Going back to school is one way to boost the potential for a higher salary. The problem is that it costs money to go to college at any level. I have found working out a budget to pay for graduate studies can be quite frustrating. Regular living expenses are high enough without the added costs of taking classes, buying books and getting extra school supplies. Many of the existing college scholarships are geared toward undergraduate programs and first-year college students. Since there aren’t as many graduate school scholarships for adults pursuing their master’s and doctorate degrees, they are much more competitive. So how can you keep a roof over your head, eat and grace the hallowed halls of higher education all at the same time? It is possible; you just have to learn how to juggle.
To Work or Not To Work?
If you’re like me, you probably already have a job in your chosen field and you’ve discovered that you could make more money if you had a higher degree. If you stay employed and fit in classes as your schedule allows, you’ll need to find a nearby university that offers the graduate program you want or take classes online.
Online classes make it easier to balance your work schedule with your study schedule. Selecting an online school such as American University in Washington DC will also save you a significant amount of money. Physical universities require you to either sign up for student housing or to make a daily commute. Signing up for housing generally requires you to sign up for a meal plan. Thankfully, you can save thousands of dollars on gas, housing, and meals by studying online. The pros seriously outweigh the cons if you want to go back to school and save money while keeping your current job.
Schools have part-time enrollment, evening and weekend classes to accommodate working adults. It takes longer to complete, but you will have the double bonus of work experience and income. On the other hand, if you drop your job and take a full course load while you’re concentrating on your degree, finances can be much more complicated. It will take less time to complete, but you’ll be making more money sooner. Some universities offer work-study programs as an alternative. That means you can work on campus, probably in your field, and live nearby. Larger universities provide professors with research or teaching assistants who double as graduate students.
Your present employer can play a huge role in deciding how to pay for your next degree. Check with your human resources department to find out if your company has any incentive programs or scholarships for employees. Some offer reimbursement for part or all of your tuition if you’re pursuing a related degree and meet certain academic and employment requirements. Most bosses are flexible enough to let you adjust your work schedule a little bit to fit in with your class schedule. It’s to their advantage for you to be more knowledgeable.
While financial assistance is available for adult education and graduate studies programs, the pool of money is typically smaller. The first place to check is with the school’s financial aid office. Keep in mind that, according to the 2012 College Board study, only 29 percent of the financial aid used by graduate students was from grants and scholarships. Undergraduate students received 68 percent of their money from grants and scholarships.
• Using private or federal student loans to supplement the cost of graduate school is an option, but it can be difficult to qualify if you already have a fair amount of debt left over from your first degree.
• Finding graduate school scholarships specifically designed for people in your academic field is one of the best ways to come up with the money, because you don’t have to pay it back.
• Professional organizations and alumni programs are good sources for scholarships, grants and fellowships.
• If you have small children, look for nearby campuses with daycare facilities. You’ll probably find enthusiastic education majors on hand, which is good for your kids and great experience for the students.
Credits and Examinations
Depending on the degree you’re pursuing, you may be able to gain work equivalency credits instead of having to take the actual classes as part of your course load. You can also do an independent study for extra credits. You will probably have to pay for the credits, but this will open up some time to take an additional structured class. It’s a less expensive alternative in the long run.
Going back to school to get a higher degree can pay for itself over the long term. Choose your school carefully and be relentless when you’re looking for college scholarships. Don’t be afraid to accept campus research and teaching positions to help supplement your income. They look great on a resume and can open some doors as stepping stones for later employment.
Nicole is an independent writer for CollegeAnswer.com. College Answer offers information on saving, planning and paying for college.