Many of us think of college as our glory days. We remember the feeling of being young and alive, meeting new friends, experiencing new places, staying up late to study, and sensing the sweet taste of accomplishment when we receive that passing grade.
The collegiate chapter of our lives contains many memories for those who were fortunate enough to attend, however, a large portion of Americans doesn’t have the same privilege. Many of the people who have not graduated from college lack a degree not because they just didn’t want one, but because life somehow got in the way.
It might be that an applicant was not accepted into a university because the educational upbringing failed to set them up for success. They might have enrolled in school, eager to advance their academic career, but were forced to drop out and care for dependent family members instead. Or, maybe financial constraints prevented them from even considering the tuition requirement for higher education.
Whatever the case may be, many adults do not have a college degree—which can be a major detriment to achieving financial success and enjoying a comfortable quality of life. By 2020, PublicAgenda.org predicts that 65% of all jobs will require a degree or certification.
Workers without either are severely limited in their employment options, often earning significantly less than their degree-holding counterparts. They also have less access to retirement plans and health care coverage, which has long-lasting consequences for their personal and financial well-being.
Thankfully, college enrollment is not restricted by age or family size; it’s entirely possible for adults to go back to school and take control over their future, no matter how old they are or how many children they have.
More and more Americans are empowering themselves and bettering their circumstances by returning to school and pursuing higher education later in life. According to a recent report published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrollment rates among older adults are on the rise.
There’s one major setback that makes prospective students pause, though: how to fit their aspiring academic program into their current budget. Going back to school requires more than just will power; it requires resources to learn, transportation to commute, and time to study.
If you’ve recently thought about pursuing a training program, certification, or collegiate degree, but are concerned about how you can make it work financially, keep reading. Today’s post is all about advice on how to go back to school and budget accordingly so you can advance your education without breaking the bank.
Estimate Your Expenses
Budgeting 101 is all about cashflow and weighing the money coming in versus money going out. Before you enroll in a program, take a look at your bank statements over the past few months to see how much income you earn. Be sure to include any non-taxable sources of income you may receive, such as alimony or child support.
Hopefully, you already know your estimated cost of living, as well as how much money you can allocate to savings and discretionary spending per month. If not, now’s the time to calculate non-negotiable expenses (such as rent, insurance, groceries, and so forth) to determine the amount of room within your budget that can go toward school.
Next, tally up the expenses required by the program you hope to pursue. Even if you don’t have concrete costs dialed down quite yet, creating a list is a great starting place to begin running through the type of financial coverage you’ll need.
Here are a few common examples you may want to consider depending on your situation:
- Enrollment fees
- Online registration
- Course materials (books, reference guides, learning modules)
- School supplies (backpack, notebooks, pens, paper, scantrons, etc.)
- Tools and technology (laptop, calculator, printer, etc.)
- Parking pass
Parents who are debating school may also need to include the cost of a babysitter if their program will impact their parental duties. There are so many variables that can affect the costs you may face, so it’s important to thoroughly think these through when creating a budget.
Now that you have an idea of the expenses involved with higher education, you can start searching for opportunities to save. Going back to school is much more challenging for low-income adults who express greater concern for how attending college will impact their ability to afford food and transportation.
It may take some creativity, but here are some tips on how you may be able to cut costs to make school more affordable within your budget:
- Research payment programs available to low-income students.
- Minimize enrollment fees by taking more classes per semester so that you can finish faster.
- Rent used textbooks to avoid the purchase price; if that’s not an option, sell your materials back to the school in order to recover some of the cost.
- Shop school supplies through retailers who offer discounts to students.
- Commute to school by bicycle or public transit.
- If public transportation is not available, cut down on the cost of gas by carpooling with neighbors in your area.
- Avoid eating expensive meals on campus by packing snacks and lunch every day.
- Apply for food stamps for financial assistance at the grocery store
- Save on childcare by forming a study group with similar parents and rotate the responsibility to supervise.
Seek Tuition Assistance
Almost always, the largest education expense faced by students is the cost of tuition. While your program’s price tag may seem insurmountable, there are strategies that may relieve your financial burden:
- State- and federally sponsored programs may reduce or cover a portion of tuition.
- Grants may be given to students who demonstrate hardship.
- Many private companies and nonprofit organizations award scholarships to hopeful applicants.
- Some employers offer tuition assistance to adult employees returning to school.
- Students may be able to offset tuition costs through Work Placement programs.
- Financial aid is available in the form of student loans that you can repay over time.
It is always wise to minimize debt, but sometimes loans are the only option for students who can’t afford tuition. Don’t let this be a deal-breaker; the new career opportunities available to you upon completion of school will likely come with a higher pay grade that’ll make timely loan payments much more possible. 2020 could be the decade to define yourself—use this advice to consider your options and create the future you’ve always envisioned.