Today, many find it necessary to update skills, change fields, or gain educational qualifications later in your career. Doing so can increase earning power, qualify you for promotions, and increase relevant skills in today’s changing marketplace. Whatever the personal reason you decide to increase your formal training, you also must find a way to fund the schooling.
The need for additional education can occur in your 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s, leading to a potential debt crisis for many middle-aged families. Consider that the average cost of an advanced degree ranges from $30,000 to $120,000, depending on the program and University you choose. Borrowing the full amount could add the equivalent of a mortgage payment to your balance sheet.
Fortunately, there are many ways to get assistance to pay for the cost of schooling, which can reduce or eliminate your reliance on student loans.
Potential Financial Resources to Cover the Costs of Additional Schooling:
Work Benefits: Major corporations often provide an employee benefit, tuition reimbursement programs which assists with the cost of additional schooling.. These programs have a maximum annual limit and often require additional years of service to avoid repayment requirements. If you use this benefit to upgrade current job skills it may improve chances of a promotion within the company.
- Advantages of work benefits: Loyalty to your current employer could lead to a free advanced degree if you spread classes over several years. There are typically no restrictions on the class load, and you may attend any school, in the classroom or online. Your company may also offer additional scholarships or financial assistance for higher education to other household members such as a spouse or child.
- Disadvantages of work benefits: Must remain with the company for a vesting period. Classes typically must relate to your job in some way. You must pay tuition costs up-front and will receive a reimbursement after completing the class with an acceptable grade.
Fellowship: A fellowship will often cover 100% of the cost of tuition for the duration of the program. Many also include a stipend to cover living expenses in exchange for research hours or student teaching, both of which provide valuable work experience for finding employment after completing the degree. Best used for returning students wanting a full-time class load and willing to live frugally during your school years.
- Advantages of a fellowship: Free tuition and a stipend can cover the bulk of the costs of obtaining an advanced degree, although the stipend may not cover all living expenses. Can use a fellowship for most advanced degrees including both masters and doctorate programs.
- Disadvantages of a fellowship: Must attend school full-time to qualify. It may be difficult to live on the stipend, requiring loans to supplement to cost of school. Attending school full time and working to earn the stipend pay will limit the time for other personal pursuits and family obligations. You must keep up your grades and degree progression to maintain the fellowship in subsequent years. Each department only offers a few fellowships each year, making them difficult to win. Often a new fellowship will not become available until the current recipient completes their degree.
Scholarships. Not all scholarships focus on first-year undergraduate students. There is an abundance of scholarships available for advanced degrees in every major field of study. For higher degrees, you must cast a wider net and find scholarships beyond those offered through the financial aid office. Seek out private scholarships found through online websites and inquire at the department at the University you wish to attend.
- Advantages of a scholarship: The money never requires repayment, work, or other obligations. They often are not school specific, allowing you to use them at any accredited university. Most do not have attendance or grade requirements, making them very flexible to your financial needs. You may be able to hold the scholarship award until you need it, allowing you to apply early for potential awards. There are scholarships for all majors and programs.
- Disadvantages of a scholarship: You must do the legwork to win scholarships, which can include lengthy applications, essays, projects, and other requirements. The more difficult the application, the lower the competition. Scholarships are one piece of funding your educational needs, but typically will not cover all costs.
University employment. Universities typically offer the employee benefit of free or reduced tuition, allowing you to attend school either part-time or full-time and receive any advanced degree you wish. Attending the school where you work will also connect you to faculty and staff that could further your work career. Universities hire both full and part-time faculty and staff, for a range of jobs, enabling you to parlay your current skill set into a university job.
- Advantages of university work: Lowers the cost of school and could lead to free tuition as long as you remain employed at the school. Might enable you to arrange your work schedule around required classes. Benefits may extend to immediate family members.
- Disadvantages of university work: Free or reduced tuition only applies to that school or a partner school. Working full-time while attending school could lead to a longer time before degree completion. You must work and attend school simultaneously.
Tax Credits. Regardless of where you attend school, if you pay for educational expenses out of pocket, you could qualify for tax credits or tax deductions, lowering out of pocket costs.
- Advantages of tax credits: Can use for part-time or full-time costs of school. Tax credits reduce your tax bill dollar for dollar. You can use the Lifetime Learning tax credit across multiple years to increase the benefit.
- Disadvantages of tax credits: Only covers a portion of the cost. Impacts your taxes owed, rather than directly reducing the cost of school.
Finding free resources to pay for your continuing education needs will reduce the amount you must borrow, ultimately saving you thousands of dollars in interest and years of repayment.