By Allison Stadd
In its most recent survey of college pricing, the College Board reports that a moderate budget for an in-state public college for the 2014–2015 academic year averaged $23,410; at a private college, it averaged $46,272.
That’s pricey—especially for parents who are also paying for their kids’ education—but for those seeking job advancement or a career change, it’s worth it.
What to do? Certainly the answer is not sacrificing your dream to obtain an advanced degree. Here are six smart, solid options for finding free (or cheap) financing to pay for your educational dreams.
Federal student aid
U.S. citizens with a high school diploma or GED certificate enrolled (or accepted for enrollment) in an eligible education program may be able to receive federal student loans. The government also offers certain financial grants, if you are eligible, like the Pell Grant, that typically do not require repayment. There are certain requirements you have to satisfy to get subsidized loans (a.k.a. Stafford loans), such as the degree of financial need, but the free online FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) formcan help you figure out if you’re eligible and, if so, how much money you are eligible to receive.
Course-by-course cash payments
Some schools offer a cash plan that lets you pay for one course at a time, with check, credit card, debit card, money order or wire transfer. This route lets you avoid the up-front sticker shock of paying for an entire school year at a time.
Scholarships and grants
Scholarships aren’t just for freshman football players. Many, many schools offer full or partial scholarships, and third parties do the same on both the federal and state level. You can apply for scholarships and grants from organizations as varied as New York Women in Communications (offering $2,500-$10,000 to students pursuing a career in communications) to theUnited Methodist Church ($500-$5,000 to active church members with a minimum GPA of 2.5). Hunt through the opportunities and take the time to apply thoughtfully and thoroughly in order to cash in on your career plans, organizational memberships or talents.
If you’re going to be working full time while you earn your degree, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that your company could help you pay for school. For example, AT&T provides tuition aid of up to $5,250 annually for full-time employees and Chevron offers tuition reimbursement for up to 75% of an employee’s education. If you’re aiming to earn a bachelor’s degree,Starbucks offers its employees up to 100% tuition coverage. Look into whether your company qualifies for tax deductions for reimbursing education, which could help you sell the idea to your boss.
You can also receive financial assistance from a bank or other third-party lender, although the terms aren’t as favorable and the money isn’t subsidized or guaranteed by the government. For example, if you’re eligible the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on Direct Subsidized loans, while you’re in school at least half time and for the first six months after you leave school, the borrower is the responsible party for interest due on private loans. Private loans come with much higher interest rates, especially if your credit history isn’t stellar, and almost all require a cosigner. That said, if you’ve exhausted all your options and still require additional funds to make earning a higher degree possible, private loans are an alternative worth at least exploring.
Don’t underestimate your own power to pad your bank account with cash earned through freelance or contract work. You may not have time to take on a full-time or part-time job in addition to whatever work or homemaking you’re doing now, but these days it’s easier than ever to earn flexibly from home.
Combine the new skills you gain through your educational journey, and leverage your existing abilities, to parlay that know-how into paying gigs. Check out sites like Elance, oDesk, and Skillbridge, browse online job boards and LinkedIn for remote or freelance roles, and stay in touch with your network to keep apprised of opportunities.