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Every year, thousands of adults brave the mall and office supply stores to go back-to-school shopping. But they’re not shopping for their kids. They’re shopping for themselves.
Countless adults return to college campuses every year. About 37% of college students are 25 and older.
Going back to school as an adult can be tricky, whether you’ve never gone to college or if you’re returning to get an advanced degree. Your brain is older, your body needs more sleep and you’re not financially reliant on your parents.
The latter reason is why many adults delay going back to school, even if they know it’ll advance their career or help them achieve their dreams. Keep reading to find out how to go back to school as an adult without busting your budget.
Ask Your Company for Help
If you’re continuing to work while you go back to school, talk to your supervisor about it. Many companies have tuition reimbursement programs so you may be able to get a discount on school and books while you’re employed.
Mention how going back to college will make you a better employee and what skills you’ll learn there. If you can frame the decision in a way that benefits the company, they may be more inclined to help.
Some companies may also be willing to dial back your hours if you want to take more classes or if there aren’t evening classes available. They may allow you to work part-time or work remote from home some days.
Apply for Aid
If you had a disappointing experience with financial aid as a teenager, don’t let that discourage you from filing for financial aid as an adult.
If you’re older than 23, live by yourself, are married, or have kids, you may qualify to be an independent student and won’t have to provide your parents’ income on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Their salary won’t be used to determine your ability to pay.
You might discover that you qualify for more than you think in financial aid. You should also contact the college directly because you never know what kind of scholarships or grants they may have to help people returning to school.
Compare Federal and Private Student Loans
Since you’re an adult, you’re likely to have a better credit score than an 18 year-old which means you qualify for better interest rates on your student loans. Before signing up for federal loans, compare those rates with private student loan companies.
The current interest rate for Direct Unsubsidized Loans, available to graduate or professional students, is 6.08%. The rate for Direct PLUS loans, also for graduate or professional students, is 7.08%.
Those rates aren’t astronomical, but you might find better ones if you go outside the federal government. Private lender SoFi has rates as low as 5.05% for a five-year term and Earnest has a 5.09% fixed-rate option.
Go through your options and see what makes sense. You can always sign up for federal loans first and then refinance with a private lender after you graduate. If you’re interested in public service or working for a non-profit, you may be eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which would require you to have federal loans.
Before applying for student loans, check your credit score through the Mint app to see where you stand. If your score is below 700, take a few months to bump it up. A lower score will hurt when it’s time to get student loans.
Tips for Succeeding in College as an Adult
Manage Time Well
When you were an undergrad student, you might have had hours of free time to study at the library. But now your time is probably limited if you’re working and attending school. If you have a family or a long commute, you’re at an even bigger disadvantage.
Time management is so important for anyone going back to school as an adult. Part of time management is taking advantage of small bits of time, like your lunch break or the one-hour gap between your workout and your next class. Don’t wait for huge chunks of time to work on your assignments.
If you’re waiting in line running errands, bring a textbook. If you have a doctor’s appointment, bring your laptop in the waiting room.
Networking and meeting new people is one of the most important things you can do as an adult student, especially if you’re switching careers. It’s even more important to make new connections that can help once you’ve graduated.
Attend networking events on campus and look for potential mentors, like professors and administrators. Join clubs and do activities that have a direct tie-in to your future profession.
Create a Budget
If you’ve spent some time in the workforce, you’re probably used to getting a regular paycheck. But if you’re going back to school, you may have to tighten the reins on your spending.
Go through your expenses and see how new costs add up. You may be spending more on take-out if you have less time to cook or your transportation costs may increase if campus is far away.
Examine your spending to see what your real expenses are and how they compare to your income. If you’re not working anymore and living off student loans, you should be especially careful with your spending. Every dollar you spend costs you some amount of interest. The more you spend, the more you’ll owe in the future.
Use Mint to track your expenses and schedule a time each week to check in on your finances. If you find yourself slipping, take some inspiration from your new peers. Skip eating out in favor of easy meals at home. Take the bus instead of Uber. Look into discounted student services, like cheaper health insurance or free gym access.
It may be difficult to say no to things, but consider it in an investment for your future self.