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Adult Learner

How to afford college as a working professional: 5 Ways to cut costs

How to Afford College

Many working professionals eventually decide the key to achieving their goals is to pursue additional schooling. Whether you’re seeking a promotion or want to transition to a new vocation, enhancing your educational qualifications may begin to feel like the most natural next step toward advancing your career.


But there’s a lot to consider when making the commitment to go back to college, particularly when it comes to your finances. As an established working professional, you’re probably getting paid more than you did back when you were 18. But it’s also likely that you have a host of expenses to cover that you didn’t have then — maybe a mortgage, daycare, routine health care or even just buying food for your family.


You’re hardly alone. That’s why we spoke with Amy Myrick, assistant director of One Stop Student Services’ global-southern region at University of Massachusetts Global. Myrick and her team routinely work with students to help them determine how to afford college, creating plans to finance their education. You might want to consider Myrick’s suggestions for cutting costs when going back to school as you weigh your decision.

How to afford college as a working adult

Most prospective students are pretty familiar with the financial aid options first-time “traditional” students rely on to pay for college — and many of them are still applicable for adult students. If you find you need to take out a student loan, you’ll need to complete a FAFSA, attend entrance counseling, submit a Master Promissory Note (MPN) and provide any necessary supporting documents. That said, probably the last thing you want to do is incur additional debt.


“Most often when I’m speaking with students about their financial aid, I encourage them to look at alternatives,” Myrick says. “What else can you do besides taking on loans?”


Scholarships and grants are among the first options students consider when exploring alternate ways to pay for college. As you research your opportunities, you might be surprised to hear there are a number of scholarships available that are specifically for adult students.


But there are a handful of other ways working professionals can make college more affordable outside of hunting for grants and scholarships. If you’re seeking tactics for cutting your education costs, consider the following five options.

1. Inquire about employer assistance

One of the first things you should do after you’ve decided to go back to school is look into any education benefits programs your employer may offer. Such programs have become increasingly common in recent years. Some companies even offer programs to pay tuition for their employees’ children and spouses.


“I always recommend that students speak to their employer about education assistance,” Myrick says. Companies will offer tuition assistance, she explains, because employees who are committed to improving their qualifications benefit the organization.


If you find that your company doesn’t have a tuition reimbursement program in place, don’t close the door on this option quite yet. Myrick encourages employees to speak with their human resources department to ask about assistance and explain how it could help the company. Or, if it’s a smaller organization, to speak to the owner.


“The key is to highlight that if the organization is willing to help you monetarily, you will bring what you learn back to the company,” Myrick offers.

2. Look into self-paced programs

The type of program you choose to enroll in can also have an impact on the overall cost of advancing your education. Working adults often see a lot of benefits from participating in self-paced programs like the options at University of Massachusetts Global.


In a self-paced program, you’re in control of your schedule and the pace at which your courses are completed as you earn your degree online. Your prior work experience can also come in handy with self-paced, competency-based education (CBE) programs — it can assist you in passing courses quickly.


“When I first started out, I was in a self-paced program. I was able to move through my classes fairly quickly — in four weeks rather than eight,” Myrick notes. “The primary benefit with programs like these is the cost savings.”


Most CBE programs use a subscription-based tuition model. University of Massachusetts Global students, for example, pay tuition for every 24 weeks spent in the program. Students are able to work through as many courses as they can within that time. The faster they work through the content, the more affordable their degree will be.

3. Consider starting at a community college

If you’re starting your degree process from scratch, it’s particularly cost-effective to start your journey at a community college. You can later transfer to a four-year institution to finish your studies. Transferring may sound stressful, but some states have actually taken measures to standardize the credits that are eligible for transfer. This makes the transition much easier for students.


For instance, California has implemented a pathway, called  an Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT), for community college graduates who wish to transfer to a four-year, independent, non-profit institution. University of Massachusetts Global is one of just two participating Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) institutions that accepts all 36 ADT majors from the 115 California community colleges. This means eligible students can use this pathway to acquire guaranteed admission and junior standing — along with the acceptance of a minimum of 60 units transferred — at University of Massachusetts Global.


“Most importantly, there’s a cost savings involved,” Myrick reiterates. She notes that participating in an ADT pathway allows students to work with a community college and a four-year institution simultaneously to ensure the classes they’re taking at the former will flow right into the degree they’re ultimately seeking.

4. Explore degree alternatives

If you’re looking to increase your employment qualifications but don’t want to commit to earning a degree, there are a number of alternative options you could consider. “We have a whole school dedicated to extended education,” Myrick says. Offerings range from certificates and professional development courses to credentials and authorizations. This school also provides a number of workshop, seminar and webinar events.


“There’s a host of offerings that really help a student grow in their current career without the commitment to a two-year degree program,” Myrick explains. “These tend to be more cost effective than a traditional degree.”


It’s worth noting that the financial aid requirements when you opt to participate in extended education initiatives will be a little different than those for a traditional degree path.

5. Make small lifestyle tweaks

While the tips listed above can really illuminate how to afford college as a working adult, there are a few small things you can do that could also help. Myrick suggests that students commit to making small adjustments to their lifestyle while in school to offset some of the costs. This might mean giving up cable and just paying for internet, or maybe forfeiting those store-bought lattes for coffee you make at home.


“We never encourage taking on large student loan debt if students can find alternate ways of paying,” Myrick says.


You may also consider taking on an additional low-effort job. You might try driving for a ridesharing company, completing orders for a delivery service or dog-walking through a pet care service. You could even find a way to complete some of your assignments while you work. “Buy your textbooks on Audible and listen to them while you work a side job,” Myrick says. “You can save money on your textbooks, chip away at your coursework and make some money.”

Take the next step in your journey toward career success

You can see there are a number of different ways you can work toward advancing your education without breaking the bank. Everything from looking into employer assistance to adjusting your regular lifestyle expenses can help as you figure out how to afford college.


Explore UMass Global's Dedicated Support Services to learn more about your financial options, planning your pathway to graduation or finding the right career opportunities and find an Academic Program that fits your career goals. 


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