Going back to school? Here’s how to fund it

graduation cap on money

As a career counselor, I see many people who’d like to continue their education so they can change jobs or move up the ladder in their current workplace. Their question is: how on earth can I afford it?

Sybil Pressprich is a senior career counselor who helps people facing a job loss.
Sybil Pressprich: ‘You’d be surprised by the resources available for adults interested in continuing their education.’

Friends and family members are often the biggest naysayers. They too imagine that it’s prohibitively expensive to pursue an undergraduate degree, an advanced degree, or a certificate.

I understand these concerns, but I encourage people to investigate funding options before giving up on their dreams. You’d be surprised by the resources available for adults interested in going back to school.

Here are five major areas to explore.

Ask your employer. Many companies offer tuition assistance or scholarships, but they don’t always advertise it. Even if your employer doesn’t have a formal program, you can still ask for help. Check with human resources to see what’s possible.

Search for scholarships: Fastweb and Peterson’s have databases filled with scholarship opportunities from schools as well as thousands of private organizations. See what money could be available to you based on your activities or interests.

Shop for loans from private lenders. They may be able to offer a surprisingly good rate. Banks typically give better deals to students in certain kinds of academic programs, such as business.

Make the tax system work for you: Trim up to $2,000 from your federal tax bill each year you’re in school with the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can cover undergraduate, graduate, or skill-development courses. See if you qualify for this credit or the Tuition and Fees Deduction.

Apply for federal financial aid: The U.S. Department of Education has an office of Federal Student Aid that provides $150 billion in grants, loans, and work-study funds to more than 13 million students. Visit its website to learn about the types of aid available.

Shannon Davis
Shannon Davis managed the cost of her continuing education through a combination of scholarships, federal Pell grants, and student loans.

While time consuming, researching funding options can be well worth the effort. Just be sure to start the process early—at least six months before you plan to enroll.

Most important, keep reminding yourself that spending the time now can pay off in the long run. Additional schooling can lead to higher pay and a more fulfilling career, and it’s hard for the naysayers to argue with that.

Shannon Davis is one such success story. Shannon dropped out of college at age 20 and considered going back to UW–Madison two decades later to study social work. She knew it would be challenging financially, but she managed the cost through a combination of scholarships, federal Pell grants and student loans.

“None of these resources came without effort, but the work I put into essays and applications proved to be time well spent,” Shannon says. “I achieved a degree I had long given up on, and my education has opened doors of opportunity I could not have dreamed possible.”

Sybil Pressprich is a career and educational counselor for the Division of Continuing Studies at UW–Madison. She can be reached at sybil.pressprich@wisc.edu, or call 608-263-6960.

This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.