Financial Tips for Going Back to College at Any Age

You’re never too old to learn, but you might be wondering how you can meet your educational goals without breaking the bank. Believe it or not, there are ways to make college more affordable no matter what your age.

In your 20s

Perhaps you weren’t ready to go to college immediately after graduating from high school. You took time off to travel, work, raise children, or pursue a military career. But after getting some “real world” experience under your belt, you’ve decided now is the time to go back to college.

Should you jump into a four-year bachelor’s program or a two-year associate’s degree? The answer may depend on what you want to study, how much time you have to devote to your studies, and how much you can afford. Keep in mind that federal financial aid eligibility is based on a student attending school on at least a half-time basis. Also bear in mind that the more time you spend in school, the higher the overall tuition bill and the more money you may need to borrow–and pay back.

Certificate or vocational training programs may also be worth considering as viable alternatives to more traditional four- or two-year options. Usually, they are less expensive and can be a faster way to build a skill set needed to start your career.

If you spent time in the military, you could be eligible for education benefits that may cover the cost of tuition/fees, housing, and books. To learn more about available benefits and eligibility requirements for military members, visit benefits.va.gov.

In your 30s, 40s, and 50s

The prospect of paying for college may seem impossible if you’re struggling to balance your family life, job, and finances. It might make sense, though, if you need or want to upgrade your job skills or change your career.

Some employers offer tuition reimbursement benefits to help employees improve their skills or gain new skills. This can be a very valuable financial resource, so check with your human resources department to see if your company offers tuition benefits. However, employers typically require employees to remain at the company for a certain length of time after the benefits are paid, so make sure to check out the details.

If you have a particularly hectic schedule, registering for night classes, online classes, or as a part-time student may be more convenient for you.

Nontraditional class times or virtual attendance can also be more cost-effective by eliminating additional expenses like the cost of commuting or housing that are associated with conventional enrollment.

If you’re in your 50s, it may be worth looking into colleges supported by programs like the American Association of Community Colleges Plus 50 Initiative. This program provides funding to community colleges for the creation and expansion of campus programs that target individuals aged 50 and older who seek workforce training or preparation for a new career. To see colleges in your area that are associated with the initiative, visit plus50.aacc.nche.edu.

In your 60s and beyond

If you’re approaching retirement or already retired, you might be inspired to pursue a college degree or attend classes merely for educational enrichment. If so, you don’t necessarily have to tap into your retirement funds to pay for college.

A growing number of state universities and community colleges offer a selection of tuition-free classes for older students. Other schools may offer reduced tuition based on your age.

And if you don’t mind learning online, massive open online courses (MOOCs) could be a cost-effective option. MOOCs offer a wide variety of classes at little or no cost, allowing you to quench your thirst for more knowledge on a variety of topics at the time of your choosing.

Tips for all ages

Renting textbooks, registering for online courses, and applying for financial aid are examples of money-saving strategies that could help a college student at any age. Remember that most students are eligible for some form of financial aid, so you will want to fill out the federal government’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine how much aid you might be eligible for. To learn how much aid you might receive, visit a college’s financial aid office, run a college’s net price calculator on its website, or visit fafsa.ed.gov.

If you receive a smaller amount of financial aid than you hoped, research local, state, and national scholarships. Accomplishments you’ve made over the years from your nontraditional education path could help you qualify.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016