By Amanda BlackAssociate Director of Communication and Financial Literacy
Are you an adult thinking of attending college but concerned about the cost?
If your answer is "yes," then you are not alone.
The cost of higher education is at an historic high – and it continues to rise. This should not, however, keep you from pursuing the education or career of your choice. Even if you're a busy adult with a family and financial obligations, there are a number of ways to secure the funding you need to go to school.
Financial advantages of online programs
Considering an online degree program is a good start. Few adults have the time or money to commute to a college campus, let alone pick up and move to live on one. Enrolling in an online program allows students to study without having to pay for gas, meal plans, or campus housing.
Online students may also save on textbooks and instead order less expensive electronic resources and ebooks. The flexibility of doing coursework when the time suits the student (instead of having to sit in a classroom at a designated time) may also translate to cost savings since one doesn't have to miss work or hire a babysitter.
Here are eight additional tips on how to afford college – without having to win the lottery or rob a bank.
1. File your FAFSA.
Many people mistakenly assume they won't qualify for financial aid and skip applying. Don't make this mistake – be sure to apply! In addition to possibly receiving grants and scholarships, there are a few forms of aid such as unsubsidized Direct Loans and Direct PLUS loans that are available to students regardless of need. Filing online is the easiest and quickest way at www.FAFSA.ed.gov.
2. Search and apply for scholarships.
It takes time and effort, but there is free money available for adult learners. A few places to start include:
3. Consider private loans.
Private loans for higher education should be a last resort and only considered after securing as much gift aid (grants and scholarships) and low-interest federal student loans as possible. Many lenders now offer fairly competitive rates and benefits, so be sure to do careful research and thoroughly understand the loans' terms.
To help you with your research, Saint Leo provides FASTChoice – a web tool that allows you to compare multiple loans side by side. FASTChoice also offers an interactive overview of basic information about borrowing for school. Understanding how a private loan works will ensure that you secure it on the best possible terms and get the most out of it.
4. Consider working in public service.
Student loan borrowers who work full-time in public service may qualify to have their federal student loans forgiven.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program was established by the federal government to encourage people to work full-time in the public service sector by forgiving the remaining balance of their Direct Loans. (Loans are forgiven only after borrowers have made 120 qualifying payments.)
The term "public service organization" includes a wide range of employers, including federal, state, and local government agencies and the majority of not-for-profit organizations. Obviously, having debt forgiven should not be the sole reason to enter a program of study or take a job. However, the PSLF Program should be considered for students aiming for jobs in teaching, law enforcement, public health or library services.
5. Consider working for an employer that offers tuition benefits.
Many companies offer employees education benefits – sometimes including partially or fully subsidized tuition. Colleges and universities often give free tuition to employees while other organizations may simply provide reimbursement for tuition expenses. Free or discounted tuition is a valuable benefit and may be one way to pursue higher education without having to pay out of pocket or borrow loans. Check with your Human Resources department to see what your company may offer.
6. Attend school part time.
Pursuing your studies part time will not only leave more time to manage your career, family, and personal life, but it may also allow you to minimize student loan debt. Obviously, the more credits you take a term or semester, the higher your tuition will cost. Some students find that if they take only a few credits at a time – and pay in full, out of pocket – they are able to avoid borrowing. Those that do borrow to attend part time often wind up borrowing less on a term-by- term basis than they would if they were attending full time.
7. Get financially strategic.
The best way to get somewhere is to have a plan and use a map. A budget is a plan and a map for your finances – one you can follow to reach your financial destination.
If your goal is to attend school and cost is an obstacle, the first step is to closely review your finances. Using Microsoft Excel, pencil and paper, or an online budgeting tool (such as Mint or BudgetPlus), accurately record your income and expenses. How much do you need to save? How long will it take to be able to afford school? Is there any room for cutting back on expenses? Once you have a plan in place to save, diligently stick to your budget.
Don't be intimidated
Attending school isn't easy – just getting to the point where you can afford to enroll can be a challenge in itself. Don't let the cost of school intimidate or deter you without exploring all your options and having all the facts.
If you are interested in attending Saint Leo University and you are unsure of what aid may be available to you, please contact Financial Aid Support toll-free at (800) 240-7658 to speak with a financial aid liaison. You are also welcome to send your questions via email to Financial Aid Support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, Amanda Black is passionate about promoting financial literacy and helping student loan borrowers responsibly manage their debt. When she is not at work, Amanda enjoys jogging, sharing a glass of wine with friends, and traveling with her husband. Reach her at at 800.240.7658 or Amanda.email@example.com.
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