How to Reduce the Cost of Returning to School
Going back to school as an adult can be a hard decision to make. Job and family commitments can make finding time to study difficult, while the expense of college will be compounded by existing financial obligations. Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce the costs of returning to school.
Money is tight and there may not be much left over to help pay for the investment that is a college education. While earning more money may not be an option, especially for a displaced worker, finding some additional funds from other sources will defray some of the expense.
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The first step in seeking financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the federal form used to determine financial need for students. The application can be made online at www.fafsa.ed.gov.
Filling out the FAFSA form will help determine if a student is eligible for grants from federal or state governments that provide money toward tuition. Other grants can be found from civic organizations, employers or specialty groups. Checking with the school’s financial aid office can also offer guidance. There are no age restrictions on student grants so older students have just as much of a chance of receiving a federal award as a younger student does. Grants are a good option because they do not need to be repaid.
Low-interest student loans provide additional funds to help pay tuition, but be aware that unlike grants, loans have to eventually be paid back after graduation.
Obtaining financial aid can certainly help with college but it may still be necessary to lower expenses through other means.
Consider attending a couple of years at a community college before heading to a university. Courses at community colleges cost far less than similar ones at four-year institutions.
These are available to students who are seeking a first degree, but also for those who have a bachelor’s degree but are seeking a change of career. Part-time programs are also less expensive.
The Lifetime Learning Credit offers a 20 percent tax credit on education expenses up to $10,000. The maximum tax credit is $2,000. The American Opportunity Credit can provide a $2,500 credit for those returning to school full time for their first degree. There is also a $50 per month credit available for adults who are full-time students and need to pay child care.
While tuition can be very high, purchasing textbooks is also a major expense. Look for used versions, which are less expensive, or look into taking advantage of online sources. E-readers may also offer cheaper options, as well as the advantage of not having to lug several textbooks back and forth.
Going back to school can be costly but with some advanced planning, that expense can be reduced. The investment in a better future is worth the extra time and effort.