How To Pay For College As An Adult
If you're an adult and you've considered going back to school to gain new qualifications and increase your employability and earning power, you're not alone. Around 40% of college students are adult learners over the age of 25. Returning to college, whether you dropped out years ago or never went to college in the first place, has multiple benefits, but it can still be a difficult process. Dealing with the anxieties of going back to school while juggling course work with your other responsibilities is hard enough without having to factor in the additional costs of pursuing higher education. There are ways to find help with the cost, though, and going back to school at 30, 40, or even beyond doesn't have to be an unbearable financial burden.
One of the advantages of going back to school is that you probably already know what you want to learn, which makes the how and where much easier to figure out. Examine your learning goals to decide on the best way to tackle your adult education. Do you need to earn a second degree, or will undergoing a training course for a few weeks suffice? Will you opt for a private university, or do you have the option to study at a lower-cost state college?
Many schools go out of their way to encourage adult students. Some offer free or reduced tuition for returning students. Tuition waivers are not the only way an institute can cater to adult learners with jobs and other responsibilities; some offer accelerated programs so that you can complete your courses earlier, or will allow flexible scheduling options such as part-time, night, or weekend study.
Some states even offer free job training workshops through trade schools or community colleges. The Department of Labor also sponsors One Stop Career Centers that may be available in your area, with courses ranging from nursing to computer programming.
Completing your classes online is another way to handle the additional workload from the comforts of your own home and at your own pace. There are many affordable and credible online courses, some even being offered by top-tier and Ivy League schools.
One of the advantages of going back to school is that you probably already know what you want to learn, which makes the how and where much easier to figure out.
Put those valuable years in the workforce towards your education. Check with your chosen school if you can claim college credit on some of your work experience. You won't have to take as many classes to graduate, reducing not just tuition, but also the time it takes for you to finish and the associated living expenses. You can even start reaping the benefits of your additional education much earlier.
You can test out of classes by taking College Level Exam Program (CLEP) tests. These are exams designed to test adult students on things they may already know from work or life experience. You can take the tests at sites all around the country. If you pass a CLEP test, you will no longer have to take the equivalent course, and all for a tiny fraction of the time and cost of a semester-long class. If you pass all five general exams, you can get up to 30 credits, equivalent to a whole year of college. If you're a service member or veteran, look into the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) program, which may allow you to claim additional credit after taking appropriate tests.
If you're already employed, you can take advantage of corporate training and in-house workshops and apply them towards your degree. You can check with the College Credit Recommendation Service to see if any of the formal training you have had qualifies you for comparable credit. If you are a licensed professional, such as a Certified Public Accountant or Engineer, many schools accept this instead of classes. Military service can also translate to credit. Getting credit for the life experience you have already earned can get you a huge head start on your degree, saving you time and money.
Individual colleges and universities might also have other specific processes for you to claim experiential credit, such as submitting an academic portfolio, writing a paper, or other methods. You'll have to demonstrate your understanding of the course material as well as the depth and breadth of your working knowledge and experience. Your final product will be judged by professors or other experts. Check with your school and department to see what options they offer.
As an adult student, you will benefit the most from the Lifetime Learning Credit, which has credit of up to $2000. Unlike other credit systems, like the $2500 American Opportunity Credit, you don't need to be enrolled full-time or in your first undergraduate degree program to qualify.
If you're employed, you can deduct the cost of tuition, books, and other supplies through a tuition-and-fees deduction of up to $4000 a year. Full-time students who are also parents can claim up to $50 a month in childcare. Student loans are a long-term commitment, but you can deduct interest paid on your loans up to $2500. These breaks are designed to help students like you, and it pays to use them!