5 Ways to Make Returning to School More Affordable

paying for college It’s not shocking to recent graduates who find themselves swimming in student loan debt, nor is it news to those who are struggling to find enough money for their own or a family member’s tuition—the cost of higher education is increasing around the country.

At the same time, public funding for higher education is declining. A report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) found that state and local financing decreased 7 percent in 2012. The economy’s slow climb out of the pitfalls of the recent recession, combined with inflation and a reduction in the amount of funding by local and state governments accounted for a 9 percent decrease in available funds for students. Not only has available financing fallen, but tuition costs have nearly doubled since 1987.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you’re an adult thinking about going back to school, you have some options when it comes to making your education more affordable. Consider some of these cost-saving strategies:

Federal student aid: Step one for anyone looking to begin a degree program is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is the starting place to qualify for federal and institutional student aid programs, including scholarships, grants and student loans—and despite many misconceptions, the FAFSA isn’t just for traditional students. This fact sheet on Federal Student Aid for Adult Students offers a helpful overview on how adults applying to any level of degree program can use Federal Aid.

Earn an associate’s degree first: If you don’t yet have a college degree, look into first earning an associate’s degree at a community college that has an articulation agreement with a four-year school. Most two-year schools offer the same “core” subjects at significantly reduced cost. It is, however, important to talk with an admissions or registrar’s office to ensure all of the earned credits will transfer.

Transfer old credits: Along the same lines as the previous option, look into transferring any old credits you’ve earned. You may be surprised to find that some courses you’ve already taken can be applied to the degree you want to pursue. Some graduate programs may even accept courses from prior degrees. Even if you think it’s a long shot, it’s worth investigating—transferring just one or two credits could save you hundreds of dollars. Not all schools or programs will accept your transfer credits, however, so you must talk with the school you’re interested in to find out for sure.

Continuing education courses for work: Many employers require or encourage employees to stay updated in their field or maintain credentials by taking continuing education courses. Often, these credits can also be applied to a degree program. If you’ve taken continuing education courses for work and you’re interested in furthering your education in a field related to what you’re already doing, this could be a viable option.

Credit for life experience: Some schools will award credits for life experience (e.g. military training or already-earned licenses and certifications.) While there can be a fee per credit issued with life experience credits, it may be less than the cost of taking a traditional course. The number of life experience credits colleges and universities will accept varies from school-to-school.

Yes, paying for college is expensive, and it seems to be only becoming more so. But with some research and strategic planning, the degree you desire can be within your financial means. Do you have any other suggestions on cutting costs for adults going back to school? Let us know in the comments below!

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