible for special grants, scholarships, or loan repayment assistance. The federal government and various nonprofit organizations offer money for college to veterans, future military personnel, active-duty personnel, and their relatives!
The following organizations offer military scholarships:
- American Legion Scholarships
- AMVETS Scholarships
- Paralyzed Veterans of America Scholarships
- Veterans of Foreign Wars Assistance
Visit the Federal Student Aid website for details on military scholarships.