Adult Education: Resources That Pay
Even with climbing college costs, going back to school doesn’t have to put you under a mountain of debt. Check out these seven ways to subsidize your adult education.
- Federal Aid:
The largest provider of higher education aid in the country, the federal government shells out more than $80 billion each year in grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans for students just like you. All you’ve got to do is download a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and send it in as close to January 1st as you possibly can. Federal aid awards do not discriminate between online and brick-and-mortar students and are restricted only to students attending accredited colleges and universities. To see if your school is eligible for federal aid, check out the accreditation database.
- State Aid:
In addition to federal aid, some states are also willing to pony up a bit to help starving students. While some states offer to aid in the form of need and/or merit-based grants and scholarships, others offer loan forgiveness programs for students in professions like education or health care. Your state’s board of higher education will have information on what type of state-funded aid is available in your area.
- Private Scholarships:
If Uncle Sam won’t hand you a fat check, your school is the best next place to go. Both public and private schools oftentimes have scholarships, grants, and fellowships reserved specifically for non-traditional students over the age of 30. To find out what’s available at your school, contact your financial aid office as soon as possible and ask about aid packages without age restrictions. Additionally, your local library, church, chamber of commerce, volunteer club, political organization, or labor union may offer educational awards to students in your town seeking degrees.
Since competition for local cash is significantly less than that for national scholarships, tapping into your community could pay off big time. On the national level, Fastweb.com contains a scholarship database with more than 50 awards designed for adult learners as well as more than 1,000 scholarship awards with no age restrictions. Finaid.org, Fastaid.com, and Scholarships101.com also provide free scholarship searches for any and all students looking to reduce their college costs.
- Tuition Reimbursement:
If you can’t find outside help, try handing your bill to your boss. According to a survey conducted by Mercer Human Resources Consulting, 84% of all employers offer some form of tuition assistance. The catch is that your new degree has to be relevant to your current job and has to provide you with skills that can easily translate into the office.
While some companies will simply hand you a check for your educational needs, others place restrictions on what types of courses can be taken and how much they’re willing to reimburse. Your firm’s human resources office will be able to provide you with information on what types of tuition assistance packages your employer offers.
- Military Benefits:
If you’ve put in your time, make sure to get your rewards. Thanks to the Montgomery GI Bill, veterans and active personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and National Guard can get up to $37,000 worth of free tuition just for doing their duty. Additionally, the Armed Forces College Fund also provides merit-based aid in addition to funds provided through the Montgomery GI Bill.
Those still enlisted are also eligible for free classes through the Armed Forces Tuition Assistance Program as well as through the Student Loan Repayment Program. Information about what your branch of the armed forces offers is available through Finaid.org or your branch’s web site.
- Educational Tax Credits:
One of the most overlooked sources of financial aid, educational tax credits allow families to deduct thousands without ever touching a FAFSA form. Good for the first two years of school, the Hope Scholarship provides adult learners with a $1,500 deduction per year of school provided that you’re attending school at least half-time and the Lifetime Learning credit allows a $1,000 deduction for every year after the second.
Additionally, adult learners can also deduct up to $2,500 of their student loan interest from their taxes. Add it all up and you’ve got $7,500 worth of deductions you can make no matter how many other scholarships or grants you win.
- Outside Loans:
If your aid package isn’t as bountiful as you’d like, you might want to check out private lenders. Though the federal government typically offers loans with the lowest interest rates, adult learners with substandard credit may not be eligible. Before you turn to an independent lender, think about dipping into the equity in your home.
In most cases, home equity lines of credit offer lower interest rates than private lenders and students can borrow however much they need without fearing a prepayment penalty. If a home equity line of credit isn’t an option, private lenders like Sallie Mae offer loans to students of all ages.