One of the first questions a potential college student, whether just out of high school or the seasoned adult, wonders is how to pay for college. This isn’t always an easy question despite the answers that exist. For those just out of high school, the answer is typically to ask the parents what their plans are. For the adult, one of the first questions is how can you budget enough money and time to go to college, work and manage to pay for it all.
As someone who started college as an adult, I know it isn’t easy, but there are some solutions. Believe it or not, many of the solutions are similar to those students who are just out of high school. The key for the adult is more planning.
When I went back to college, it was really a spur of the moment decision and I didn’t have many plans on how to pay for college. Actually, I had none. Now, several 10s of thousands of dollars in debt, I realize that much of this debt could have been avoided had I simply planned a little better.
As an adult, once you plan on going to college, you need to take some time to plan how to pay for college. My recommendation is to take at least a year in planning. If you could save 20 thousand dollars by waiting a year, it really is worth it. In that year, you need to do some research into methods of student financial aid. These means looking into scholarships, grants and the various loans that are out there for adults.
Federal education grants, known as Pell grants, are available for those that have need. Now while this is to some extent income dependent, qualifying also depends on the number of dependents as well. One of the first things to do is to file a Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA). In doing so, you will automatically be considered for a Pell grant. Whether you qualify and how much you qualify for will depend on a variety of factors. Income and the number of dependents you have being two of them. Don’t consider not applying because even a little grant money can save you money in the long run. Filing the FAFSA is also the first step in applying for student loans. You absolutely want to file a FAFSA regardless of your financial situation.
College Scholarships are not simply for those just out of high school. In some cases you might actually qualify for some scholarships that those students just out of high school don’t qualify for. The reason for this is that adults generally have more life experience, have joined a variety of social groups or have participated in more community service. Social groups and community service go a long way in qualifying for scholarships because many scholarships base qualification on whether or not you are a member of a social group or the type of community service. Some scholarships are also based on ethnicity, gender and other individual factors. My suggestion is to think about who you are in both the basic terms, such as gender and ethnicity, and then to expand this to interests and involvement. By doing this you increase the number of potential scholarships you might be eligible for. Also, don’t pay for a scholarship search. There are many scholarship searches that are absolutely free and can yield a great deal of scholarship money.
After looking into grants and scholarships, student loans are your best bet. But, I would caution you to apply for every possible scholarship you might be eligible before you take out student loans. However, if scholarship possibilities are limited, then definitely don’t let the fact that you may have to take out student loans disturb you. For one, subsidized student loans do not accrue interest until you are out of school. Second, the interest, even for unsubsidized loans can be reasonable and your student loans do not have to be repaid until after you graduate. Believe me, the difference in your income because you have a degree vs. not having a degree will more than make up the cost of you student loan. However, all other options should be exhausted first.
As an adult, going back to school is much more daunting than if you go right after high school for a variety of reasons. First, most students just graduating high school have their parents to rely on in one form or another. Second, there is a level of confidence that goes with starting college just after high school that you don’t necessarily have. This may lead you to take more chances with scholarship applications. However, none of this should hinder you from taking the same steps in finding money to pay for college. The fact is that because of your life experience, you may actually be eligible for scholarships that you may not have thought about in high school and if all else fails, there is the possibility of grants and student loans. In the long run, the benefits of getting your education will far exceed the costs of not having an education.