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Making College Affordable: 4 Financial Strategies for Adult Learners

adult learner searching for financial options to make college affordable on computerYou’re financially responsible. That’s likely part of why you’re considering going to college in the first place! Going to college doesn’t just expand your knowledge; it’s also an investment in your career and future. But you need a game plan to cover the costs without breaking the bank.

If you’re wondering how to afford college, you don’t have to be put off by the prospect of a financial commitment. In fact, taking the first step and returning to school will help you financially in the long run. For an affordable return to school, consider these four strategies:

1. Apply for grants and scholarships.

Even if you’ve saved some money for college, you may need additional assistance to cover the full cost. Grants and scholarships can fill the gaps, so you don’t have to worry about finishing your education with a mountain of debt.

Recent research has found that most college students offset the cost of their education with scholarship funds. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 90 percent of students at private nonprofit institutions like MVNU received some form of financial aid for the 2019-20 academic year.

Applying for grants and scholarships is easier than you think, and it’s worth applying even if you believe you’re not eligible. Take the following steps to explore your options:

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Completing the FAFSA can help you determine if you qualify for federal financial aid. It is often a prerequisite for receiving private financial aid from colleges. The FAFSA also generates an Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which most colleges use to determine your eligibility for need-based financial aid.

Talk to a financial aid advisor at your college.

If you aren’t sure how to get started with financial aid, contact the financial aid department at the college you're interested in attending. Qualified financial aid advisors can provide more information about scholarship and grant opportunities. They can also explain important deadlines to help you take full advantage of available aid.

Consider applying for outside grants and scholarships.

The college you attend and government grants aren’t the only sources of financial aid. Industry associations and private companies also offer merit and need-based grants and scholarships. Some are intended for adult learners. For example, Ohio offers grants to help adult learners finish their college education.

2. Maintain your income with asynchronous online learning.

Not so long ago, attending classes on campus was the only way to go to college. For many people, this required reducing their work hours or suspending work altogether. Today, going back to school doesn’t mean you have to drop everything else. Asynchronous, online learning allows you to fit your coursework into your schedule and take classes when it makes sense for you.

Working while going to college is nothing new. However, traditional on-campus learning can limit your work options, particularly if the campus is far from an urban center. With asynchronous learning, you can continue working part-time or full-time while you’re working on your degree, thus earning an income and funding your college education.

Just because you’re learning asynchronously off-campus doesn’t mean you’re ineligible for university work-study programs. At MVNU Online, students enrolled in a graduate program may be eligible for a graduate assistantship. Working as a graduate assistant covers some tuition costs and helps students gain experience as teaching or research assistants.

3. Budget carefully to stretch your finances.

Good old-fashioned budgeting can help you make the most of your finances. By comparing your expenses with your income, you may be able to identify some ways to cut down on extra spending and dedicate more income to fund your education. If you share finances with another person, such as a spouse, you can work together to set your priorities and determine where you may be able to set aside money for college.

The US Department of Education provides resources and sample budgets to help you get started. You can also take these steps to create and follow your budget:

  • Record your spending over a month or two to get better insight into recurring versus one-off expenses. 
  • Categorize your expenses, separating required expenses—such as housing and food—from more discretionary spending, such as entertainment.
  • As you compare your income against your expenses, be honest about the adjustments you can make while meeting your daily needs.
  • If you can set aside savings for college, try to set a goal for how much you want to save each month.

As you examine your budget, remember to account for one-off income boosts that can be incredibly helpful in funding your education, such as annual tax refunds and performance bonuses at work. You may also be eligible to apply for tuition reimbursement assistance from your employer.

4. Take advantage of student loans.

Student loans may not be your first choice for financing your education, but they’re a great option to consider, especially as a complement to other forms of financial aid. Depending on the loan you secure, you may not need to begin making payments until you complete your education. And by then, you may already be benefitting from the increased earning potential of your degree. As a result, it will be much easier to pay your loans off in a reasonable period.

Student loans are often more affordable than other types of loans, and many have fixed or low-interest rates. You’re not required to accept the loans you apply for, so there’s no downside to applying and reviewing the loan terms. Some sources of student loans include:

  • The federal government
  • State agencies
  • Private sources, such as banks and credit unions

Determine how to afford college, and then get started!

Deciding to invest in your college education is not only commendable, but also a way to boost your career growth and earning potential. Going back to college can help you build the career you’ve always dreamed about. And when you apply for and explore financial aid options, you may realize you have more resources than anticipated to make your education affordable.

At MVNU Online, we’ve designed our tuition and payment options with adult learners in mind. Our goal is to help you make a college education both worthwhile for your career and affordable for your wallet. MVNU Online students are eligible for multiple financial aid awards, including grants, federal subsidized Stafford loans, and federal unsubsidized Stafford loans. 

For more information about making college more affordable, watch our webinar, “How to Go Back to School Without Breaking the Bank.”