For working adults wondering if they should go back to school for a degree - or to upgrade their bachelor's degree to a master's - affordability is, today, more important than ever. "How can I afford it?" is often the first question students ask before they enroll.
But perhaps a better question would be "how can I afford to live without a college degree?" According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median weekly earnings go up and unemployment rates go down for each level of higher education achieved. Americans with a bachelor's degree earn, on average, $400 more a week than those with only a high school diploma, and are also less likely to be unemployed.
"Yes, pursuing a degree costs money. However, prospective students should be aware of cost-saving avenues they can pursue to keep their expenses down," says Clare Levison, a CPA and author of the book "Frugal Isn't Cheap." "In addition to saving money for a college degree, professionals should look for avenues that help them reduce the overall cost of education as well."
Here are tips Levison says will help keep college costs down and make a degree program a worthwhile endeavor:
* Look everywhere for support - Grants, scholarships and even employers' tuition benefits are options everyone should investigate before enrolling in a degree program. Contact the college you're interested in attending to ask about these options. If you are employed, ask your Human Resources department if the company offers an education benefit.
* Research loan options - Many students will need to take out loans, but must ask careful questions about how loan debt can affect them before enrolling in a program. Find out the repayment terms; the interest rate; the anticipated monthly payments you'll need to make once you've earned your degree; if the loan interest or tuition expense can be used as a tax deduction; and ask if an automated payment system is available.
You may discover that-certain organizations-will offer help with student loans. This option may appeal to you if-you're interested in providing services-in exchange for student loan benefits, or in a work-study program.
*Try out a school before investing fully - Ask yourself: "Will I like the school I picked?" Western International University (West) lets students test drive its online education program by taking the first two, 3-credit required courses for just $200 each. If you determine you're not ready for the time commitment, or you are not sure about online education, you've only made a minimal investment and the credits you earn may be accepted for transfer by other colleges or universities. If everything is a perfect fit, you've also saved some overall tuition cost and the credits apply to your West program of choice.
* Keep earning money while enrolled - Online degree programs like the ones offered by Western International University provide students with flexibility. You have the opportunity to continue working if already employed, or start a job and complete coursework around the clock.
Once a college degree is earned, you may be better able to achieve your professional goals, and will have, according to U.S. labor trends, the potential to earn more over your lifetime.