If you’re interested in earning a higher salary, learning new skills and having a greater chance at landing your dream job, going back to school is a great way to achieve those goals. And if you only have a high school education, it’s well-known that getting a bachelor’s degree will allow you to earn more throughout your life than if you stopped at the high school level. Of course, there are billionaires that have dropped out of college (Ted Turner, Mark Zuckerberg) and are doing just fine, but it’s not the norm.
In fact, the Pew Research Center found that college grads between 25 and 32 earned $17,500 more than those with a high school diploma. Now with that said, it’s still a huge commitment deciding to go to college (or return to college) when you’re already maintaining a career and are financially supporting yourself. So, if you are a non-traditional student here are some tips that can help you make your time in school successful and frugal.
Choose your Degree Path Wisely
It’s important to research which degree you’d like to pursue before enrolling in college. You don’t want to waste any money pursuing a degree for a career that doesn’t have any growth potential. Identifying your passions, researching careers that involve those passions and narrowing the field of careers to those that have the greatest growth potential is a smart move. You can do that by heading over to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and finding out what the projected growth for that job will be for the next ten years.
Stick to the Basics With Financial Aid
Many non-traditional students don’t realize that filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can open the door to scholarships, grants and subsidized student loans that would otherwise be unavailable to them had they not. It is the most basic thing you can do to save money in college and can be completed online at FAFSA.gov in about 30 minutes. Also, it’s best to fill that out sooner rather than later every year as some funds for student aid are limited and so are distributed at a first come, first serve basis. Beyond that, there are annual private scholarships specifically dedicated to non-traditional students that you can apply for:
- Scholarships for Adult Students from Imagine America Foundation – This is an annual scholarship worth $1,000 to adult students who complete the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) assessment and plan on attending a participating Imagine America Adult Skills Education Program (ASEP) school.
- $1,000 Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship – This scholarship is open to high school students, college and grad student as well as adult learners. Simply write an essay 250 words or less on the topics provided on the site. Real easy to apply for so won’t hurt to try.
- College JumpStart Scholarship – This scholarship is open to non-traditional students with spring and fall deadlines. You could win up to $1,000 by simply filling out the online application found on the site.
- Mary Lou Manzie Memorial Scholarship – This scholarship comes from the National Leased Housing Association which offers scholarships to those who live in federally assisted low income housing properties. The Mary Lou Manzie Memorial Scholarship is specifically for non-traditional students who wish to increase their standard of living by pursuing a degree or training for greater employment opportunities.
To determine how much of a course-load you can handle, it might be a good idea to start off small and increase as you become more comfortable with taking classes and working. You obviously don’t want to re-take any classes as that wouldn’t be frugal. So setting realistic goals when it comes to pursuing a degree while maintaining a job is of the utmost importance. If you feel your schedule is too heavy you may only want to take one or two classes so that you can take in all the information provided and excel. However, if you’re just flying through the homework, then upping the amount of credits you take will mean an earlier graduation.
Choosing the Right College
Whether you’d like to learn at home or feel you’re more of a hands-on learner so need a classroom, take into account all the pros and cons of various types of institutions. For instance, if you’re deciding to go the online college route and wish to transfer to a brick and mortar university, be aware that the credits at some distance learning institutions are not transferable to most colleges. Many online for-profit institutions are nationally accredited but not regionally accredited meaning your associates degree may not be recognized by a regionally accredited brick and mortar college (keep in mind that all state colleges and universities are regionally accredited). However, there are some online colleges that are regionally accredited so it’d be a good idea to research that before enrolling. Also, take into consideration a future employers opinion on whether or not they employ people from institutions not regionally accredited as some do not.
In the end, if you sit down, create a plan and envision where you want to see yourself in the next 2 to 5 years and follow-through, you’ll have a better chance of being successful.