By: Steve Frazier
If you’re over the age of 25 and want to go back to school, but think you’re too old or can’t afford it, it could be time to think again. It is projected that postsecondary education enrollment will climb 15 percent by 2025, with larger proportional increases for adult students instead of college-aged ones. Many adult students have found creative avenues to pursue their dreams of obtaining a college or graduate degree, and graduate trends indicate the realization of these dreams.
There are many benefits to attending classes as an adult, the outward difference being an alternative experience to enrolling directly from high school or right after undergrad. Adult students tend to:
- Take their coursework more seriously.
- Know what degree program they want to pursue (saving money by avoiding degree hopping).
- Are less likely to abuse educational loans and are overall more financially conscious to waste.
Typically, the first question has to do with financing this expense and the burden this might represent. However, there are many misconceptions about the accessibility of a college degree because of the expense. The good news is that you don’t always have to drain your savings, borrow from your retirement, or sign yourself up for a lifetime of debt to get that degree you’ve always wanted. The following, with some effort, may help reduce the cost of your new education. Each small savings, scholarship, or tax credit can make a meaningful impact on your ability to start off on a path to achieve your goals.
Choose your college wisely
Many people think a degree is only valuable if it is from a prestigious or well-known institution. This could not be further from the truth. Plenty of community and public colleges provide similar programs as private schools and are in a far more attractive price range. With few exceptions, limiting yourself to prestige may only saddle you with more debt. Instead, look toward other quality institutions where you aren’t paying for a brand name education.
IRS Tax Credits and 529 plans
- Lifetime Learning credit and American opportunity credit – Be sure to take advantage of the tax credits offered by the IRS which can help offset college costs.
- 529 College Savings Plans – Just as a parent saving for their child’s education, you can participate in a 529 College Savings Plan as an adult and these savings are tax deductible in over 30 US States. It is a little-known fact that you can contribute to the plan, take the tax credit, and use the dollars for school all in the same year.
Pick a flexible program
With online programs and urban campus extensions, schools have made a strong push to make obtaining a degree work around current employment. It’s not a new concept for students to work part or full time while obtaining a degree, but it has become significantly easier, changing many of the time constraint issues of the past. Many people select their institution specifically around the ability to tailor course work to their time schedule, therefore earning better income; something anticipated more of in the near future.
Existing work perks
Many large employers offer incentives to further your education, ask HR to make sure you are maximizing your opportunity.
- Employer-sponsored tuition – Some employers offer this benefit even if it’s not promoted.
- Employer reimbursed tuition – This can be full or partial.
- Work experience for credit – Many colleges offer credit for your work experience, reducing the number of courses paid for.
Many adult students assume they aren’t eligible for financial aid or scholarships. Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify, apply anyway; you won’t know unless you try. At the very least, you may qualify for partial funding.
- Grants – Submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application to see if you qualify for a grant that doesn’t need repayment; most importantly, there is no limit to student age.
- Scholarships – There are many accolade opportunities for students of all ages. You’ll have to invest time to do the scholarship hunt, however; the payoffs can be well worth the effort. Many scholarships tailor awards specifically for adult students.
- Low-interest student loans – This also requires filling out FAFSA but can result in more attractive loan options than available on the street.
- Discounts for tuition – There are many programs available that offer discounts to specific student type and degree programs, often based on geographic subtleties.
You don’t always have to choose between retirement savings and a degree; it’s entirely possible to have both. While its true college is expensive, there are many misconceptions about its affordability. Realistically, you can go back to school to get the degree that you’ve always wanted without falling into deep debt. Each small savings, scholarship, or tax credit can make a meaningful impact on your ability to start off on a path to achieve your goals.