Can You Afford to Go Back to School?
Many of the people who've written to me lately were recently laid off. Others are trying to skirt becoming jobless by learning skills that will make them more valuable to their bosses. And some are stay-at-home moms or dads who want to earn a degree so they can get a job and add to the family's income.
All of them ask: "What's the best way to make this transition? How the heck do I pay for it?" Luckily, neither issue is as difficult as it seems.
"Getting them lined up so that they are supportive of what you want to do is very, very important," says Al Seibert, co-author of The Adult Student's Guide to Survival & Success. Your spouse is going to have to take on some of the household tasks you usually handle, and, if your kids are old enough, they'll need to pitch in, as well. You'll also need quiet time when you're home so you can study.
Remember, this is a family project—the end result will be a better lifestyle for everyone.
"Financial aid doesn't care how old you are. It's an ageless system," said Gen Tanabe, co-author of 501 Ways for Adult Students to Pay for College.
In fact, as an independent student, you're eligible for higher limits on unsubsidized Stafford loans. Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which the U.S. Department of Education uses to determine your aid eligibility.
If you want to start school this fall, submit your form now. Even if you think you're not eligible, try.
Your financial aid application is very mathematical, crunching numbers about your income and assets to come up with what's called your expected contribution, or how much the government thinks you can comfortably afford to pay. But the part of the process when colleges devise a financial aid package for you is very human.
"Most college financial aid forms have a blank space for you to describe anything that they should take into consideration. That's where you can explain your personal situation, including a layoff in your family," Gen says. Because financial aid counselors tend to be numbers-oriented, back up your case with statements and stubs—it will help make your case.
What to do if you think you might be laid off