Continuing education can be a powerful tool to increase earnings and secure a better future. However, financing education is often a significant hurdle for many, especially for low- to moderate-income students and professionals. With careful planning and a keen eye for opportunities, securing the funding you need is possible.
Fortunately, there are various strategies to fund educational opportunities without breaking the bank. With determination and the right financial strategy, the goal of continuing your education can be within reach, opening doors to a brighter future. Let’s explore some of these options.
- Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships provide funds for education that don’t need to be repaid. They are often awarded based on merit, which can mean academic achievement, athletic skills, special talents, or volunteer work. However, many lesser-known scholarships exist for unique circumstances or interests. Websites like Fastweb and Scholarships.com can help you find scholarships suited to your profile.
Unlike loans, grants are typically need-based and don’t require repayment. The Federal Pell Grant, for instance, is awarded to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need. Other grants are available based on factors such as field of study, career goals, or personal characteristics.
- Harness Work Opportunities
Work-study programs offer part-time employment opportunities to students to help finance their education. Jobs can often be related to your field of study, providing valuable experience. Your school or a government body typically facilitates these programs.
Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs as part of their benefits package. These programs can cover a portion or all of your tuition costs for approved educational courses or programs. Check your company’s policy or ask your HR department about tuition assistance options.
Registered Apprenticeships allow you to learn a trade while earning a salary. Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training with classroom learning and can be an excellent option for people seeking an alternative to traditional college degrees.
- Student Loans
Student loans are a common form of financial aid that must be repaid, usually with interest. They can come from federal sources (the U.S. Department of Education) or private sources (banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions). It’s crucial to understand the type of student loans you’re getting.
Always remember to exhaust your free money options (scholarships and grants) first before turning to borrowed money (loans).
Federal Student Loans
Federal student loans often come with lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans, making them an excellent first choice for many students.
- Direct Subsidized Loans: These loans are available to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need. The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on these loans while you’re in school at least half-time, for the first six months after you leave school, and during a deferment period.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans are available to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and aren’t based on financial need. Unlike subsidized loans, you’re responsible for paying the interest during all periods.
- Direct PLUS Loans: These loans are available to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid. Eligibility is not based on financial need, but a credit check is required.
- Direct Consolidation Loans: These loans allow you to combine all your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer.
Private Student Loans
Private student loans are non-federal loans made by lenders such as banks, credit unions, state agencies, or schools. If you need to borrow money to pay for college or career school, start with federal student loans, as they typically have benefits not featured in private loans.
Private loans can have variable interest rates, some greater than 18%. Private loans may require an established credit record or a cosigner, and repayment often begins immediately. They also have fewer repayment options and less flexibility when facing financial hardship.
- Take Advantage of Agreements With Your School
Many colleges offer tuition payment plans that break down the cost of education into more manageable monthly payments, usually without interest. This can help spread the financial burden across the semester or year, making it more manageable.
Income Share Agreements (ISAs)
ISAs are contract agreements between a student and their school. The student receives funding for their education, and in return, they agree to pay a percentage of their future income for a set period after graduation. ISAs are gaining popularity as a viable alternative to traditional student loans.
Trade schools, also known as vocational schools, offer specific job-focused training for careers based on manual or practical activities, traditionally non-academic, and totally related to a specific trade, occupation, or vocation. These schools often have lower tuition costs than four-year universities and can lead to lucrative careers.
- More Affordable Educational Options
Opt for Online Education
Online courses and degree programs are often more affordable than traditional on-campus programs. They also offer more flexibility, allowing you to work while studying. Websites like Coursera, edX, and Udacity provide a range of affordable courses in various fields.
Tap into Community Colleges
Community colleges typically offer lower tuition rates than four-year colleges or universities. You could start at a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution, significantly saving your overall education cost.
- Other Ways to Finance Education
If you’re a veteran or a dependent of a veteran, you might be eligible for education benefits through programs like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which can help cover the costs of tuition, housing, and books.
Websites like GoFundMe have become a popular way to raise money for education costs. It’s essential to share your story convincingly and honestly to inspire people to donate.
Certain federal tax credits like the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) or the Lifetime Learning Credit can help offset education costs.